7 Tips for Writing A Good End-of-Year Appeal

Here’s a great blog post from direct mail expert and fellow blogger Alan Sharpe. I highly recommend his blog and newsletter.

If your non-profit organization is like many others, you receive half or more or your contributed income at the end of the year as part of what used to be called the “Christmas Appeal.” In recent years it has come to be known as, in politically correct North America at least, the “Year-End Appeal” or “Seasonal Appeal.”

Which means your year-end appeal letter can make or break your year, financially speaking. Here are some tips on how to craft a winning year-end fundraising letter appeal package.

1. Keep it simple
One non-profit ministry that I shall not name mailed their year-end appeal letter in a poly bag along with their donor newsletter. They had been late in getting their newsletter in the mail and so, to save on postage, they mailed it along with the seasonal appeal letter. The campaign bombed, and bombed big. Donors, as far as we could tell, read the full-colour newsletter and ignored the letter that came with it. So my advice is this: keep your year-end appeal simple and focused on one goal: securing a year-end donation.

2. Be creative
You will be competing with other organizations in the mailbox. Every charity sends an appeal at Christmas. So stand out by mailing something creative. When I worked with Doctors Without Borders as their fundraising letter writer, they mailed a Christmas card to donors that donors then signed and returned to the organization with their gift. Doctors Without Borders forwarded the card to a volunteer doctor or nurse who was serving overseas, and whose name was on the card. The cards were greatly appreciated by the volunteers (many of whom were homesick at that time of year). The cards also involved donors in a way that warmed their hearts and motivated them to contribute.

3. Look back with thanksgiving
Use your year-end appeal fundraising letter as a way to thank donors for their support during the past year. Don’t list the names of every staff person you hired or promoted, or go on at length about happenings at head office. Instead, tell at least one heart-warming or compelling story that illustrates in vivid terms how your donors’ gifts changed lives. Use quotes from the people that you serve wherever possible. They add credibility and human interest to your letter.

4. Look ahead with anticipation
Also use this Christmas appeal letter to present your vision for the coming year. Show donors how their gift this “Holiday Season” will make a difference next year for your organization and the people you serve.

5. Use a seasonal theme

Try to tie your appeal to the season. Giving, presents, exchanging greetings, snow, “goodwill toward man” and other themes are popular at Christmastime. If you can tie your appeal to an emotion or sentiment that is already prevalent at the end of the year, and do so in a relevant way without being overly sentimental, do so.

6. Accentuate the positive
Please don’t appeal for donors to get your books out of the red and into the black. If you have a negative cash flow at year-end, don’t ask donors to correct it. They will see your predicament as your fault. Donors are not motivated to eliminate debt (unless it’s Third World debt). But they are motivated to change the world through a gift to your organization. So present your appeal as an opportunity for the donor rather than a rescue operation for your chief financial officer.

7. A special word for Christian charities
Avoid the “God gave us an unspeakable Gift and so should you” approach in your Christmas appeal letter. Instead, show in concrete terms how you will use a donor’s gift to further the work that your Christian donors care about, using a biblical theme if possible.