Year-End Appeal Letters: 7 Critical Tips

Holiday year-end appealsIn the early fall it’s the perfect time to start thinking about holiday year-end giving.

If you’re like so many others who haven’t started your annual appeal letter, what are you waiting for? Time is running out.

You can’t afford to be late with your appeal this year, because people with limited resources are going to give to the first organizations that come knocking.

Here Are 7 Critical Tips

  1. Create a timeline and work backwards.
    When do you want appeal letters to land in mailboxes? The first week of November is ideal, but anytime before Thanksgiving will do. December is late! The mail house will need a week, as will the printer. You probably need a (at least) a week to write the letter and get necessary approvals, and a week for board members and others to write personal notes. (That’s a total of 4 weeks.) Do yourself a favor and begin the process no later than October 1st!
  2. Contact vendors (printer and mail house) and get quotes.
    Select your vendor and discuss timelines with them. Make sure they can work under your deadlines and that they understand the urgent nature of your appeal.
  3. Develop a concept and write your letter.
    Include personal stories, client quotes, and photos, when appropriate. This is your opportunity to tell your supporters what you accomplished this year, and who you’ve helped. They should feel the tug at their heartstrings and the urgent nature of your request.
  4. Create a Business Reply Envelope (BRE).
    Don’t send your appeal without one of these. The envelope is another place to tell your story, such as your mission or more quotes. Ask for specific amounts, such as $25, $50, $100 and Other. Don’t forget to collect donor information for your database on this reply envelope including address, phone number, and email address. You can also provide a check-off box for volunteer opportunities.
  5. Personalize, personalize, personalize.
    People respond to people, and the more personalized you can make your request the more likely you are to get a good response. Try the following:

    • Segment your list. Can you send different letters to board members, donors, non-donors, and lapsed donors? Make it feel like the letter is personal and less like bulk mail.
    • Always use Dear [First name], not Dear Friend.
    • Ask board members, staff, and volunteers to write personal notes to people they know (and those they don’t).
    • If you can handwrite envelopes to your largest donors, you should.
  6. Use “live” first class postage.
    This is not the time to use your bulk mail permit or postage meter, which makes the letter look like bulk mail. It should appear to be a personal letter, which would always have a regular stamp. If the envelope doesn’t get opened, it doesn’t matter how good your appeal is. Don’t let your appeal end up in the trash before being opened. First class stamps and handwritten envelopes exponentially increase your open rate.
  7. Follow Up.
    • Before the appeal is mailed, write generic thank you letters. Have a system for how they will get out, as fast as possible.
    • Implement a thank you calling system. Ask board members to help make thank you calls.

    A thoughtful thank you goes a long way in securing the next gift. Remember to let donors know how their money was used. Stand out this year as an organization that is extraordinarily grateful for the donations you receive.

When do you usually start on your year-end appeals? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Joe Parker says

    From my experience, these two items could have been emphasized:

    MOST IMPORTANT TO ANY APPEAL LETTER: Getting the sending envelope opened; getting it opened is A#1 component to any and every appeal letter; everything else is a distant second.

    STORY OF ONE: It’s still critical–the ‘story of one’ person engages the reader-donor (never use many people in an appeal; save those for your newsletters) to care about the case/cause/appeal you’re presenting.

    Great job, Amy. Your consulting words are always valuable.


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