There's a saying in fundraising. You'll raise more money when

the right person
asks the right prospect
for the right amount
at the right time.

While that's true for major donors and capital campaigns, it's also true for your general donors and your annual fund as well.

Let me explain what I mean.


Chances are, your Executive Director or Board Chair (or maybe both) signed your last appeal letter. And your letter talked about the organization's accomplishments and needs.

What if, instead, the letter was written from the perspective of one of the people you serve? And the letter was about how their life is different because of what you do?

Or a volunteer or staff member? Someone who's "on the ground," doing the work and seeing the impact first-hand?

Or a donor, talking about why they support your cause?

The conversation changes when the letter is written from the perspective of someone other than your leadership.

And how about this? The "right person" doesn't even have to be a person!

Here's a great example of how an adorable little truck became the spokes-"person" for a food bank campaign. (beep beep!)


It's no secret that when you segment your donor list, you'll raise more money. That's because you can target your messaging.

For instance, you might want to write an appeal to women in your database, since women influence their households' giving decisions.

Or you might write to older people, since they're most likely to respond to direct mail.

Or maybe you're writing to donors who gave last year, because you want them to give again this year.

While it's tempting, you'll want to avoid sending your appeal to everyone in your database. The fact is, you're far more likely to get a gift from a current donor or a recently lapsed donor than from someone who hasn't given in a while (or someone who's never given).

With your year-end campaign, I recommend a minimum of two letters: one to active donors (those who've given in the past 12 months) and one to LYBUNTs (those who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This).

The overarching message is the same. The key difference is this: you'll adjust it slightly when it comes to suggesting the "right amount." Keep reading.


The "right amount" is different for every donor, but one thing is true for all donors: you need to suggest an amount that you'd like the donor to give.

Saying "Please help" or "Please give" is vague and a weak call to action.

Saying "When you give $35, you can feed a child for a month" is clear. It tells me exactly what amount will help - and how.

Here are a couple of tips for figuring out the "right amount" to suggest.

Calculate your unit cost. Figure out what it costs to feed a child, or spay/neuter an animal, or build a well, or whatever you do.

Yes, it's easier for some organizations, but every nonprofit can do it. When you know what it "costs" to do your work, you can tell your donors. And that way, they understand what exactly their donation can do.

Know your average gift amount. It's important to know your average gift amount (among other numbers), so you can see how it's changing year over year. You can also use your average gift amount to suggest a donation amount to new donors.

Some organizations prefer to suggest their median (the middle number) or mode (the most common number). The important thing is to suggest a gift amount. Always.

Know your current donors' previous giving history. When you're writing to current donors, you want to refer to their last gift. It's a confirmation of their past support and a behavioral trigger.

Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, calls this trigger "commitment and consistency." The reference to your donor's last gift gives her a mental shortcut. It reminds her, "Why, yes! I did give to this organization last year." And that makes it easier for her to say "yes" again. A bonus? By referring to last year's gift, you're also suggesting a default amount.

Lastly, when you know your donor's last gift amount, you can use a formula to suggest other amounts - like 1.5 or 2 times last year's gift. The different options are called a gift string or gift ladder. Many donors will give more when you suggest it. (Just don't forget to make a strong case for why more money is needed and how the additional dollars will be used).


Clearly, the end of the year is a popular time for nonprofits to send a fundraising appeal. Some nonprofits raise as much as half of their annual budget between mid-November and December 31.

That said, an "annual fund" does NOT mean that you're limited to asking once each year.

In fact, donors should be asked more than once a year. Many will give more than once, when they're asked more than once.

You're shaking your head, thinking it won't work. But it does.

There are many reasons why, and I like Kay Sprinkel Grace's explanation best.

In the book Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil All Boards (and Staff, Too), she says, "Ask because you're succeeding, not because you need money. Ask more than once because the need is growing... as is your impact on the community."


Simply put, you will raise more money when "the right person asks the right prospect for the right amount at the right time."

You, dear reader, may be your organization's designated letter writer. And your Executive Director or Board Chair may consider themselves the designated signers.

However, when you write your appeals from different people's perspectives, you will raise more money.

When you write each appeal to a particular segment, you'll raise more money.

Ask for a specific amount, every time. And you'll raise more money.

And ask more than once a year. That way, you'll definitely raise more money.

Bottom line: you'll raise more money when you ask the "right" way.

Photo credit(s): Pixabay and Geralt

Need help writing a fantastic year-end appeal? Or just want someone to help you turn a good letter into a great one? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.