Strategies for Writing an Annual Appeal Letter

It’s that time of the year again. You are preparing your annual appeal, asking your donors to support your operations. Or you’re possibly just starting your nonprofit journey, and this is your first go at direct mail fundraising. Either way, you’re trying to find the edge that will bring you to your goal.

Understanding the importance of your annual appeal letters is integral for your organization. To help you with these letters, below are three big, overarching strategies to remain focused on as you’re writing your fundraising appeal letter.

First, let’s begin by understanding the background of an annual appeal letter.

How to start an appeal letter: be tactful in your approach

When all is said and done, an appeal letter is merely you communicating your nonprofit’s needs to the donor and giving them the opportunity to make a difference. Part of the appeal is making the ask, or the request for a gift. In any case where such an ask is involved, it’s important to be mindful of your relationship and communication history with your donors.

For example, if you don’t really do too much direct mail or email blasting throughout the year, then it’ll feel disingenuous and out of the blue to ask for money in the one time that you do. When setting out to mail an annual appeal letter, be sure that it is part of a larger calendar of communicating with your constituents.

Don’t make the appeal letter the first communication you have. In relationship terms, don’t just be a “needy” friend who only asks for money and gives nothing else in return.

At the beginning of writing your letter, consider leading with context as to how their donation will be used. Tell them impactful stories of what previous year donations were able to do and your hopes for the future. This storytelling often leads to more donations.

Focus on the desired outcome

When you’re speaking to current donors who are—or at least, should be—very well-versed in your cause and mission, err on the side of brevity with telling them who you are and what you do. Resist the urge to include information that would be redundant for someone already familiar with your nonprofit’s mission.

In other words, telling a story or recapping highlights of an eventful year? Good. Explaining who you are and what you’re all about? Not so good.

Secondly, in many cases, the money you are attempting to raise by way of the annual appeal letter is likely going toward general operating costs of the nonprofit. Since your annual appeal letter isn’t the time to focus on the general mission of the organization, use the letter to tell your donors about your plans going forward. Tell them about all you hope to accomplish, leave them feeling inspired to get involved and include a clear call-to-action that makes it easy for them to do just that.

When should I send an annual appeal letter: the right timing is crucial

Some nonprofits will choose to send their annual appeal letters during the holiday season when the consensus is that everyone is feeling more charitable and in the giving spirit. However, for that reason, some may choose to avoid sending their annual appeal letters during a time when the mail might be oversaturated with people asking for donations.

While there is no set time or month that appeal letters must go out in, it’s important to choose a time and stick with it year over year. This helps build consistency with your donors, fortifying the relationship you have with them over time.

Annual appeal letter design matters

Writing an effective annual appeal letter isn’t just about the words on the page. The appearance of it matters, and often can be the end factor if someone donates or not. You shouldn’t feel compelled to add a ton of images, photography, or fancy designs in your appeal letter. A simpler design is better.

Donors want to feel connected to the person sending the annual appeal letter. Make it feel personal. A highly designed letterhead makes it feel like a professional organization is sending a solicitation, not a real person asking for a donation that can change lives.

Lastly, if you’re wondering how long should an appeal letter be, error on the side of longer rather than shorter. Many studies have shown that a longer letter is more successful.

Whether you’re just starting your nonprofit or you’re gearing up for another annual appeal, using these strategies will improve your donor relationship and help you raise more money.

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