The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Year-End Appeal Dos and Don’ts

Are you ready for prime time fundraising?

Year-End giving is big and you have an incredible opportunity to tap into your supporters’ generosity through the rest of the year.

However, simply asking is not enough. Your appeal needs to stand out, really speak to your donor, and make a clear, compelling case for giving. Here’s a cheat sheet for creating a fundraising letter that inspires your donors and makes it easy for them to say yes.

DO: Make It Easy to Give

Link directly to your donation page from your email appeals and include multiple opportunities to give throughout your message. You want donors to become inspired, motivated to act, and be able to follow through immediately. Don’t put up roadblocks.

While you’re at it, give your donation page a once-over. Does it echo the call to action of your appeal? Don’t get donors ready to give and then leave them scratching their heads on your donation page. Take the time now to make sure your donation page is in perfect working order— easy to find, quick to use, and full of security assurances. You want it to feel simple and safe to give. Ask one of your more technically-challenged friends to make a donation and see if they can do it. If they can’t, fix those issues immediately. (Need a smarter donation page that will help you raise more this December? We can help.)

DON’T: Neglect to Blaze a Trail to Donate on Your Website

For both email and direct mail appeals, donors will be researching your website whether or not they intend to give online. Don’t make visitors think. Audit your nonprofit’s website—especially the home page. Identify ways to transform your home page into a fundraising-centric page: What calls to action will need to be removed? What needs to be added?

DO: Put Your Donor in the Spotlight

Show the donor what THEY can do. You can give a child the books they need to learn. You will provide a safe haven for homeless veterans. Make your donor or someone like them part of the story. Causes often forget to involve the reader by not writing for them. Think of how you can use your supporters’ motivations for giving, passions, and sense of identity to create a fundraising appeal that is more relevant to them.

DON’T: Get Carried Away with Your Need

Your budget shortfall is not your donor’s problem to solve. Here’s an easy way to spot-check your appeals (courtesy of Tom Ahern): review your appeals and circle/highlight every time you use the word “you”.  Again, make your appeals about your donor and the impact that will happen because of their gift.

DO: Offer Suggested Giving Amounts

Donors need guidance on what’s expected—give them a starting point for making a decision about their gift. Create suggested donation amounts and tie each to a tangible impact if possible. Giving levels can help your donor visualize what their gift will do. Where will a donor’s money go? What will they get in return for their donation—personally and in terms of your programs? No jargon and no stiff language here! You have two options: share explicit examples of what a gift will accomplish or illustrate the general impact of a donor’s generosity.

DON’T: Mistakenly Downgrade Donors

One of my favorite Twitter friends, none other than The Whiny Donor, recently reminded me of this one. Smart segmentation and tailored messaging can help you avoid turning a $500 donor into a $50 donor. Create groups of donors and communicate to them specifically to reflect their past giving behavior and suggest appropriate starting gift amounts that meet or increase their current level of giving. Understand which donors receive an automated appeal, which need a handwritten note, and which require a phone call or personal visit. Well-maintained and organized donor data can make this much easier. Don’t have a donor management system that makes this easy? Let’s talk.)

DO: Evoke the Story or Theme of Your Campaign

Make your final appeals consistent with the rest of your year-end campaign, in both language and design. Describe what you do through a story to make your cause relatable, tangible and touching. Your story shouldn’t stray from a singular focus. It might be tempting to mention another program or some other thing you want to sneak in, like an upcoming event or volunteer opportunity. RESIST. Let your year-end appeals focus on fundraising.

DON’T: Overload on Jargon or Statistics

One juicy stat can be powerful but an appeal filed with statistics is overwhelming and can actually depress giving. Keep your appeals short and to the point. Avoid jargon and “official” language here! They can make the donor skeptical and take them out of the giving mindset. Remember:  you’re not prepping a court case; you’re appealing to an individual.

DO: Include Warm Fuzzies

Create a feel-good emotional connection for your reader, especially for those who have given before. Don’t only tie their gift to what could be accomplished but also show them how much they’ve already done with past support. Reinforce a sense of community and ownership, and ensure donors keep that warm feeling throughout the process of giving.

DON’T: Have a Fuzzy Call to Action

Craft a single and clear call to action and ensure your entire appeal supports this call to action. Tell prospective donors exactly what you want them to do.

If you want people to buy vanilla, don’t offer them 31 flavors. That’s a cute way of saying that if you want people to donate, don’t give them any other options. Barry Schwartz, author of the book Paradox of Choice argues that people are overwhelmed by choices and if presented with too many, we abandon the task altogether.

In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath discuss this concept in terms of scripting the critical moves. In order to get people to take the next step, you must be clear and concise about what it is you want them to do:  donate.

DO: Celebrate a Successful Appeal

Writing effective appeals is hard work—but when you get it right, it’s an amazing experience for your donor and helps you further your mission. Track what’s working and celebrate those wins with your team. It helps them see the fruits of their labor and everyone gets smarter for your next campaign.

DON’T: Forget to Properly and Warmly Thank Donors

This might seem strange to include with tips on appeals, but the thank you letter is the other half of a successful appeal. It not only continues your conversation with your donor but when done well, is the beginning of stewardship that makes donors even more receptive to your next campaign.

Need more help with your appeals? Download our guide to amazing fundraising appeals. With a little planning and thoughtful communication, your fundraising letters can raise even more for your mission.

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About This Blog

Amanda Khoury
Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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