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October 30, 2014
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November 12, 2014

10 Ways to Get Your Appeal Letter Opened

woman opening letterFor many of the organizations we work with, the appeal letter is still the anchor of the year-end giving effort. Yes, there are e-mail campaigns, events, and social media work, but the central ask is more often than not in that letter that comes the old-fashioned way.

And although it is definitely best practice to stay current with the online trends, the fact is that direct mail is the way most donations are raised for the nonprofit sector – still.

So, if the centerpiece of your year-end strategy is a letter, the real question is…how can we get people to open and respond to it?

There definitely is something important about making your letter stand out in the mail. Whether that is by use of a “teaser” (a message on the outside envelope that entices the recipient to open it) or by making the envelope of a different size or color, the letter has to rise above the crowd in the mailbox.

But, I’m thinking of beyond the look of the piece. How can we use other communication and relationships to build energy and momentum around your year-end package that you’ve worked so hard to create?

Here are 10 ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  1. Get on the phone: Use volunteers to do pre-appeal calling just to let people know your letter is coming.
  2. Send e-mail: Let your donors know to look for your letter by sending a quick e-mail blast a few days after the piece is to arrive in their mailbox.
  3. Mention it at your events: If you have any events in the coming weeks, make a case for your year-end campaign and let people know that the letter will include ways they can support it.
  4. Put it on your social media: Use social media to reinforce the key messages of the letter and to entice people to open it. Consider “dripping” out your most compelling language in the letter through posts and updates.
  5. Hand the letter to your volunteers: If you have volunteers that contribute to the work you do, consider giving them the annual appeal personally rather than mailing it. They will open it!
  6. Create a follow-up postcard: So much mail gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Send a follow up postcard with a shortened call to action and a message of “Did you get my letter?…”.
  7. Mention it in your newsletter: Write a quick blurb to let people know that your annual appeal is coming to their mailboxes (or is already sitting on their desks!). Consider a way to feature “clues” or teasers to get them curious enough to open it.
  8. Use the “table captain” concept: Is there a way to organize some of your volunteers to follow-up with donors that they know through whatever communication channel works for them? (Hint: staff needs to make this happen by organizing lists and contact information for your volunteers.)
  9. Get your board and staff involved: I recently wrote personal notes and stuffed envelopes as a board member and it makes me just a little more invested in the performance of the letter. I’ll be asking my friends if they saw it!
  10. Keep a stack at the reception desk: I know this goes against every principle of personalization, but if you’ve got a letter that you are really proud of, that contains some good and interesting stuff, you might consider keeping a stack out front (addressed “Dear Friend”) and having your reception staff give it to people as they come and go.

And be sure to have a call to action in the letter that is relevant, clear, and compelling, as well as an easy way for people to respond with a gift. Once you have made people aware of your year-end ask, they need to know what to do!

And if you want some more tips on writing your year-end appeal, we’ve got more than a few blog posts for you. Check out the 4 golden oldies below.

Photo of Vermeer painting courtesy of Creative Commons, 2.0 Generic

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