Guest Post by Ann Fellman, Chief Marketing Officer at Bloomerang
Your nonprofit’s annual appeal is one of the most essential components of your fundraising development plan. In this letter, you have the opportunity to tell a compelling story that highlights your organization’s successes and make a personalized fundraising request to each supporter.
Your annual appeal can enhance your nonprofit’s legitimacy and engage supporters in a critical fundraising initiative. That’s why it’s important to take your time writing your appeal and optimize even the smallest details.
Let’s review seven questions to ask before sending your annual appeal out into the world, pulled from Bloomerang’s annual appeal guide.
1. Do you have a compelling story?
The most fundamental aspect of your annual appeal is the story you tell to recipients. Your letter should create an emotional connection with the reader and fuel their passion for your cause.
Focus on one memorable narrative, such as the story of a community member who found a new job with the help of your career prep services or a senior dog you were able to place in a loving home.
According to Fundraising Letters’ guide to donation requests, this type of storytelling “show[s] that your nonprofit makes an actual difference in people’s lives.” This makes supporters feel much more inclined to donate and continue giving in the future.
Depending on the format you use to send your annual appeal, you should supplement your story with multimedia elements like:
- Videos of your volunteers or beneficiaries
- Photos from volunteer opportunities and events
- Audio snippets and quotes from those you’ve helped
These multimedia elements will bring your story to life and allow potential donors to understand who their contributions will support.
2. Is your appeal easy to read?
Your donors are busy, and they want to get the gist of your annual appeal quickly. Ensure your appeal is easy to read by following this checklist:
- Write short paragraphs broken up with subheadings and bullet points.
- Aim for a sixth to eighth-grade reading level and avoid jargon.
- Copy edit and fact check the appeal to make sure it flows.
Writing an easily understandable message makes your annual appeal more accessible for your audience members and helps ensure it will actually be read.
3. Does the appeal acknowledge current events?
Your annual appeal should include specific references to current events and your nonprofit’s present situation.
Addressing current events in your annual appeal shows donors that your organization is aware of what matters most to people. It also provides greater transparency for donors who are likely curious about how your organization is responding to developments in your cause area and the world in general.
For example, you might discuss these timely elements in your annual appeal:
- Inflation and other economic changes
- New legislation that impacts your cause
- The ongoing impact of COVID-19 (this is especially relevant to healthcare-related nonprofits)
When you acknowledge current events in your annual appeal, you let donors know why it’s important to give now, rather than put off their donation for later. You allow them to become equal partners in your mission, helping you face the most pressing challenges.
4. Is the letter personalized to the donor?
Whether sent via email or direct mail, a personalized message will catch your donors’ attention and make them feel appreciated for their unique contributions.
Use your donor management software (also known as your nonprofit CRM) to find specific information about each donor, including:
- Their names and titles
- Past involvement, including previous campaigns they’ve donated to, volunteer opportunities they’ve participated in, or events they’ve attended
- Past donation amounts
- Donation frequency
- Donation recency
Using this information, you can create a personalized message and send each donor a customized donation request based on their past giving history. For instance, if a certain donor gave $100 to last year’s annual campaign, you can ask if they’d be willing to give the same amount (or slightly more) this year.
If you’re in the market for a new CRM, search for one that allows you to keep track of donor information in robust donor profiles. It’s also helpful if your CRM can automate the personalization process, as this will save your marketing team plenty of time.
5. Have you highlighted multiple giving options?
Another key component of your annual appeal is making it as easy as possible for supporters to give. Not every donor will want to give using the same method, so be sure to offer a variety of choices, such as:
- Online donations
- Direct mail donations
- In-kind gifts (a donation of goods or services rather than money)
- Memorial gifts (a donation in memory of someone)
- Donations to specific campaigns or projects
Offering multiple options gives donors flexibility in how they want to give and what types of initiatives they want to support.
6. Does your letter convey your gratitude to donors?
Your annual appeal should end on a positive note with a message of appreciation. Thank donors for their previous involvement in past campaigns and make it clear that your organization appreciates any donation amount they can give.
Be sure to also convey the impact of donors’ gifts. Let supporters know that their generosity will help build your new animal shelter or allow you to start making repairs to your community center.
Expressing gratitude to donors is an essential aspect of the larger donor engagement process. When donors see that your organization appreciates them and has a plan for using their donations effectively, you’ll build stronger relationships based on trust.
7. Can you track your annual appeal success?
After sending your annual appeal, you’ll need a way to track your fundraising success rates. That’s where fundraising metrics come in.
Using your CRM and marketing tools, you can track engagement and conversion metrics such as:
- Email open rate, which is the percentage of recipients who open your annual appeal email
- Online donor conversion rate, which is the percentage of donors who make an online gift after receiving your annual appeal
- Direct mail response rate, which is the percentage of direct mail recipients who respond to your letter with a check or cash donation
Create a process for gathering and assessing these metrics before sending your annual appeal so that you can track your progress right away. You can use the results to adjust your plans for next year’s appeal as needed.
For example, if you discover your email open rate is strong but your online donation rate is decreasing, you might make a plan to include more compelling imagery or a more obvious donation button in your emails.
Your annual appeal is the culmination of all of your nonprofit’s hard work throughout the year. It should be concise, compelling, and tailored to your unique audience. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, take some time to ensure your appeal is as well-thought-out as possible to make a good impression on potential donors.
About the Author
As the Chief Marketing Officer at Bloomerang, Ann is responsible for the company’s overall thought leadership, brand, marketing, and community outreach programs that work to strengthen relationships with customers and the broader nonprofit community. Ann brings with her more than 24 years of experience in business-to-business (B2B) marketing in the technology industry, including time spent working at a nonprofit organization.