Eleven Ways to Strengthen Your Year End Appeal

The end of the year is a critical time for most nonprofit organizations; on a national average, 50% of donations are received in the final three months of the year. What’s more, nearly one third of gifts are made in the month of December! Many nonprofits begin planning and executing their year-end campaigns in September, or earlier—but if this isn’t you, don’t despair! There’s still time to create a meaningful final push to help you close your year on budget and start the New Year strong.

Here is a curated compilation of best practices, hints, and reminders, shared by some of the best nonprofit resources around, (links at the end of the article). They will help you pull together a terrific year-end campaign, even if you’re starting late. And remember, Clarity can help you pull together a great fundraising plan for 2017! Contact us to learn more. 

·      Start with a great story

Humans create meaning through story. Donors will respond best to deep, powerful, personal stories that tell the impact of your work. Can you demonstrate a significant accomplishment or highlight a critical program by telling the story of one client or constituent?

·      Make the donor the focus of the letter

It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about all of the wonderful things your organization has accomplished during the past year, but donors will be more deeply inspired if you frame it in terms of the change they have made through their gifts.  Be sure to include “you” often in the course of your letter. Use merge fields where possible to include the donor’s name/s in the salutation and throughout.

·      Keep it short, simple & sweet

Most people will not take the time to read your letter carefully. Leave lots of white space, break up your paragraphs, highlight key messages with bold text or bullet points, and limit the length to 1-2 pages. In short, make the letter easy to skim.

·      Include a clear call to action

This may seem obvious, but if you want your donors to give, you must ask them! Use phrases like “send your year-end gift in the enclosed, self-addressed envelope,” or, in the case of an email appeal, “click this link to make your gift now.”

·      Ask more than once

Don’t hesitate to ask more than once. In general, it’s best to ask within the first or second paragraph, and again somewhere toward the end of the letter. Be sure to reiterate the ‘ask’ and the action in the P.S.

·      Distill your key message to the P.S.

It sounds crazy, but much research confirms that almost everyone will read the P.S. first; sometimes that’s ALL they will read. Make it concise and compelling, and be sure to include your ‘call to action.’

·      Segment your donor list

Donors like to be treated as individuals. If you have a database that allows you to segment your mailing list, you can break it down into several pieces and speak to those constituencies more directly and personally. You might use different language for donors that have already made a gift this calendar year; you will likely want to address your major donors with a special message.

·      Personalize your top tier donor letters with handwritten messages from board or staff

All donors want to be known, seen for their vision and values, and appreciated for their generosity. A hand-personalized appeal letter is one way to reinforce this special relationship that your major donors have with your organization. It will pay off in stronger loyalty and deeper commitment to your organization.

·      Follow up

Be prepared to follow up your appeal letter in one or several ways. But have a plan in place to remove names of those who have already made their year-end gifts!

o   Email—you can even break this into a mini-campaign with several short emails planned to land in inboxes during the last week of the year.

o   Social Media—if you’re using Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms, be sure to include a couple of well-timed posts inviting your fans and followers to donate to your year-end campaign.

o   Personal phone calls from board & volunteers—you may choose to focus this extra attention on your major donors. Phone calls are a great way to deepen the conversation and the relationship with your core constituents, and they will often yield a higher rate of return. Your volunteers can open the conversation with something along these lines: “I’m calling on behalf of “Fantastic Nonprofit that you Love;” you probably received our year end appeal letter last week, and I wanted to follow up with a phone call to see if I can answer any further questions for you…” Remember to record all the interesting details learned during the course of the conversation!

·      Have a great thank-you letter, and deliver it in a timely way

People want to know that you are using the money they have given you in the way that you said you would. A well-crafted thank-you letter that relates to your year-end appeal will build trust and credibility with your donors. You should have a bomb-proof process in place to send every gift acknowledgement and thank-you letter within a few days of gift receipt, perhaps a week at the longest. No excuses!

·      Plan an impact postcard for six months out

Once you’ve had a chance to use the money raised during your year-end appeal to do good work in the world, take the time to reach out to all of the folks who donated with stories of progress. After all, they are the ones who’ve made it possible!

Here is a list of sources and resources; some have been used to inspire this article, and some are just great all-around nonprofit resources. 


Fired Up Fundraising with Gail Perry


Mobile Cause

Network for Good

Nonprofit Hub

Pamela Grow

Standford Social Innovation Revie