By Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
The Year End Appeal can be one of our most successful development initiatives of the year. This is our opportunity to tell our story, unveil new plans, and invite those who are in a giving frame of mind to join us in launching a successful 2015.
Ministries and organizations that forgo this opportunity miss out not only on gifts that can make a major difference in the bottom line, but also lose a great chance to begin building relationships with those who receive our other mailings.
There are reasons some ministries decide not to send a Year-End Appeal, but any objections to this endeavor are easily answered.
With mailing expenses, the Year-End Appeal costs too muchLet’s say we send 1000 letters, a $490 investment in postage. With envelopes, paper and ink, let’s say we spend as much as 50 cents per package on color printing. That’s about $1.00 per mailing. That’s $1,000. If ten out of 1,000 recipients send us $100, we’ve already broken even. A well-written year-end appeal will not lose money.
No one reads appeal lettersWe can’t expect 50% response rates, because it is true that many people throw away appeal letters. Yet, every major non-profit sends appeal letters; they do so because they know this is a great way to reach new, and existing financial partners. In addition, many—especially the home-bound—only give to appeal letters.
We do appeal letters at other times of year. We do not want to overwhelm our donors with junk mail.Take it from someone who signs up for newsletters from pregnancy help organizations all over: While you keep close track of your appeals, your recipients do not.
Occasionally someone will send a ministry a note saying, “You send too much mail,” but we absolutely cannot base our mailings on one or two complaints. People are busy—they don’t have time to worry about our number of mailings.
Most ministries do not send enough appeal letters. The Year End Appeal is at the top of the list. This month, let’s make it happen.
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Our Year-End Appeal is not simply a fundraising letter; it is our opportunity to impart our vision to the hundreds of people (thousands?) on our mailing list. This is why it is so important that we paint a large vision in this letter.
So consider, what do you want to accomplish in 2015? What is the big picture for your organization? What initiatives are new? Which initiatives are due for a major upgrade?
If there is nothing new or there are no major changes, consider emphasizing several key areas that are most effective in changing and saving lives.
When we ask, let’s think big
The simple truth is that our response rate on our Year-End Appeal is not going to be 20% or something like that. We all know many of our letters go in the trash. That’s certainly okay, and not a reason to fail to send out a letter.
What this means however, is that we need to think big.
This is not our “diapers and wipes” letter. In fact, let’s stop for a moment here and make it clear: We never need to use our newsletter, e-blast or any other communication to ask for layette items. When we do this, we are proclaiming to the world that we are a small organization, doing small things. Major donors see these asks and quickly decide, “They have no need for the gifts I am considering.”
Therefore, our asks need to be significant, with one exception. Sometimes when we are asking for a first or second gift in a specialized appeal letter, we might ask for a small amount ($15-$30) to gauge interest in our work.
In this letter it is certainly fine to let people know we would be thankful for any gift, but overall let’s be looking to help fund initiatives that require larger gifts.
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Sometimes it is the small touches that make a big difference with our Year End Appeal. As we prepare to connect with our constituents at this crucial time, let’s consider these ideas:
1. Get rid of “Friends”We never want to start a letter with “Dear Pro-Life Friend” or simply, “Dear Friend.” Mail merge is simple; we need to make sure our recipients see a salutation addressed to them.
2. Consider a teaser on the outside of the envelope“200 more lives saved in 2015?” might catch the eye of a reader, and inside we can promote any of a number of initiatives: marketing, a fatherhood initiative, ultrasound. Give readers a reason to look inside, starting on the outside.
3. Stratify, stratify, stratifyWe can’t say it enough; we must be sending different letters to different people. While the main content of the letter will likely be the same, our ask should be different based on the person reading.
For instance, those who have never given might see a phrase such as, If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to give to First Choice, now would be a perfect time. The monthly supporter might read, Thank you for your continued support of First Choice. If you are considering a special gift to First Choice, now would be a perfect time. The difference is small, but someone giving each month wants to know you know that fact when they read your letter.
Stratifying our list, breaking down our mailing list based on support given, is vital in a letter like this. It can make the difference between an average return on our Appeal Letter, and a great return.
4. Something extra with your signatureIn appeal letters, the “P.S.” has gone the way of the Dodo. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t write a quick note at the bottom of our letter, just below our signature. Without writing the actual “PS,” we can jot down a short phrase such as “Thank you for reading” or, “I look forward to hearing from you.”
The better you know a recipient, the more personal the note can be. Anything at the bottom of the letter—in ink—tells the reader that you took a little extra time for them.
When they see your note, they may take a little extra time for you, too; the time to write a check.
For many ministries, Year End also means the end of the budget year. If we are trying to catch up on the budget at this time, we need to be careful in our appeal.
Our friends do not want to hear—every year—that we are behind. If we stay on this road year after year, our readers are going to question our stewardship.
Instead, let’s look at some items—which are likely in our budget—that might make for good Year-End Appeals.
Catching up on the budget
Didn’t we just say to be careful about this? We did, so here is how to be careful. Take the ministry that needs $15,000 in new funds in order to finish the year in the black.
Instead of talking about how behind we are in the budget, why not say something like this: “$25,000 for First Choice at Year End will not only finish our 2014 on a strong note, these funds will also launch us into a successful 2015, when we plan to . . .”
See the difference? The budget shortfall may be $15,000, but our letter is looking beyond ‘14 and into ‘15, with a positive outlook
Thinking of hiring a person to run your Fatherhood initiative? Factor in not only salary, but all materials, the cost of heating and cooling office space, etc. Roll it into one number and ask—not for simply a new person, but for a fully staffed Fatherhood Initiative.
Advertising and marketing is expensive; and some of our constituents don’t understand our need to advertise, making this ask more difficult. Phrasing matters. How about, “In order to best connect with those who need us, we must have a powerful online presence, and we need to be wherever they go. To make this connection through television, radio, the web and social media, we plan to invest $22,500 in 2015. The result, we believe, will be as many as 175 saved lives.”
Brick and mortar
No doubt, renovations and any building projects are effective asks. If we connect our renovations to reaching clients more effectively and saving more lives (and changing lives!), our odds of success grow.
If we are considering a conversion in the next year, there is every reason to be asking now. There is no reason to wait—year end is a great time to start the process.
The following is a commentary for the CEO or Director of Advancement to include in an E-Blast, Newsletter or other communication. Use as you wish—no credit is due to LifeTrends or Heartbeat International. This is for you to spark ideas, or use “as is.”
It is the time of year when charities and ministries all over send us letters, asking us for year-end gifts. And why not? This is the giving season and it only makes sense that non-profit organizations would see this as the perfect time for much-needed gifts.
And, no surprise; you will receive a letter from us as well.
But why? Are we simply wanting to be a part of the giving season? Is this just a time to pad our giving as we move toward 2015? Is this letter just another portion of a fundraising plan? No. Not at all.
While Year-End is a time when we normally ask friends to consider a gift, this is not a normal time in the life of this ministry.
In truth, this is a watershed moment for this ministry, which includes all of us: Prayer Partners, Volunteer Staff, Board Members, Compensated Staff, Financial Partners . . . All of us. This ministry has always been about all of us, working together to create a massive cultural shift in our area—toward life.
Let me share something with you: We are closer now than we have ever been to this cultural shift.
This year’s “Year End Letter” then, is not just another letter for any of us who consider ourselves a part of the First Choice Family. Not at all.
In this letter we will outline where we are going, show us just how close we are to making an incredible new impact on our community, and what it will take in order for this change to take place.
So when you open your mail a few days after Thanksgiving, amidst many other letters you will find one from me.
I trust you will open it. We have a lot to share, and a lot of dreams ready to come true. Give this letter a first look, and a second.
Big things are about to take place—and we are going to be a part of all of them . . . Together.
By Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
Click here to download this CEO Commentary as a word document.
Thank you letters keep you connected to your partners
Each month, Advancement TLC brings you a sample “Thank you note” to send to your supporters. November’s letter is below:
Dear Barney & Thelma Lou,
When I think about where this ministry has been and where we are going, I can’t help but be excited.
I’ve shared our vision in newsletters, letters like this one and in churches and around the area. And as you probably know, I’m nothing but optimistic about the future.
But there is something else I’m excited about: The fact that this ministry never was, and never will be, about one person’s ideas or even the thoughts of some select group.
While our board of directors is entrusted with major decisions, the simple truth is that this ministry is about all of us. It is a shared ideal that we can impact our culture toward life and we can do so right here in (name of city or area).
And best of all, we all have the honor of playing a role. Your support—through this and so many other gifts—creates a powerful partnership that says “We are in this together.”
So, thank you—again. Together, we are changing our world here, one life at a time. Sincerely, CEO
Click here to download this thank you letter as a word document.
The Year-End Appeal Letter can be one of the most effective fundraising initiatives we have in our development plan.
A successful Year-End Appeal can bring us through a difficult year, launch the coming year on a positive note and perhaps most important, draw new supporters into the ministry.
And the Board of Directors can have a tremendous influence on the success of this endeavor. Here are some ways the board can assist:
Signatures matterEach board member should have a copy of the ministry’s mailing list. From there a board member can highlight names of those with whom he or she has a personal relationship. The board member’s name can be added to the CEO as a signatory on the letter, making the letter more personal. The more personal the letter, the higher the probability of a positive response.
Bring new names to the tableEach board member can bring a list of 10, 20 or more names of friends who need to be added to the mailing list. As in the suggestion above, the board member should be a signatory on letters to these friends. In addition, the letter can include a brief statement from the board member such as, “As a board member, I wanted friends like you to receive this special correspondence. Your gift would mean so much to those who come in our door, and to me personally. Thank you for reading!”
Let’s remember to . . . RespondBoard members are leaders and as such, special appeals—like that of the Year-End Letter—call for action by those who lead. By sending in a generous gift we provide encouragement to staff, and we have the joy of knowing that we are fully involved in our ministry just as we are asking others at this special time of year.
Takeaway Thought:In a ministry’s development plan, often it is the “little” items that get overlooked; yet those seemingly small things can make quite a difference over the long term. Board member participation in the Year-End Appeal is oft overlooked; participate in the three items above and your ministry will be well ahead of the curve.
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“One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21B
Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler fascinates me. You know the story; a rich young man came to Jesus, asking “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus draws the man in, telling him to obey the commandments, and the ruler replies, “I have kept all these things from my youth.” Jesus then turns to the heart, asking the man to sell his riches, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow. Sadly, the rich young ruler chooses not to do so. This story is not about the poor, but about what we must release in order to fully follow our Lord, Jesus. In the rich young ruler’s life, he had his “fall back plan”—his wealth—that he could rely on for security and safety. He was happy to follow, as long as he could keep his stuff. That’s not how things work in the kingdom of God. We all have fall back items we must be willing to release. Wealth is one of those, but others might be reputation, pride in our own abilities, status, or something else. Yet there is a flip side. We often think of letting go of those things that are positive in our lives—such as wealth, etc.—but what about those negative moments in our past that must be set aside in order to follow with abandon? Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 to “lay aside everything that hinders” us from fully following Jesus, right? Paul isn’t only talking of sin, but all that hinders us. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we define ourselves by our past. When we do this, we create our own “fall back” position, just like the rich young ruler. For us however, our hindrance is not wealth, it is the idea that we can never fully follow because of a past decision that disqualifies us from full participation in the Body of Christ. Instead of dwelling on the new person we are, we continue to look back, trying to make amends for what we did, many years ago. I think Jesus’ message to the rich young ruler, the command to “let go,” is not only for those who have to let go of a safety net, but also for all of us who struggle with a past decision that we’ve let define who we are. Take heart. Today is the day to let go. Today is the day to press on, to follow with abandon. And today is the day to define ourselves not by who we once were, but by who we are . . . Today.
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