Every year Ruzow Graphics helps non-profit organizations and educational institutions of all sizes craft compelling, goal-exceeding annual appeals for development and communication departments. From the big picture to the finer details, we’ve learned what makes a successful appeal. Here are our top tips for making yours stand out as well.
The difference between a mediocre appeal and an outstanding one may seem like a fine line — but it’s a big deal. An effective annual appeal can drive high response rates and help your organization reach its goals, while one that is poorly designed and lacks clear messaging can cause people to lose interest and stop reading. Implement these proven tips — and ensure your appeal has every chance to succeed.
1. Don’t (just) send your appeal at the end of the year.
People’s mailboxes get flooded in November and December, so it might be good to send them at another time. An appeal that corresponds with an internal milestone, like this 60th-anniversary appeal for Boys & Girls Village that was sent in June, or an external moment, like Valentine’s Day, can work exceedingly well.
2. Personalize your annual appeal with donor information.
Address your recipient by name at least in the salutation; that’s a must. Beyond that, speak directly to them throughout the appeal, if possible — and do whatever you can to show you know them.
3. Show your organization’s gratitude with segmentation.
Few things feel ruder than asking for more money without acknowledging previous donations. This may take a little extra administrative time, but it is absolutely worth it. For Boys & Girls Village’s recent appeal, I created several different emails for 1) donors who gave last year, 2) donors who gave within the past 5 years, and 3) new prospective donors. Did donations increase? They most certainly did.
4. Design an attention-grabbing outer envelope and make sure they know it’s from you when it arrives in the mailbox.
The inside design matters, of course, but if the envelope doesn’t compel your recipient to OPEN the appeal, it’s all for naught. Your envelope is the most important element of your whole annual appeal. We all get mail where organizations are “getting creative” and departing from their branding, which means more time is needed to recognize the organization, assess the validity of the request, and make a decision. You want prospects to spend time on the issue at hand, not (what should be) the easy stuff. If you don’t have brand guidelines, read this. What can you do to prevent your mailer from getting thrown into the trash? If you’re not sure, I can help.
5. Eliminate decision fatigue with levels and the ability to act now.
Let recipients see donation levels (and corresponding outcomes) instead of just leaving it open-ended. Offer three giving levels (and what they afford), plus a box that lets them fill in another amount. Make donating easy; don’t use perforated envelopes! When your annual appeal does its job, recipients will feel motivated to donate. But that motivation can wane if time passes. Make it easy for your recipient to act immediately. Depending on your audience’s demographic, you’ll want to have a response card and envelope — and/or a QR code where they can donate online, a written-out link, and a “text to donate.”
6. Splurge on pre-paid postage. It’s worth it!
This one may seem obvious, but we get mail where organizations are “getting creative” and departing from their branding, which means more time is needed to recognize the organization, assess the validity of the request, and make a decision. You want prospects to spend time on the issue at hand, not (what should be) the easy stuff. If you don’t have brand guidelines, read this.
7. Design a killer outer envelope.
The inside design matters, of course, but if the envelope doesn’t compel your recipient to OPEN the appeal, it’s all for naught. Your envelope is the most important element of your whole annual appeal. What can you do to prevent your mailer from getting thrown into the trash? If you’re not sure, I can help.
7. Splurge on pre-paid postage. It’s worth it!
This honors their donation and makes it easier for them. If you choose not to supply postage, you can say, “Your stamp here empowers higher donations. Thank you.” And, the post office offers non-profit rates that help you save as well.
8. Big ask? Bigger annual appeal.
If you want millions, you simply can’t send an 8 1/2 x11 letter. Your appeal should be substantial to align with the magnitude of your ask. This brochure inside a brochure exceeded its fundraising goals. And, show respect for ongoing donor engagement. Sometimes an ongoing donor relationship can be formed by simply asking questions like: 1) Would you like your donation to be annual/monthly? 2) Can we contact you later in the year?
9. Hand-write your way to heftier checks!
Anytime you receive a donation — no matter how large or small — send a thank you note. If a handwritten note is possible, even better! It’s worth the extra time because when your donors feel a personal connection and your gratitude, they are more likely to donate bigger next time.
I’ve designed abounding annual appeals over the years. Whether you’re seeking millions in donations (like the University of Oxford or my new, secret non-profit client), or thousands, I can help. Let’s strategize an appeal that works for your organization, your audience, your goals, and your budget.