By James D’Ambrosio

For many nonprofits, the major giving season runs from October – December, a time when direct-mail appeals are sent to established and potential new donors (acquisition mailings). Heading into late summer, it’s not too early to begin planning for this important initiative. Since some agencies rely on year-end appeals for a major portion of their fiscal-year revenue, below are some ideas to help maximize this effort. 


1) UPDATE INFORMATION: Update last year’s direct-mail piece with  recent accomplishments and success stories. Not only do savvy donors want to see positive social impact on their investment, they’re also interested in what’s been accomplished recently. Have you launched a new program? Received a prestigious grant? Reached an important milestone? Acquired a high-profile board member? Include this information in your appeal.

2) ELECTION-YEAR TIMING: 2012 is a presidential-election year. It’s a reasonable expectation that some donors will divert at least part of their discretionary charitable giving dollars to candidates for public office. For small donors — a mainstay for nonprofits — this means less money for charities, at least until after the election (November 6). To counter this, you may want to avoid a mailing in the weeks leading up to Election Day when campaigns typically reach a fever pitch.   

3) KEEP PITCH LETTERS SHORT AND FOCUSED: Limit pitch letters to one page in length. This can’t be stressed enough. I’m still astounded by the number of appeals I receive with 4-6 page missives. Today, people are  bombarded with media messages daily. As a result, attention spans have grown shorter. Long narratives simply won’t be read. Get to the point quickly, demonstrate positive social impact, and make the ask. If people can’t afford or don’t want to donate, a long letter won’t convince them. Brief, compelling letters are more likely to be read and acted on.  

4) AVOID USING TOO MUCH EMOTION: While including a brief story in your letter about how your agency helped a person in distress is a good strategy, be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want to paint such a dire picture that readers feel the situation is hopeless. After including such a story, reassure readers that, with their support, your agency can continue making a positive impact. Instilling a sense of hope and confidence is important. 


QUESTION TO READERS: What other strategies have helped you maximize year-end appeals?

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