Unpopular Opinion: We need to stop relying on our annual appeal letter for salvation

Ceci Dadisman
Oct 14, 2019 · 3 min read

Ah, the annual appeal letter. Just about every nonprofit does one and the resulting donations are relied upon to make the yearly fundraising goal.

Here is why this is not the best way to go about it:

  1. Talking to our donors one time per year is not going to make a compelling case for support.
    You are nearly silent to donors all year and then all of a sudden you send them something asking them for money. Not cool. The key to a successful campaign is to send compelling messaging to patrons throughout the year so that you are top of mind and patrons are familiar with your impact.
  2. We’re training people to wait for the letter.
    We all loathe the agita we feel as year-end is looming when, in fact, we are doing it to ourselves. When people know they are going to get that letter, they are going to wait for it to make their gift. (This is not unlike when people wait for a discount to purchase something. How many of us have waited until we get that Bed Bath and Beyond coupon in the mail to purchase that fancy Simple Human motion activated trash can, amiright?)
  3. We’re ignoring our communications channels.
    Just because someone writes you a check every year, don’t assume they aren’t seeing your messaging on other channels such as email and social media. (And before you say it, older patrons are absolutely using digital channels.) Each channel reinforces and reiterates the other and should be used to create comprehensive fundraising communications all year long.
  4. Appeal letters are expensive to print and mail.
    We should all be analyzing our cost per acquisition and appeal letters usually have one of the highest out there. We are so focused on making that fundraising goal, but how much money did it take to get there? And what is the ROI of each segment within that mailing?

Bonus: We’re not adequately segmenting our messaging.
The modus operandi is to send our appeal letter to our entire, or basically entire, list. Maybe you separate out LYBUNTS and/or SYBUNTS (people who donated last year but not this year and/or some year but not this year), but that still means that large groups of people are getting the same messaging. Sending any communication in this way inherently decreases its efficacy by not talking to people in a way that is compelling to them. Try segmenting not only by giving history but also by their level of engagement with the organization or past program support.

Most patrons don’t know what an “annual appeal” and simply donate whenever they feel compelled to do so by a particular need or program.

Let’s agree to incorporate more communications into the mix to truly engage our patrons and demonstrate the value of what we do and why it is worth supporting.

And don’t forget that it is often the communications without an ask at all that get the most donations.

Ceci Dadisman

Arts Marketer. Public Speaker. NonProfit Communicator.

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