Critical Elements of a Successful Annual Fund Appeal Letter

Annual Fund
Date Published
09/07/2018
Author
Mary Toropov

An Annual Fund appeal is an important element in the yearly cycle of a nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. While special appeals for special purposes have their place, an annual appeal to raise funds for the basic operating needs of the organization is the cornerstone of a fundraising plan.

In balancing Annual Giving efforts, direct mail remains the driver behind many fundraising programs. Even while digital channels are on the rise, it’s still well worth investing effort in making your next Annual Fund mailing achieve maximum results.

The first order of business is to make sure you use a clean, well-targeted list and to determine the optimal timing of the mailing.

Next focus on crafting a letter that makes the case for giving. Here are the elements of a successful letter.

  1. Focus on connecting with your supporter. Personalize copy as much as possible. Use the donor’s name in the salutation. Thank the donor for past support, with specifics about the most recent gift if you can, or the length of the duration of the individual’s giving. Keep your tone friendly and grateful.
  2. Make your mission real by telling a story that demonstrates the positive contributions your organization has made. Make the narrative informative and entertaining to read, and appeal to the reader’s emotions.
  3. Clearly outline your organization’s immediate need and future plans. Draw a connection to the impact the donor’s gift will make. Invite the donor to get involved in creating the solution. Add in urgency when it’s appropriate.
  4. Tie the donor’s past gifts to the successes of the organization.
  5. Include a strong call to action at several points within the letter — within the first couple of paragraphs, again before the page turn, and at the end.
  6. Make your gift ask direct and specific, using actual suggested gift amounts. For prior donors, these can be based around their previous giving level. Again, tie the amounts to specific impact whenever possible: “$100 provides 10 meals to hungry families in the xyz community.”
  7. Include copy that can be skimmed. Pull out the most important points with bold or underlined passages. Always add a concise P.S. that sums up the need and the call to action. Skimmers will read their name, the P.S., and then go back to the first paragraph and any highlighted portions. Make sure those elements tell the story.
  8. Make it easy to give. Provide a return envelope, and a reply slip that is personalized with suggested gift amounts and an uplifting, affirmative message. The donor, having been moved by your mission and ready to make an impact, should find it very easy to make a gift.
  9. Lastly, don’t forget to send a follow-up appeal! A second letter sent within 14 to 30 days will raise an additional 40% to 65% in revenue.

Think of your Annual Fund mailing as an invitation to friends to join you in doing something positive that you’re excited about. They don’t want to be lectured with boring facts and figures and self-absorbed whining. Make your message emotional, visionary, and easy to respond to positively. They’ll catch on to your enthusiasm and want to help in a way that you tell them will be most effective. Leave them with your appreciation, feeling good about making a positive difference in the world. Chances are they’ll be your friends for a very long time!

About the Author:
Mary Toropov
Account Director
Agency Services

I assist AFG’s nonprofit clients, particularly public media, with holistic annual fundraising plans, budgets, execution of campaigns, and analysis for of results.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

Helping clients maximize the life time value of their supporters is very satisfying, especially when we can make it easier and more efficient for them to do so with limited staff. I aim to take the worry off their plates so they can focus their energies on their mission.

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

Leading group tours and walking Nantasket Beach.

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

Theater, choral singing, counted thread needlework, travel.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I played the meanest Lucy you ever saw in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown!

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

Growing up in a house built in 1712 with my sister and five brothers.

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