Have you started your year-end fundraising letter yet?

Fiscal people can do funny things to the way we measure time. In our organization, our year-end was September 26 this year. Many schools and colleges work on a July-June calendar. Others end their year in February for a March start.

But for our donors, year-end will always be December 31. And statistically, people tend to be the most generous leading up to year end.

So now is the time to start crafting your year-end appeal.

I've been at this a long time, but I'm still surprised at how long the direct mail process takes. I'd love to be able to write one letter and have it sent to my donors the next day. But it doesn't work like that.

First you need to know who you're sending to

Our database folks can really slice and dice our constituents. When I say, "I dunno. I want everyone to get the year-end appeal," they start asking questions.

  • "Does everyone including people that have given this year?"
  • "Even if they've given to a capital project, do you want them to get this annual fund appeal?"
  • "Do you want employees to get the same letters as everyone else?"
  • "Board members?"
  • "Major donors?"

And you know, they're right. These are questions you need to consider.

Then you need to write your letters

Depending on how many groups you ended up with (employee/non-employee, etc.), you'll need to craft the letter. Here are some things to consider:

  • What's your theme?
    Bragging about past accomplishments? Listing future funding focueses? Answering questions people are asking?

  • Who should sign it?
    Should this come from the director of development? The CEO? The board chair? A volunteer? Answering this will help you write in the right "voice."

  • How long will it be?
    Many try one-side of one page to help reduce costs. But studies more often show that 2-page out performs 1-page and 4-page letters out perform 2-page. Of course, you'll need to test this for yourself.

  • What will your P.S. be?
    This is the most important part of your letter, as it's the most read part after the address. When do you want the gift by? How much are you asking? What is your call to action?

  • What should the buckslip look like?
    Every direct mail piece needs a reply device. How will yours look? Will it be a tear off piece of paper? Will it be filled out with the donor's address and name? Are you going to also customize the ask amounts based on the donor?

  • What kind of return envelope will you use?
    Will you make them put a stamp on it? Or will you use a business reply indicia?

Third work out the details with your direct mail house

  • Find out how long the mailing will take once they get the copy
    I continue to be amazed that they often need weeks of lead time. But they do have other clients to work in too...

  • Be sure to mutually agree on addressing options.
    My vendor keeps wanting me to save money. Normally that would be nice. But it always seems to result in my donors' addresses being surrounded by weird numbers, letters, and barcodes. Yuck. I want my fundraising letter to look like a real piece of mail, not something that would be stuffed into a junk mail file.

  • And be sure to get printed proofs before they do the mass mailing.
    I also continue to be amazed at how many ways they can screw up a perfectly simple letter. (At least it seems simple to me!) Direct mail houses seem particularly challenged on font size and margins. They seem to want to make the fonts and margins really tiny, but people do better with 12 or 13 point font and lots of white space.

Hopefully these pointers will get you off to a great start for your year-end fundraising appeal. In a couple weeks, we'll look at ways to tie your year-end appeal with social media tools like Facebook or Twitter.

Remember, there's nothing compassionate about not asking!

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