The annual appeal is an incredibly powerful fundraising tool and one of the most important communications you will have with your donors.
The annual appeal is your opportunity to talk directly to your donors; this is where you inspire them to give. If writing an annual appeal intimidates you, know that you are not alone. We’ll share some tips with you to help your next annual appeal be your most successful yet!
What is an Annual Appeal Letter?
To break it down into its simplest form, an annual appeal is a yearly letter sent to donors directly asking for financial support. It's one of the most common ways that nonprofits solicit donations. It is also a great way to remind your donors to give. Most donors won’t give until you ask!
An annual appeal is a perfect time to talk about the recent successes of your organization. It’s okay to brag about yourself a little! Your donors want to see that their support is making a difference.
Annual fundraising campaigns generally fall into two categories: annual fund drives or specific project campaigns. Annual fund drives usually raise money for institutional needs, such as facilities, maintenance, payroll, etc. Specific project campaigns raise money for a specific project or program within an organization, such as a capital campaign.
Nonprofits approach the timing of annual appeals in different ways. Some organizations will send them in the early spring. This provides a natural segue into talking about your accomplishments from the previous year and highlighting what is in store for your organization's future.
Other organizations choose to send their appeal letters at the end of the calendar year, as this is generally the time when people are feeling most charitable.
Annual appeals can be sent out as part of an annual report or as a separate mailing. They should be sent out at least once per year, but many nonprofits send them out more frequently. If you are unsure when to mail the appeal, you could try different times and see which one gets the best response.
Why is an Annual Appeal Letter Important?
Annual appeal letters are important because they help keep existing donors engaged with your nonprofit and remind them you need financial support to continue your mission.
Oftentimes, donors will give their largest gift of the year in response to your appeal. But it's not just about money, it's about telling your story and how the donor's gift will impact the lives of the people you are serving.
The most important thing is to remind your donors how past donations were used and what kind of impact they had. For example, if you’re running a food drive, tell them about how many people were helped the previous year by the donations.
Your donors give to you because they value your mission. If they didn’t, they would donate their money elsewhere. Many donors view their gift as an investment in a cause they are passionate about. Let them know why they made a good investment!
But remember to keep things brief—If you try to squeeze too much into one mailing, you risk making it hard for people to find what they need when they open up the letter.
5 Rules for Writing Successful Annual Appeal Letters
You've gone through the process of identifying your donors, and now you have the opportunity to ask for their support. So how do you write a compelling appeal letter?
Here are five tips to help get you started:
1. Personalize the appeal.
A common mistake nonprofits often make is using boilerplate language and generic greetings (re: Dear Friend).
You may think that it's best to write in a way that sounds generic since your letter is likely going to a large mailing list. But that's not what donors are looking for. In fact, if your letter looks like a mass mailing, you can expect fewer gifts and lower response rates.
Instead of treating each donor like just another number in a database, you should make every effort to personalize your appeal letters by using the first and last names of your donors as often as possible. And make sure that their names are spelled correctly!
You can also personalize your annual appeal letters by adding a short note at the bottom thanking them personally for their support and letting them know how much they mean to your organization. Don't be afraid to show some emotion in these notes—most people will appreciate it!
2. Give an update on how donations were used last year.
Donor engagement is the key to retaining your donors each year.
Your supporters give to your organization because you share a common goal, whether that be providing mental health resources, reducing food insecurity in your community, or providing access to the arts. Show them how you are working towards that goal. These updates also provide a good transition into asking for another gift this year.
Annual reports are a great way to give donors a quick glimpse at what your organization has been up to. For organizations that like to combine their annual reports and appeals, your report can give an easily digestible look at the work you are doing, and then you can expand upon that in your appeal.
For more ideas on how to create engaging content for your donors, check out this post on how to write a compelling annual report.
3. Explain the need your organization is addressing and how your work helps fill it.
You want potential donors to know exactly what they're supporting when they give money to your cause. Be specific about the impact their support will have on people in need or the community at large—and make sure you include numbers whenever possible!
For example, if you provide books to children in need, let them know how many books you provided and to how many kids. Or maybe you operate an after-school program. You should keep track of the number of kids who attend your program each year. This is valuable information for your organization and your donors.
4. Make it easy to donate.
It's important to provide multiple ways for people to donate because not everyone feels comfortable donating in the same way.
For example, older donors on average will prefer to mail a check, while younger generations will want to give online. If you only provide your donors with one method to give, you may lose out on vital dollars because someone does not feel comfortable giving in the way that you asked.
When sending an annual appeal, organizations will often include a reply slip and a business return envelope. For donors who wish to mail a check, this makes the giving process incredibly easy. If you didn’t do this, there’s a chance someone would not give it because they didn’t have an envelope or a stamp.
You could also provide your website address where they can make a gift online. Some organizations will even add a QR code that donors can scan. This makes it even easier for the donor than listing your web address. All a donor needs to do is scan the code with the camera on their phone and they will be linked directly to your organization’s website, or better yet, your donation page.
5. Always say thank you!
Appreciation is our most important job as fundraisers. We need to let our donors know that we could not do our work without them. They make it possible!
If your appeal letter is going to someone who has previously donated, always thank them for their gifts and let them know they are appreciated. Appeal letters are most effective when they are personal. If someone is a long-time supporter of your organization, you can mention their longevity when thanking them.
On the other hand, if someone made their first gift last year, mention it! It is the perfect opportunity to thank them for joining you and make an effort to get to know them better. You could offer to get coffee with them or even invite them for a tour of your organization. And don’t forget, when you get that gift in response to your annual appeal, you need to send a thank you note!
Wrapping Up: What is an Annual Appeal?
The annual appeal is one of the most important fundraising tools that your organization has. It's the vehicle that keeps you engaged with your donors, tells them why the work you do is important and helps you grow your supporter base.
A successful annual appeal can bolster your organization's annual fundraising efforts and help maintain and strengthen relationships with your donors. We hope the tips in this article will help you with your next round of appeal letters so that you can continue furthering your nonprofit’s mission!