Special Fundraising Appeals

Question: We want to send out a special fundraising appeal to our supporters around the end of the year, but are wondering what the best way is to go about it. What advice do you have for us?

Answer: That’s great! Special appeals to your supporters are an important and effective way to fundraise. Special appeals are usually done by mail and are a “special” ask for support outside your supporter’s annual membership dues. Special appeals can be sent really any time of year or for any special reason you might have to ask your supporters to contribute to your organization.

One of the most common types of special appeals is the end-of-the-year appeal. People often make special or additional donations to charities around the holidays or at the end of the year for tax purposes. An end-of-the-year appeal is an excellent reminder to your supporters that their investment in your organization is needed and makes a big difference. So, here are a few tips and ideas to keep in mind when planning your end-of-the year appeal:

1.    Give yourself plenty of time. Make a calendar of deadlines, and start with when you want your appeal to land in your supporter’s mailbox, and then work backwards. Many appeals start showing up in mailboxes right after Thanksgiving. That means you probably want to get started right away – Thanksgiving is about a month away! (Not to freak you out or anything)

2.    Make a list. Make a list of who you want to send your appeal to. I suggest sending it first: to your current up-to-date members and donors or anyone who attended one of your events over the last year (free or otherwise); second: to anyone who has been a member, donor, or attended one of your events in the last three years; third: expand the same list out beyond three years until you get your target number.

This can all get pricey, so make a budget, figure out how much each mail piece will cost you, and figure how many pieces you can afford to send and then send them first to the people who have supported you most recently.

3.    Make yourself shine. We all know around the holidays we get way more mail than any other time of year. Your appeal is going to be sitting in the mailbox with catalogs, holiday cards, mail orders, bills, junk mail and other appeals. Make sure your appeal stands out.

At GRN, our appeal comes in the form of holiday card and we spend time thinking about an eye catching front to our card – usually a photo - not just in hopes that we’ll get a donation but that our card ends of on the mantel with all the other holiday cards. Other eye catching approaches we’ve seen include: an annual report listing all the great work the organization has done over the year, a catalog of giving options, and a calendar for the next year.

Fun, holiday colored envelopes, postage stamps, and graphics all are eye-catching. Especially for your end-of the-year appeal, we think holiday themed postage stamps are better than the bulk-rate emblem. If you have time, or have staff or volunteers with time, hand addressed envelopes are way more personal and eye-catching than labels.

4.    Include a remit envelope. A remit envelope is an envelope that is already addressed to you that the supporter puts their contribution in and includes a place for the supporter to write out their contact and donation information to easily send back to you. I don’t suggest putting a stamp on it – a lot of stamps will end up wasted – you should expect a return rate between 5-20% on your appeal, 20% is REALLY good. Also, we like to include a box for the supporter to check and let us know if they want us to count the contribution as a special donation or as their annual dues.

5.    Include a short letter or a note that explains that you are asking for special contribution, in addition to their annual dues, why it’s needed now, how it will make a difference, and how their support has already made a difference.

6.    Organize a note/letter/card signing party with your staff and board. A personally signed note/letter/card from you or one of your staff or board members is way more meaningful and personal than no note or signature or one that has been copied and pasted in.

We wish you the best of luck on your end-of-the-year appeal!