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October 3, 2018
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October 17, 2018

Tried and True: 10 “Must Have’s” for Your Year End Appeal Letter

This post originally appeared about five years ago as 8 Must-Have’s for your Year-End Appeal Letter. It’s been so popular that we’re re-posting it here and adding two more!

It’s that time again!  Time to write your year end appeal.  How much more can be said about such a traditional fundraising technique?  Well, I’ve written more annual appeals than I can count, and I learn something new every time. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I’ve seen great results, too.  Here are some things that I think are key:

Start early:  My goal has always been to get the appeal out by Halloween.  Why?  Because then you have the time to follow-up with phone calls, e-mails, and personal visits before the holidays swamp us all.  If you’re not able to do that, don’t sweat it.  Just be sure to get it in the mailbox at least a week before Thanksgiving.  Once December hits, following up becomes harder and harder.

Tailor the letter to the audience: Also called “segmenting” in direct mail, this is basically grouping your donors and creating a letter that speaks specifically to them in some way.  So, if you have volunteers, segment out that list and write a letter that incorporates gratitude for their services.  If you have businesses on your list, see if you can create a letter that speaks to their interests.  Other possible segments are:  lapsed donors, monthly donors, and past and present board members.

Make it look like a letter: I know this sounds crazy, but a letter is the expected and traditional way that nonprofits ask for money.  Donors have grown accustomed to it. If you deviate too far from the letter format, you will likely get less of a response than you would with a plain letter on stationary.  Everyone loves to get a personal letter, so make your look as personal as possible.

Two to four pages work better than one: I know, I know, you are trying to be concise and keep it short for busy people, but the fact is that people’s perception is that you don’t have much to say unless it’s at least two pages long.  AND though we work very hard on our letters, the fact is that very few of them actually get read from beginning to end, so you need to spread out the text and make it readable (see below!).

Ask more than once: And don’t save it until the very end! You need to make a pitch for support on at least every page. I like to put the ask up front so that it’s out there from the beginning.

Make it skimmable:  Be sure to use a larger (at least 12 point) font that is easy to read.  Have nice big margins and short paragraphs.  And most importantly, use bullet points, bold type, and underlining to pull out key passages.

Include a call to action:  You have to tell people what you want them to do.  Put another way — to get money, you have to ask for it.  And as many people are going to skim your letter, you have to ask on each page in a direct and compelling way.

A story, a statistic, three bullets:  My rule about content is that it should contain a story (however short) about the people you serve, a concrete statistic about the need for your work, and a three bullet points that illustrate the results of your work.  This is my own little rule, but not a formula.  The point is that you have to illustrate to the reader why your organization, why now in a inspiring and engaging way.

Use “we” and “you”: It’s really not too motivating for donors to give your organization money so that you can do good work. They want to be part of the action! Include your donors by using the words “you” and “we” when you talk about the impact your organization is making.

Include a “p.s.”:You might also notice that many professional fundraising letters have a “p.s.” to re-state the ask or a key point.  There’s some evidence that the p.s. is the first thing that gets read, so make it good.

What can you add to my “Must-Have” list?

Consider our Year-End Appeal Bundle, chock full of templates, worksheets, and tips to get your annual appeal done. Use the “SAVE10” code to get 10% off as a blog subscriber!



  1. Perfect timing! We are in the final edit stages of our End of Year appeal, this is an easy checklist to follow. Thank you.

  2. Great list! How about adding a compelling visual for busy readers who skim? A picture truly is worth 1000 words. Compelling generally means a head shot. With big eyes looking directly at the reader. I find sad expressions work best in appeals (makes donors want to put a smile on their face) and happy work best on remit pieces and thank you letters (because donor signed on to solve the problem).

    • Leslie Allen says:

      Agree! Photos can add a lot as long as they don’t interfere with readability! I really like your thinking around matching the tone of the photo to the right mail piece. Thanks, Claire!

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