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5 Elements of a Great Year-End Appeal Letter

During the holiday season, all of us receive several year-end appeals in the mail from our favorite nonprofits. Often I am asked, “What makes a great mailed year-end appeal for donations stand out?

Here’s my 5 elements of a great year-end appeal using a real example from a fantastic client of mine, Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless.  Their Director of Development and Communications, Debbie Ezrin, is a seasoned nonprofit professional, and knows how to “do it right.”

Here’s what I look for-

  1. An outer envelope that invites me to open it:  Rather than send just a plain #9 envelope, invest in adding a photograph with a tagline, or just a tagline that is eye-catching. We all sift through our postal mail quickly and sort it into three piles – “Open Now, Junk Mail to Recycle, and Open Later.”  People are much more likely to put your letter in the “Open Now” pile if there is some sort of “trigger” to open it on the front of the envelope.   In the image above this post, see how there is a picture of a boy with the caption, “No child should experience homelessness. Sergio was 8 years old when he lost his home. Read where he is now.”  I dare you not to open an envelope that says that!
  2. A letter that contains a story of impact: The content of the letter revolves around Sergio’s story, with quotes from him and his family, and their journey from being homeless to having a permanent home –  not the programs or the staff. Demonstrate your great work through stories, not content that describes your “great programs.” Don’t make your letter a turn-off or a boring snooze-fest, else it will end up in the recycle bin within minutes.
  3. A letter that is about the DONOR and her impact:  Notice here I said “her impact.” Why? Several studies have shown that women more than men, particularly older women, give more frequently and at higher levels to nonprofit organizations than men. Use the word YOU often. Make the reader feel special. She needs to feel that you care about her and that she is making a tremendous difference through giving to your organization, not reading a letter that could read like a program brochure or website content.
  4. A letter that is conversational in tone, and not lofty: The reader should be able to skim the letter and understand it without having to re-read parts of it. Use light, conversational words, as if you were speaking to a friend.  Keep paragraphs short, break up the text with plenty of white space, and use bold and underline for emphasis and emotion.
  5. A letter that includes a clear ask with examples of impact: Build up to the ask, but don’t forget to actually make a clear ask. Providing examples of how a gift range can provided much needed supplies, for example, is a great trigger to give. An example could be, “Your gift of just $100 will provide…” And a perforated giving slip at the bottom – or an enclosed slip-  with an addressed return envelope is a must.

These are my ideas. Do you have any others? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Fundraising!  Ayda