The 5 Rules of Successful Annual Appeal Fundraising Letters

An organization’s annual fundraising appeal letter is a yearly letter that gets sent out to your current donors asking for general operating funds for your nonprofit organization. It usually gets sent to every donor in your donor file (or at least, every donor that has been active over the past several years) and normally gets sent out around the same time each year (the time of year differs by nonprofit, but once you pick a time of year, you normally stick with it).

While not every nonprofit organization utilizes annual appeal letters, it has been my experience that most do. The reason for this is that it gives the charity a good reason for contacting donors for general operating funds as opposed to asking for designated dollars, and it is a great opportunity to cast a wide net through an easily scalable medium (direct mail).

As you plan your annual appeal mailing, keep the following rules in mind:

#1 – Consistent Mailings Produce Better Results

If your annual appeal letter is the only time that your donors hear from you via snail mail, then your mailing will not raise its full potential. Consistency produces better results.

When your appeal is the only real live letter your donors get from you, they are more likely to feel you are “selling” to them. On the other hand, if you are regularly communicating with your donors via snail mail (even if it’s only by sending them two mailed newsletters per year) your supporters will feel like the annual appeal is a natural part of the ongoing conversation they are having with your nonprofit.

#2 – Preach to the Choir

Remember that your annual appeal letter is going out to your donor database, and only to your donor database. This means that when you’re writing your letter, you’re “preaching to the choir.” Thus, don’t belabor your explanation about what the organization does or the mechanics of your work. Talk about your mission, of course, but don’t treat your readers like they are prospects who have never heard of your nonprofit before.

Your “choir” needs to see and feel a connection to your work. Include a compelling story that shows how your organization’s work as led to transformation – either within an individual life, or a larger community. Include a photo or two if you can.

#3 – Summarize Your Work

As noted above, your annual appeal letter serves, in part, as a summary of the work that your nonprofit is proud to have carried out over the course of the past year. Summarize your work in emotional and compelling terms, tie it to your mission, and remind your donors that they played an integral part in your success over the past several years through their generous donations to your organization.

#4 – Spell Out Your Need And How To Donate

In addition to summarizing your work and mission, your annual appeal letter serves as a tool for laying out a bold and exciting mission for the future of your organization. Use the letter to tell your donors what you hope to accomplish going forward. Tell them why you need them to get involved. Then invite them to do so.

Make giving easy by including:

    • An envelope to mail checks
    • A QR code that goes directly to a giving page
    • The URL for your giving page
    • Contact information for your fundraising office

#5 – Be Creative, but Not Cute

My rule for annual appeal letters is always to be creative, but not cute. Your annual appeal mailing isn’t the time to try out that velvet printing paper you’ve always wanted to use or to test out a new premium to include with the letter.

That being said, you can and should be creative with your letter. Remember, these are donors who in many cases have been with you for a long time. They’ve gotten tons of letters from you. Even if they are in fact expecting and looking forward to receiving your annual appeal, try to spice things up a little by being creative, emotional, and visionary.

In conclusion, remember that this is one of the most important pieces of communication you send to your supporters each year. The difference between a well written appeal and a poorly written appeal is real dollars for your organization. So make sure that you put some time and thought into it!