September through December are busy months for nonprofit fundraisers, executives, and volunteers. If your nonprofit organization isn’t yet planning a year end appeal, it’s time to get going–and fast!  In this post I highlight 6 ideas and 3 recommended resources as your nonprofit gears up for the biggest giving season of the year.

I’m working with 5 different clients right now on their year end fundraising appeals. There are a range of considerations depending on an organization’s capacity to execute various options. Here are a few ideas that come up in my conversations with clients that you might find helpful too.

6 ideas for your year end fundraising appeal

  1. Segment your list: Please, please, please don’t send the same letter to everyone in your database.  At a bare minimum, you need to have different messages and calls to action for people who have actually made a gift to you (usually in the last 5-7 years) and those who have never made a gift to you. I’ve also seen examples in higher education fundraising where there are 30+ different segments for one appeal. Try to find what’s right for your organization by looking at donor giving history and using your own knowledge about the donors who regularly support you to find the right level of segmentation.

  2. Add personal notes from board or staff: As you segment your list, it’s a great practice to have board members and staff add personal hand-written notes on the appeal letter itself if you are doing direct mail. The more you can personalize the solicitation, the better! Don’t get overwhelmed by this though. Start with an intention to personalize 10-25% of your entire solicitation and see how far that might get you. You can even make this effort a fun signing party during your October or November board meeting.

  3. Use “you” not “we” language: When you write the actual appeal letter, remember that solicitation works best when it’s not about your organization, but the donor.  Make sure you are saying something like,Your gift helps to make our work with children possible” rather than “Last year we served 10,000 children with our programs.” For a deeper dive on this point see the link to Gail Perry’s blog on donor-centered appeals below.

  4. Strengthen your call to action: Too many solicitations have a weak call to action. The strongest calls to action have an ask amount merged into the letter. These ask amounts would need to be carefully prepared using giving history and your knowledge of the prospect to yield better fundraising results.  For example, “Please consider a gift of $500 to support children in need right here in our county,” is much stronger than, “We hope you will consider a gift this year to Charity ABC.”

  5. Acknowledge and celebrate past giving: You can never thank your donors enough. They really want you to notice and acknowledge that they committed their hard-earned resources into your care for the benefit of those you serve. If your data is reliable (and that’s a BIG caveat for many nonprofits), how great would it be to include the following sentence in your year end fundraising appeal to your most loyal supporters?  For example, “Your support year after year makes such a big difference in the lives of the children we serve. Did you realize that over the past [7 years (merge field)] you have contributed over [$1,000 (merge field)]? Your continued support in 2016 will mean that even more children have the resources they need thanks to your investment in them.”  In fact, this idea came up yesterday in a conversation with a client, and I loved it.  I’ve also seen nonprofits merge the donor’s last 5 gift dates and amounts on the reply card. Again, your data has to be really clean to do this. At this very least, please create a segment for loyal donors, thank for them for their past support, and describe the impact of their gifts in the body of the letter.

  6. Timing and channels: The rule of thumb for getting a year end fundraising appeal into mailboxes is that it should arrive by snail mail the week of or before Thanksgiving. (Be careful of those nonprofit bulk rate mailing delays this time of year. It’s worth the first class postage for your appeal letters.) After that, a good practice is to follow up with a parallel email campaign in mid and late December–especially on December 30 and 31 when a huge bulk of transactions are occurring online.

So those are just a few of the ideas that I’m bringing up with clients NOW as they prepare their year end fundraising appeals. Below are a handful of resources that may be helpful as well.

3 resources for year end fundraising appeal preparation

  1. Blackbaud’s year end giving toolkit: Blackbaud is the company that makes The Raiser’s Edge fundraising software. Their year-end fundraising toolkit gets into lots of good details for year end appeals (which is applicable even if you use another software vendor).

  2. Mobile Cause’s year end fundraising infographic: This is a nice infographic loaded with helpful tips on year end giving. View and download here.

  3. Gail Parry’s “from organization-centered to donor-centered” blog: I really love Gail Perry’s Fired Up Fundraising website and blog.  This is a great post of hers on how to make an appeal donor-centered vs. organization-centered.

I’d love to hear other ideas and examples you have for what has worked in your year end fundraising appeals. Always feel free to email me directly at I’ll also be sharing this post on the Adaptive Alternatives facebook page and on LinkedIn if you want to continue the conversation there.  Happy year end fundraising!

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Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


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