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?


By James V. D’Ambrosio

A few months back I wrote about the importance of keeping direct-mail solicitations brief and to the point. Taking this a step further, below is a sample direct-mail piece aimed at established donors based on a hypothetical nonprofit — The Jim D’Ambrosio Community Center — where I serve as executive director.

Following this template can bolster the effectiveness of direct-mail appeals. Please use it,  adapting copy to accurately reflect your agency and its specific needs. My mission — the purpose of this blog — is to help nonprofits improve their operations through effective communication strategies.


Dear Ms. Dinkins:

As you know, The Jim D’Ambrosio Community Center serves Huntington Township residents with a variety of social service enrichment programs. We are excited and enthusiastic about our mission – serving the needs of those less fortunate and improving their quality of life. One of our programs – Step Up and Face It – provides drug counseling for teens struggling with substance abuse. The following illustrates the dire circumstances facing individuals in the Huntington area that we are helping:

Mrs. Smith is a single parent raising her 14-year-old son, Josh. Her husband, Hank, was killed in a tragic auto accident 6 months ago, and the family is still reeling. Hank’s death hit Josh hard – his grades have been falling and he is becoming withdrawn from family and friends. Recently, Mrs. Smith was shocked to discover that Josh was taking illegal drugs, cocaine and heroine. She knows he needs help, but can’t afford treatment. She lost her job as a mail clerk, her unemployment benefits have run out, and she doesn’t have health insurance. The meager savings she does have are barely enough to cover rent, groceries and car expenses. She fears that if Josh doesn’t get help soon, his problems will worsen and he will become involved with gangs. She doesn’t see a way out.  

Your generosity has helped folks like the Smith’s obtain the services they so desperately need. Step Up and Face It provides individual and group counseling in a supportive environment to address issues and treat substance abuse. But there’s a problem: the tremendous demand for this program has exceeded our resources. We need your help to reach more people in crisis.

A gift of $75 will serve three additional teens for the spring semester. You can count on us to use resources wisely: JDCC allocates 83 percent of revenue for programming; only 17 percent is spent on administration, salaries and fund-raising combined. In fact, there’s a strong possibility that programming will reach 87 percent of revenue by next year.

In light of the above, won’t you help us? Your previous gift of $50 was instrumental in implementing this program last year. Another contribution will allow us to continue providing essential human services for those in need. Thank you for supporting our mission.


Jim D’Ambrosio

Executive Director

QUESTION TO READERS: What do you think of this letter? Are you inclined to fashion your own based on it?

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