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Sending an annual appeal letter is a tried-and-true method of nonprofit fundraising. While it may not be the most exciting item on your to-do list, it's an essential part of your organization's success. Crafting the right messaging, organizing your contacts, and licking envelopes can be a lot of work, but when done right, the annual fundraising appeal letter can make a big difference for your nonprofit's bottom line.
In this article, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about writing a powerful nonprofit appeal letter and introduce you to tools that can save you time (and headaches!). Plus, we've even included two annual appeal letter examples that you can use as templates to jumpstart your efforts!
What is an annual appeal letter for a nonprofit?
An annual appeal letter is a fundraising tactic many nonprofits use to raise money to cover general operating expenses like rent, salaries, and supplies that keep an organization up and running throughout the year—often called an annual fund.
While other fundraising efforts may be tailored to specific programs or initiatives, an annual appeal for donation letter is usually sent via direct mail and framed as a personal ask to support the organization and its mission as a whole. By securing annual funds through a fundraising appeal letter, nonprofits can breathe easier as the new year begins and focus on their programs, campaigns, and other fundraising activities.
Despite the rise in online giving, direct mail fundraising is still incredibly powerful, especially used in conjunction with digital messages. In fact, a recent study showed 24% of Baby Boomers who donated online did so because of the direct mail they received.
When should you send your annual appeal?
Many organizations send their annual appeal as an urgent, heartfelt year-end giving letter during the holiday season—when 30% of all charitable giving happens—to inspire donors to take action and support their cause.
But every nonprofit is different: Many organizations operate on a July 1 through June 30 fiscal year, while others will have better luck sending annual appeals at other times, depending on their capacity, mission, and audience—and that’s okay!
How to write a solid annual appeal letter in 6 steps
Not sure how to start an annual appeal letter? Follow these steps and download the template to create a letter that will convert more readers into donors.
Step 1: Identify your audience 🔎
Before you start writing your annual appeal letter, it’s crucial to understand who your target audience is. In doing so, you’ll better understand what motivates your supporters and how to best inspire them.
Your first step is to identify specific donor segments within your CRM that you think are the best fit to receive your annual appeal letter. Sort your contact records by gift amount, total contributions, or another custom filter to cultivate a curated list of recipients.
Examples of donor segments might include:
- Donors who have given in the past but haven’t contributed this year
- Prospective or one-time donors
- Recurring donors
- Major donors
Once you’ve identified the right donor segments, you can tailor your annual appeal message accordingly.
⚒️ Tools needed: Great segmentation requires great tools. With Givebutter’s free CRM, nonprofits can create unlimited contact profiles, donor segments, and custom filters, making it even easier to send targeted annual appeal letters each year.
Step 2: Set your goals 🎯
Every nonprofit is different, so every annual appeal letter should be different, too. When crafting your organization's annual ask, consider what your goals are by asking yourself a few key questions:
- Are we hoping our supporters will donate to our annual fund? Or another campaign or initiative?
- What is our ultimate fundraising goal? How will we measure that goal?
- How does this appeal fit into our overall fundraising strategy?
- Will this annual appeal letter resonate with our target audience?
⚒️ Tools needed: In order to determine what you’d like to accomplish with your fundraising appeal, it’s important to review and analyze past efforts. Put your conversion tracking tools to work to understand how previous messaging did with various audiences, and look at the success of events like auctions or peer-to-peer fundraisers. Understanding what campaigns, messages, and initiatives resonated in the past will help you determine what course of action to take in your annual appeal.
Step 3: Prioritize design 🎨
No one wants to receive a boring, drab donation request letter—not even your most loyal supporters. In order to inspire readers to give and connect them with your mission, it’s crucial to get creative and customize.
Make your letters all your own by including your organization’s logo and brand colors. Plus, include elements that will help evoke emotion, like photos and even infographics.
⚒️ Tools needed: Help your snail mail stand out by using Givebutter’s built-in Canva integration to make your fundraising campaigns and donor communications pop.
Step 4: Stay organized 🤓
Nonprofits are busy, especially during year-end giving campaigns when most annual appeal letters are sent. By streamlining the letter process from start to finish, organizations can keep track of all their mailings and avoid sending duplicate letters.
⚒️ Tools needed: Givebutter’s built-in CRM and nonprofit marketing tools help nonprofits keep track of all their donor communications and avoid doubling up on multi-person households or organizations.
Step 5. Be efficient ☑️
During the last few months of the year, nonprofits are swamped with fundraising tasks, and appeal letters can often be left by the wayside. Save time and energy and write an appeal letter with pre-built templates and letter builders.
⚒️ Tools needed: Fundraising letter templates are a great way to maximize efficiency. Instead of starting from scratch, download the free templates below and customize the message to match your organization’s unique mission. Or, write your own annual appeal letter and save it as a template for future years!
Step 6: Create urgency to give 💸
It’s not enough to design an eye-catching letter with bright colors and fonts. Great annual appeal letters that convert encourage readers to take a desired action—in many cases, to donate.
To create urgency and encourage readers to give, your letter should:
- Be clear and specific about your ask.
- Include action-oriented language.
- Emphasize the impact of contributions.
- Provide multiple giving options.
⚒️ Tools needed: Once donors decide they want to give, don’t make it complicated for them! Every Givebutter donation form, event, and fundraising page accepts all popular payment methods, including debit/credit cards, PayPal, Venmo, donor-advised funds, and even old-school “I’ll mail a check” options (not to mention easy recurring giving options).
Free annual appeal letter templates and examples
Wondering how to start an appeal letter? Use Givebutter’s free templates and fundraising appeal letter samples for your next annual ask to save time and energy—and bring in more donations than ever before.
5 Tips for creating inspiring annual appeal letters
- Make it short and sweet 🍬 Your annual appeal should be concise in order to keep readers’ attention and help them focus on what’s most important. Cut down on long-winded sentences, and stick to what matters.
- Evoke emotion 💛 Use emotive language that invites empathy and connects the reader emotionally to your cause. Avoid jargon and complex language that may alienate potential donors.
- Tell a story 📖 Share real-life stories of impact from your work and show how supporters’ contributions help to make a difference.
- Give thanks 🙏 Make donors feel appreciated by acknowledging their efforts thus far, even if they’re new donors. Like a thank-you letter or donor acknowledgment message, annual appeal letters should remind them of how important their ongoing support is.
- Make it personal 🫂 Include personalized touches where possible with merge fields and tailored appeals so donors feel connected to your cause and compelled to contribute.
Create annual appeal letters that convert with Givebutter
An annual appeal letter is an opportunity to create a lasting connection with supporters and has the potential to be one of your most powerful fundraising tools yet.
👀 Coming soon to Givebutter: With the launch of Givebutter’s new fundraising letter feature, nonprofits will be able to write, design, and download unlimited letters in minutes—all for free and all without leaving the Givebutter platform. With custom donor segments and built-in, world-class design tools, Givebutter can help your organization take donor appeals to a whole new level.
Sign up for free to start building your annual appeal letter contact list in Givebutter’s free nonprofit CRM, and be on the lookout for the launch of fundraising letters in 2023!
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