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Standing out in a crowd of year-end appeals

The holiday season is here, and with it, end-of-year donor appeals. Folks are in the giving mood, and many are looking to make last-minute donations they can claim on their taxes. The problem: When just about every nonprofit is sending an appeal, yours can get lost in the pile-up. How do you make your organization stand out? How do you compel people to give, especially if they've already given earlier this year? And what about snail mail versus email?

Here are some guidelines to get the most out of your annual appeal.

Tell a story – and be specific. One of the best ways to communicate the importance of your programming is to tell a story about how it has made an impact in your community. Use anecdotes from the past year if possible, and be as specific as you can: “We helped beautify our neighborhood” doesn’t say nearly as much as, “Last week, we received a note from our neighbor thanking us for cleaning up the sidewalks. They said we made the community more beautiful and livable.”

Tailor email and snail-mail appeals by audience. Not everybody on your list needs to receive a formal letter by post. For casual donors, an e-appeal can be more effective. In addition, you don't want to waste postage on a bunch of people who might not donate: Save the stamps for your best donors. Be careful not to use the same text for physical and online communication, and make your print appeals the longer of the two. In print, 600 words can comfortably fit on a page, but 400 words is about the most that people want to read on a screen.

Use data, but sparingly. Facts and figures are a great way to illustrate your impact, even in a holiday appeal, which is usually a bit warmer and more emotional. Use specific numbers related to your impact, but be wary of too much data! Focus on two or three of your best data points, rather than reporting on all your metrics (save that for your annual report). Space numbers out, as well: Too much data in one paragraph can be intimidating and confusing.

Don't forget photos! Sometimes, images can tell the story of your organization better than words. If you can, show the people you've helped. Present images from your programming. Spotlight your community impact. (And if you don't have photos, make a note to take more next year!) Photos work very well for e-appeals, but can be trickier in print: Choose images that show up clearly on your chosen paper. Caption your photos too, so readers know what they are seeing.

Provide concrete examples of what donations will fund. When asking for money, it's always good practice to let people know exactly where it will go. The audience for annual appeals are probably familiar with your programming generally, which means you should name some specific needs your nonprofit has (“We need to purchase new wireless microphones”), describe programs that donors may not be familiar with (“We’ll continue growing our high school outreach program”), or explain new goals (“Next year, we plan to expand our programs to serve neighboring cities”).  

Matt Terrell is communications director at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company and a faculty member for GCN’s Nonprofit University. His next NU class will be Writing the Annual Report on Jan. 24, 2018.



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