Many thanks to Steven Screen for the inspiration for this post. Steven is the co-founder of The Better Fundraising Co. The information he and Jim Shapiro share on their blog will help you learn how to become a better fundraiser, too.

It's almost time. The time of year when your donors' mailboxes are filled with year-end fundraising appeals.

If you haven't gotten your year-end appeal out the door yet, be sure to take a few minutes right now and read this post.

Instead of things to do, you'll find three things you don't want to do.



Appeals are about asking.

A key component of any fundraising campaign is the "appeal," or a letter request.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals defines an appeal letter as "a letter requesting a donation to a fundraising campaign."

Consider the very definition of "appeal." As a noun, it's "a serious or urgent request." As a verb, it means "to arouse a sympathetic response."

Think about it. By its very definition, an appeal is not a report.

Yet far too many year-end fundraising letters read like a report.

According to Steven Screen at The Better Fundraising Company, the most effective year-end campaigns will do these two simple things:

  1. Remind donors that there's a problem (and your organization exists to address it)
  2. Ask them to give a gift before the end of the year to help solve that problem

Bottom line: Don't use your year-end letter to try to educate and persuade donors. Instead, "appeal" to your donors' passions, then ask them to give to support your work.


Only send a letter to your current donors.

Lots of people think, "If we send more appeal letters, then we'll raise more money."

If only it were so easy.

When it comes to fundraising, you should always consider your return on investment. (This is one of 3 essential metrics of fundraising performance.)

Along those lines, Steven Screen recommends " super simple segmentation." Only mail an appeal letter to donors who have made a gift to your organization in the last 18 months.

Why only current donors, you ask? According to Roger Craver in his book Retention Fundraising, nonprofits have

  • a 60-70% chance of obtaining additional contributions from existing donors
  • only a 20-40% chance of securing a gift from a recently lapsed donor
  • less than a 2% chance of receiving a gift from a prospect

Bottom line: Your best prospect is a current donor. You will lower your fundraising costs and see a higher response rate by sending your year-end appeal only to your active donors.


Flip the script when you write your next appeal.

Not all appeals are created equal.

Here's a formula that many nonprofits use:

  1. Thank you for supporting our organization in the past
  2. Let me tell you a story about someone we already helped
  3. Please give and help us continue this good work

Have you used that formula? It works well enough.

But, The Better Fundraising Co. found that this outline works much better:

  1. There's a problem right now
  2. You are needed to solve it
  3. Here's how your gift will solve it

Remember the very definition of an "appeal." It's "a serious or urgent request."

This new and improved formula instills that urgency. It also offers specificity about how the donor can help.

Remember, too, that the very best appeals will offer options for every giving level. For instance, Bridgercare, a nonprofit healthcare clinic in Bozeman, Montana, gives donors a donation breakdown that illustrates more than a dozen giving options - ranging from $10 to $10,000. That way, donors can see exactly what it costs to do the work. And they understand how their gift might be used.

Bottom line: Remind your donor about the problem, remind her that you need her help, and tell her exactly how her gift will make a difference.


Read the full posts from The Better Fundraising Co. that inspired this post.

Remind, But Don't Persuade

Super Simple Segmentation

A Simple Outline for Appeals that Raise Money

Photo credit(s): Steven Screen, The Better Fundraising Co.

Need help writing your 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.