Year-end Appeals

Why are my year-end appeals so unsuccessful?

Many books address how to write a compelling appeal that brings in money. I think the single largest mistake I see, and I see it often, is the “we” problem. The letter starts off by stating the great work your organization does. It might include in the letter somewhere that money is needed to stop a critical problem from becoming even more widespread.

What often follows is a set of bullet points telling potential donors of your organizations great work. So what? You’re not speaking to the donor directly if this is your tactic, it likely shows in the lack of donations. Often, problematic letters take too long to get to the ask part of the letter. Poorly written letters are too information-filled. You want to tug at somebody’s heart stings (and you better), then tell them a riveting story.

A well-composed appeal letter should look like it has chicken pox. Use a yellow highlighter to show the places where your letter uses “you” or “you’re.” Use a blue highlighter to show where your letter uses “we” and “our.” To make it seem like you’re talking to the reader, it MUST have lots of yellow highlight marks, not nearly as many blue marks.

I’m sure your organization is doing important work. If you start off with a we statement, or include too many, only your most loyal donors will feel compelled to send in a contribution.

Which of the following is more compelling to you, and to whom would you donate?

Scenario A

You have the power to help XYZ organization end hunger in Slim City. Your donation today will help 250 families eat well-balanced meals each week for the next year. We know you would want us to share with you the story of one the families you helped with donations in the past year.

“My name is Kamika. My parents struggle to put food on the table. School meals are usually the only meals I get. This year, for the first time in my life, thanks to XYZ organization I had a Thanksgiving dinner. I could not BELIEVE the amount of food on the table. There was turkey and cranberry and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and even apple pie!” I went to bed that night for the first time in my life with no hunger pains. My mom and dad cried, but they said it was tears of happiness watching their kids eat up so much food. Thank you for making my entire family so happy, even if just for one day.”

Your donation today can help XYZ organization make a difference for even more families. You surely agree that no family should have children that go to bed hungry.

P.S. Don’t delay. Your donation today will help another family in Slim City have healthy and full meals.

Scenario B

We are proud of our work at XYZ organization. It makes us happy to come to work knowing we are helping families that have never even had a Thanksgiving feast before we put food on their table this year. We know we are making a difference in Slim City. We hear it from families often. And teachers and school administrators often send us letters of thanks. XYZ organization helped feed 10 people each week of the year. Here are some of our accomplishments this year.

  • Fed 250 families in Slim City well-balanced meals.
  • Provided food for 25 school children for the entire year.
  • Ensured that no families went without a Thanksgiving meal.

XYZ organization has done so much through generous donations. We hope we can count on you (first time “you” is used) for a donation this year.

I realize this is a bit simplistic, but hopefully it gives you the idea of what your fundraising letters should look like.

Best of luck to you as you get those letters out (and they better be out soon!). Please contact me if I can be of help.

More about Steve

I live in Bozeman, Montana with the love of my life. I needed only one date before proposing four days later. In October we will mark our 25th anniversary. Our 13-year-old son is a delight. Aside from our careers and our child, we have a dog, a cat and four horses to occupy our time. My career started as a volunteer with nonprofits, working up to Director positions over my 30+-year career. I learned the struggles faced by many nonprofits and have my philosophy on best methods for overcoming those challenges.