7 simple things you can do now to energize your year-end appeal

Stressed about fundraising right now? Here are a few ways to energize your year-end appeal.

1. Eliminate the kitchen sink

Chances are, no single donor can give your organization everything you need. And that’s good! Strong organizations are built with strong communities of people who all want to help a shared mission.

So don’t ask for everything you need. Donors aren’t Santa. They’re not magic. And they don’t have to spend their carefully shepherded attention trying to figure out how you want them to help.

So make it easy on them. Focus on one need. Then use your story to illustrate it. Desperate to include more? You could add an additional piece to the mailing that highlights another need.

2. Identify the problem you need help to solve

The more specific you can be, the better. “Give to our annual appeal” is so much less effective than “your neighbors are hungry. You can help with a gift today”. Here’s where that one, small, important detail can be your best friend.

Once you’ve identified the problem, find a story to illustrate it. This is the difference between “show” and “tell”. And think about it… We get “told” things all day long, through multiple channels. It’s exhausting!

But “show” us something and we’re interested, brought closer, allowed to feel the real need.

3. Don’t make it about you

But it is about “you”.

Let me explain. Your copy should be conversational – one person to one person. That’s the same whether you’re mailing to 10 people or 10,000. So Tom Ahern’s simple “you test” can help you ensure you’re doing that.

Write your appeal. Then go through and highlight every instance of the word  “you” – like “your” “you’re” etc. You can even just use the “find” function in Word. What you should find is lots and lots of “you”. And not so much you – as in the organization.

You want your organization to be the mediator. The nice person who introduces someone with a problem and someone who likes to help solve problems. That’s your job. You don’t need to brag. Establish that you have the expertise. Then get out of the way.

You know that joke about a self-involved person who says, “Well, enough about me. What do YOU think of me?”

Don’t be that person – or organization.

4. Think about a package, not a letter for your year-end appeal

This may not be simple, but it could help a lot of organizations’ appeals. Think beyond a letter. Definitely think beyond a letter with a buck slip attached!

Most of the appeal packs I create have a letter – usually 4 pages – a full-page reply form (front and back), a return envelope, and an outer envelope.

Will it add a bit to your printing costs? Yes. Will it likely also add to what you raise? Yes. Of course, testing is the only way to know – your organization is unique. But give it a try. And at special times – like year-end – think about adding even more. A special insert (a “lift” because it usually lifts response) can really help!

5. Don’t be afraid to let photos do the heavy lifting

If you’re lucky enough to have great photos (and boy, is that a smart fundraising investment!) use them.

It really is true that photos communicate faster and better than words do. Our eyes have been part of the human package far longer than words have.

Put a pair of eyes, looking into the camera, in front of someone – even on a page – and they will look at it. It’s primal.

So if you have those photos, let them sing.

6. Simplify it!

When you’ve written your appeal package, put it aside for a bit. Then go back through it and cut anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

I’m not talking about cutting for word count here. Don’t even worry about that. (And please, don’t let anyone bully you into a one-page letter!)

I’m talking about clarity and focus here. Remember that one need? Does everything you write focus on it? Or are there tangents?

Ask a friend who doesn’t know a lot about your work to read it. Are explanations required? Then you need to be more clear.

Don’t be afraid to cut wildly. Go ahead and save your original if you like. (I do!) But be ruthless. Your readers will thank you by actually, maybe, reading!

7. Want to really energize your year-end appeal? Add more love.

I see you out there, rolling your eyes. But I’m standing firm on this one.

Fundraising is emotional. Feelings are messy, and sometimes scary, sure. But feelings are why people give. We see someone else hurting and when we know we can help, we want to help!

So review your appeal. Does it make you feel just a little uncomfortable? Like when you meet someone you really click with, then wonder if maybe you said too much?

Did you just splash your heart all over the page on behalf of the people who need help?

If you did, you’re showing donors how to react to your appeal. You’re clearing the path for them to feel ok – even good – about making a somewhat irrational choice to part with their own money to help a stranger.

And that’s an act of love.

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash