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Volunteer Engagement: 7 Strategies Smart Nonprofits Swear By

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For nonprofits, volunteers are a special breed of supporters. These individuals generously donate their time, effort, and skills to push your mission forward and alleviate some of the burden from your staff — and they don’t ask for anything in return!

While volunteer programs can be invaluable in what they offer an organization, the truth is that many nonprofits aren’t making the most of their volunteer management strategies.

When you don’t prioritize volunteer engagement or work to develop a positive volunteer experience, you run the risk of letting these invested constituents slip away for good.

So how do you guarantee that volunteers come back shift after shift and stay involved with your nonprofit in other ways? Here are 7 surefire strategies for more intentional volunteer engagement learned from some of Giveffect’s top clients:

  1. Develop a volunteer management plan.
  2. Find the right volunteer management software.
  3. Build a better volunteer application.
  4. Pay attention to volunteer preferences.
  5. Offer a variety of volunteer opportunities.
  6. Engage local businesses with volunteer campaigns.
  7. Turn volunteers into donors.

Volunteer engagement can take many forms, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a painful process. With a smart strategy and the right tools on hand, your nonprofit can effectively steward volunteers and keep them involved with all of your efforts long-term.<

Let’s get started with our favorite tips!

Volunteer Engagement Strategy #1: Develop a Volunteer Management Plan

Before you can begin engaging with volunteers, you’ll need to establish a clear strategy for volunteer management from start to finish.

Volunteer management is a broad term that encompasses every step of the volunteer cycle, including:

  • Recruiting volunteers. Your nonprofit will conduct volunteer outreach through a variety of channels, including your website’s volunteer page, email newsletters, direct mailings, and social media posts.
  • Processing volunteers. Once a prospect has completed your volunteer application, you’ll need to ensure all data is correctly transferred to your volunteer management system. Depending on the role, processing may also include a volunteer screening process, such as a background check or an interview.
  • Onboarding volunteers. You’ll need to equip your volunteers with all the knowledge they need to effectively fill their role. Depending on the scope of their involvement, training might be a 15-minute session before the job starts, or it may entail a multi-week orientation process conducted by your staff.
  • Communicating with volunteers. Keep volunteers in the loop by sending them volunteer sign-up confirmations, shift reminders, and details about their upcoming assignments. Most of this will be done via email, but you may also need to reach out on the phone.
  • Supervising volunteers. During a volunteer’s shift, someone on your team should be onsite to monitor volunteers, answer questions, and ensure no problems arise. The more hands-on your team is, the more comfortable (and thus, successful) your volunteers will be.
  • Recognizing volunteers. After each shift, you should express your gratitude to volunteers. A simple acknowledgement email is a great start, but take the time to follow up more personally with those individuals who went above and beyond to support your organization.

Each of these elements is vital to the success of your volunteer program, so you’ll need to consider how you’ll go about each step, including what software you’ll utilize and how you’ll delegate tasks across your team.

If your nonprofit doesn’t have a dedicated volunteer coordinator to take the lead on outlining your volunteer management plan, now might be the right time to hire one. This staff member can organize a strategy that responds to your nonprofit’s specific volunteer needs and ensures a great experience for your volunteers.

What to Know: The first step of volunteer engagement is developing a volunteer management plan for handling all aspects of the volunteer cycle, from recruitment all the way to recognition.

Volunteer Engagement Strategy #2: Find the Right Volunteer Management Software

Thankfully, much of the volunteer management process doesn’t have to be a manual effort. With the right software, your team can centralize your volunteer efforts and even automate many of your tasks.

As you search for the right software choice, keep in mind that your nonprofit doesn’t start and end at volunteer engagement. You also need to consider fundraising, donor stewardship, marketing, and much more to develop a truly comprehensive strategy for your organization.

To centralize all of those crucial elements, you need a fully integrated nonprofit solution that can offer you a 360° view of your operations and facilitate all of your most important tasks. You can store and manage all of your supporter data in one place, allowing you to see the full picture of your constituents as volunteers, donors, members, advocates, and much more.

After all, your volunteers may very well be prospective donors who will donate both time and money for years to come. Others may be able to expand your reach, help deepen ties within your community, and offer up services your organization has yet to articulate.

Volunteer engagement strategies conceived in complete isolation will inevitably miss hidden opportunities to cultivate greater impact, so make sure your volunteer management software works with your other systems!

In addition to integration, let’s examine a few specific volunteer management software features you’ll want to be on the lookout for:

  • Online form-builder. From your general volunteer application to specific interest forms and waivers, your volunteer software should enable you to customize forms that integrate seamlessly with your nonprofit website. That way, all the data you collect will automatically flow into your volunteer database.
  • Shift tracking. You can manage shifts paperlessly (and painlessly!) by storing job details within your software. Check volunteers in on a mobile device, log every minute they serve, and set up a calendar to get a comprehensive overview of your volunteer shifts.
  • Automated communications. It’s unrealistic and inefficient to send out individual emails or place phone calls every time you need to confirm an upcoming shift. Stay on top of all communications by finding software that can automate shift confirmations, reminders, and follow-ups, as well as social media outreach or marketing emails.

Though this is just a sampling of the features your software might offer, the main benefit of a volunteer management tool is that it makes it easier to get to know your volunteers and engage with them over time.

When you store relevant details — from contact information to engagement history, interests, and more — in your database, you can use that insight to inform your volunteer engagement strategy.

What to Know: Your volunteer management software can centralize constituent data to make it easier to cultivate relationships with your supporters. Make sure you find software with the right specifications for your needs, including robust tools and integrated features.

Volunteer Engagement Strategy #3: Build a Better Volunteer Application

Engagement should be your nonprofit’s priority from the very beginning of the volunteer experience. That means creating an online application that starts your volunteer relationship on the right foot.

When you have accurate, useful data on file from the start, you’ll have a better understanding of who your volunteers are and what they can offer your organization — and what you can offer them.

Of course, any volunteer application should adhere to a standard template so that you can collect the information that’s vital to your volunteer profiles. Make sure you don’t forget to collect the most important details!

In addition to following our checklist, consider these next-level tips for a well-crafted volunteer application:

  • Let applicants share their skills, experience, and interests so that you can send them the most relevant (and exciting) opportunities.
  • Keep some fields optional so that you have the opportunity to collect as much data as possible without overwhelming applicants.
  • Detail the rest of the application process, including any additional screening that the applicants will need to undergo.
  • Ask how your applicants heard about your organization to assess your marketing strategy and send a thank-you to any current volunteers who made a referral.

The more data you capture now, the easier it will be to build detailed constituent profiles that allow you to get to know your volunteers as well-rounded individuals and supporters of your nonprofit.

For example, Habitat for Humanity of East Central Ohio designed a custom volunteer application form to ask for every volunteer’s skills, interests, certifications, and availability from the get-go. The next time their volunteer coordinator needs to identify volunteers with specific skills, a simple query will generate a comprehensive list of search results.

What to Know: The volunteer application is often the first brush a potential volunteer has with your nonprofit, so make it count by following a strategic template and asking the right questions.

Volunteer Engagement Strategy #4: Pay Attention to Volunteer Preferences

Once you’ve collected all of that valuable volunteer data, you need to know what to do with it. The short answer? Use your newfound volunteer intel to inform your engagement plan!

We know that might sound easier said than done, so let’s break this strategy down into a few actionable tips that any nonprofit can follow:

  • Reach out using the right channels. You may have volunteers who open every email you send, but you may also have volunteers who only respond when you call them on the phone. They’re both happy to engage with you, but in very different ways. Find out how your supporters want to be contacted and use that channel exclusively.
  • Promote tailored volunteer opportunities. Create segments in your volunteer software so you can easily send out batch communications that correspond to specific interests or skills. That way, you won’t inundate every single prospective volunteer with tasks they can’t perform (or aren’t interested in performing).
  • Ask for volunteer feedback. How can you know what’s working and what isn’t if you don’t ask? You can send out a survey to your entire volunteer base or specific segments to find out which marketing, engagement, and volunteer management tactics are working and which are falling short.

Giveffect clients like Ronald McDonald House of Greater Hudson Valley and Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado have used their volunteer data to send targeted emails alerting volunteers of opportunities that are the closest match to their expressed areas of expertise and interest.

Not only do volunteers appreciate this degree of personalization, the close matching also ensures that volunteers are more likely to click on every email they receive rather than grow desensitized to a high volume of generic emails.

What to Know: Use your application, surveys, and other forms of communication to find out what your volunteers want from your nonprofit. Then, do your best to tailor your strategies to meet their preferences and needs.

Volunteer Engagement Strategy #5: Offer a Variety of Volunteer Opportunities

Providing a diverse array of volunteer opportunities is truly a win-win scenario: your volunteers get to contribute to a cause they care about in a way that’s convenient (and fun) for them, and your nonprofit gets to receive assistance in different areas of your organization.

The most engaging volunteer programs offer a plethora of opportunities that allow as many volunteers as possible to lend a hand.

You may be thinking, “But my nonprofit just doesn’t have that many available options for volunteers.” We’ll let you in on a secret — nonprofits with that mentality are missing out on a wealth of virtually free resources and are selling their supporters short at the same time! (Talk about a lose-lose scenario.)

For that reason, your nonprofit should keep these points in mind when putting together all the opportunities you can think of:

  • Assess your organization’s needs. You might think volunteers only come in handy when you’re organizing community service or hosting a fundraising event, but that’s not the case! Volunteers can offer administrative support, skilled labor (think: professional pro bono services, from legal work to financial advice), and much more!
  • Offer multiple shift times for each role. Whether you’re looking for stock assistance at your thrift store or dog walkers at your shelter, make sure you’re offering a variety of time slots so that you can cater to your supporters’ schedules. Depending on the role, we suggest 3-4 hour shifts — one for the morning and one for the afternoon.
  • Write strategic job descriptions. Like all internet users, your prospects are likely just going to scan your volunteer job descriptions. To make them as impactful as possible, use descriptive language and keywords that will catch a reader’s eye. Make sure to give each position a title, too, so that readers can get the gist of the role in just a glance.

Take a look at this example of how Habitat for Humanity uses Giveffect’s volunteer scheduling tool to offer shift opportunities. Check out their compelling description, too.

Offering engaging volunteer opportunities doesn’t just help you build relationships with volunteers — it can also be a valuable way to steward donors as well!

For example, you can offer VIP volunteer opportunities for your major donors, such as volunteering their professional expertise or cutting a ribbon on the new building your capital campaign funded.

Of course, in order to know whom to target for these special opportunities, you’ll need to make sure your volunteer strategy is connected to your fundraising efforts and larger nonprofit strategy. (Just another example of how you can use integrated volunteer management software to your advantage!)

What to Know: The more volunteer options you provide, the more likely your supporters are to find a time and job that works for them. That means more volunteers — and more importantly, happier volunteers — from the start!

Volunteer Engagement Strategy #6: Engage Local Businesses with Volunteer Campaigns

Corporations and community organizations like schools and churches can offer more than financial contributions. Oftentimes, their employees and members are seeking meaningful ways to give back, and volunteering with a nonprofit like yours can be just the solution!

Consider partnering with generous companies and organizations in your community through volunteer campaigns. Not only will you reap the benefits of new volunteers and a boost of awareness for your organization, but you’ll also open up a world of long-term partnership opportunities with businesses who share an interest in your cause.

For example, The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama uses Giveffect to enable corporations, local businesses, and fellow community organizations to host their own volunteer campaigns.

Their partners — from FedEx to Americorps to United Healthcare — can create their own volunteer pages, recruit volunteers, and track volunteer activity themselves, without taking up the time of food bank staff.

To follow a similar strategy and begin your outreach to local businesses and organizations, start with existing supporters that can give you a foot in the door:

  • Identify which of your existing volunteers and donors are employees at businesses that encourage volunteerism. (Hint: your volunteer management software should allow you to easily track this information.)
  • Invite the most committed volunteers to serve as team captains to recruit fellow employees to take a shift at your organization.
  • Collect your new volunteers’ complete contact information so you can continue to cultivate the relationship well after a volunteer campaign has ended.

Plus, you can combine your volunteer and fundraising efforts by paying special attention to corporations and local businesses that offer volunteer grants. Through these corporate giving programs, companies provide a monetary grant for eligible nonprofits where their employees volunteer regularly.

No matter how you go about it, affiliating your nonprofit with businesses and other organizations is only beneficial. You’ll develop relationships that you can leverage for years to come, and you’ll promote a sense of philanthropy in your community!

What to Know: Using volunteer campaigns to develop local (or even national or international) partnerships is an excellent way to gain exposure to new volunteers who can become lifelong supporters.

Volunteer Engagement Strategy #7: Turn Volunteers into Donors

If your nonprofit’s volunteer engagement strategy ends after the volunteer shift, you’re missing out on a powerful opportunity to impact your mission in other ways and engage with supporters over the course a lifetime.

Think of it this way: if a volunteer cares enough about your cause to give their time, energy, and skills to it, they’re likely to show that devotion in other ways too. That’s why it’s crucial that you map out a plan to show volunteers how (and why) they can support your nonprofit as a donor, too!

Every volunteer who walks through the door to pledge their time is the beginning of a relationship that could grow into lifelong giving, major giving, and deeper connections with your community. However, when volunteer activity is managed in isolation from donor activity, their overlap is entirely lost!

To convert your volunteers into donors, focus on building a volunteer engagement strategy that’s connected to your nonprofit’s other efforts. To do this, you’ll need to:

  • Start with robust nonprofit software. As we’ve already mentioned, the best volunteer management software isn’t just volunteer management software. You should be able to see volunteer data in conjunction with all of your fundraising and donor stewardship efforts to plan a comprehensive strategy that encompasses all areas of your nonprofit.
  • Regularly recognize volunteers. By providing a rewarding volunteer experience, you’ll show your volunteers how much you value their effort. When your volunteers feel good about their involvement, they’re much more likely to seek out other ways to show their support — like making a donation!
  • Make giving easy. The more channels you have for giving, the easier it will be for volunteers (and all other supporters) to conveniently make a donation. Your best bet is to work with fundraising software that offers plenty of options, from online donation forms to mobile giving and even peer-to-peer fundraising.

Ultimately, the only foolproof way to turn volunteers into donors is to ask them! You’ll need to craft a compelling appeal, whether that means sending them an email with a link to your donation form or calling them up on the phone.

A great time to encourage volunteers to extend their impact through making a donation is during your year-end fundraising campaign. Since you’ll already be kicking your donation solicitation into high-gear, reach out to volunteers to thank them again for their support and show them easy ways to make even more of a difference.

What to Know: To create a truly successful volunteer engagement strategy, you’ll need to have a plan in place for turning your volunteers into donors. The more ways they can show their support, the more engaged they’ll be now and for years to come.

Volunteer engagement looks a little different for every organization, but as long as you’re connecting with your dedicated volunteers, you’re bound to be successful.

For more on volunteer engagement and management, check out these resources:

  • Giveffect’s Volunteer Management Software. With Giveffect, you can streamline the volunteer management process so that your team can focus on what matters most — engaging your volunteers! Learn more about this solution by taking a look at our product page.
  • Double the Donation’s Volunteer Management Guide. Double the Donation outlines every step of volunteer management to give you the inside scoop on best practices for starting (or enhancing) your own volunteer program. Read their guide to learn everything you need to know!
  • Double the Donation’s Top Volunteer Management Tools for Nonprofits. Software is a major part of your volunteer engagement strategy. Lucky for you, Double the Donation has compiled the industry’s best volunteer management tools to help organizations like yours stay on top of volunteer data. Check it out!

7 Great Year-End Appeal Letter Tips [With Free Samples!]

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As the leaves change color and the days get shorter, there should only be one thing on fundraisers’ minds — year-end giving, of course!

While it would be nice if this were the case, we know that the world doesn’t stop to allow nonprofit teams like yours to prioritize year-end fundraising. But no matter how busy you are, there’s always time to come up with a year-end appeal letter strategy that nurtures supporter relationships and helps you bring in those valuable end-of-year contributions.

If you’re not sure how to tackle year-end appeal letters in the most effective way, fear not! In this post, we’ll provide 7 unstoppable strategies for crafting effective appeals that make year-end fundraising a breeze:

  1. Create a year-end-appeal timeline.
  2. Present your year-end appeal letter through the right channel.
  3. Personalize every aspect of your year-end appeal.
  4. Share your success stories in your end-of-year appeal.
  5. Format your appeal letter strategically.
  6. Follow up after your year-end appeal letter.
  7. Reference our free year-end appeal letter sample.

Keep in mind that like any nonprofit effort, the right software will facilitate a stress-free year-end appeal experience. Check out Giveffect’s marketing and communication tools to see how our solution can boost your fundraising strategy during the end-of-year giving season!

Now without further ado, let’s jump to the tips so you can start writing your appeal letters.

1. Create a year-end appeal timeline.

If you’re scrambling to develop your appeal letter plan in the middle of December, chances are that you won’t have much luck winning over all of the supporters in your database (much less potential new prospects).

Instead of throwing your fundraising appeals together at the last minute, why not rewind a few months? Get together with your team midway through the year to begin plotting your end-of-year strategy, including creating a clear timeline that can serve as your roadmap for the last months of the year.

We’ve put together a sample timeline that you can use as a starting point, but depending on the size of your staff, the number of appeals you’ll be sending, and your nonprofit’s overall fundraising strategy, you may need to allot more or less time to get everything done.

As you’re creating your calendar, you’ll also want to check off the following steps:

  • Delegate key responsibilities. Who will be writing the direct mail, email, and social media appeals? Who will ensure all of the direct mail is sent and received? Will you design the appeals in-house or work with an outside designer?
  • Establish smart goals. Using reports from previous years as a baseline, how much money do you hope to bring in through your year-end appeal letters? How much money do you need to raise to cover operational expenses?
  • Determine how technology fits in. Is your email marketing software integrated with your nonprofit CRM? What about your direct mail solution? (Hint: the more connected these systems are, the easier it will be to automate tasks and limit manual data entry!)

No matter what, make sure you clearly document your timeline and inform all relevant team members about the plan. Trust us: when everyone is on the same page from square one, you’ll mitigate a significant amount of confusion and stress once the end-of-year season ramps up!

Takeaway: Your team should be thinking about how you’ll manage year-end fundraising appeals well before the holiday season. Create a practical timeline for your responsibilities so that no important tasks slip through the cracks later on in the process.

2. Present your year-end appeal letter through the right channel.

These days, supporters have pretty much infinite options for how they want to contribute to your organization, and you’ve got equally endless ways to appeal to them.

We won’t be able to touch on every single creative year-end appeal approach out there in this post, but we can provide some real-world advice for sending fundraising letters through two distinct channels: direct mail appeals and online appeals. Let’s explore each!

Direct Mail Appeal Letters

Traditional and time-tested, end-of-year direct mail appeal letters are relied upon by many nonprofits for a reason: they work!

The major downside of direct mail is that sending a letter or postcard through the mail costs money. For smaller nonprofits with a less flexible budget, it might be easy to write off this marketing channel in favor of free-to-cheap online methods.

However, all nonprofits can — and should — utilize direct mail appeal letters. Just follow these tips:

  • Focus on existing donors, particularly small-to-midsized donors who’ve previously given through mail.
  • Be deliberate with your design, from the color and size of your envelope to the content itself, by using direct mail software that gives you plenty of customization options.
  • Make the donation easy by including a pre-addressed reply envelope and the URL to your online giving form. Don’t forget: when you use integrated direct mail marketing software, you can track appeal responses in your CRM automatically.

Direct mail can be the most compelling type of appeal you send, so don’t forget to make the most of this channel!

Online Appeal Letters

Though less personal than a letter in the mail, a year-end appeal sent through the internet is virtually free for your nonprofit and accessible for almost all of your supporters.

You can take advantage of the ubiquity and cost-effectiveness of online marketing in a few ways:

  • Follow up your direct mail letter with an email appeal. If you haven’t heard back after your initial solicitation letter, reach out again with an email appeal.
  • Maintain a diverse social media presence. Link to your year-end giving page on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram all throughout the holiday season, especially capitalizing on key giving days like #GivingTuesday.
  • Open up a variety of online giving methods. As you promote year-end giving, make sure you’re offering plenty of convenient ways to donate, from your online donation form to corporate giving, text-to-give campaigns, or a crowdfunding page.

Another perk of online appeals? You can use them to reach a wide audience of prospective donors without spending a dime. To do that, make sure your online content is shareable and visually engaging. Then, encourage supporters to forward your message to their peers!

Takeaway: By pairing your online year-end appeal strategy with a stellar direct mail campaign, you’ll maximize the amount you’re able to bring in. Make sure your marketing software allows you to explore both avenues for best results and the most seamless experience!

3. Personalize every aspect of your year-end fundraising appeal.

There’s nothing worse than a generic “To Whom It May Concern” letter, especially if that one-size-fits-all letter is asking the recipient for money!

If your year-end appeal letters are lacking a personal touch, start by drawing on the information stored in your nonprofit CRM.

You should already know a thing or two about your donors based on the forms they’ve filled out, the conversations you’ve shared, and the giving and engagement history they have with your organization. If you’re keeping track of that information effectively in your database, you already have a great jumping-off point for a successful year-end appeal!

Here are a few suggestions for areas where personalization pays off:

  • Greeting. Always address a supporter by their preferred first name or title. For most donors, their first name is better than “Mr/Ms,” but major donors or individuals with prominent roles in the community may prefer a more formal salutation.
  • Ask amount. Reference an individual’s giving history to determine the right solicitation amount. To maximize the ask, you can offer suggested giving levels that are in line with their typical donation amount but encourage them to upgrade slightly.
  • Content. Personalizing your letters means more than just filling in the blanks for a name and donation amount. You should craft completely different appeals that relate to specific segments of your list, from major donors to lapsed donors and even non-donors.

If possible, you should also reference the recipient’s previous involvement explicitly within the copy of your letter. For example: “Your $500 gift last year provided school supplies for five underprivileged children.” Or, “Your hard work volunteering on our fundraising event committee ensured our auction went off without a hitch.”

For direct mail appeal letters, you can take it a step further by adding a handwritten P.S. from a notable member of your team, such as a board member.

Keeping all of this data on file in an integrated system will allow you to use donor, volunteer, or member data to inform your year-end marketing strategy. You’ll be able to stay on top of your end-of-year solicitations without bouncing back and forth between disparate systems.

Takeaway: Your year-end appeal letters shouldn’t feel canned. Use the information in your nonprofit software to guarantee that each letter is as unique as the supporter who receives it.

4. Share your success stories in your end-of-year appeal.

A major way to distinguish your year-end appeal letters from the other appeals you send is by showcasing the effectiveness of your fundraising efforts throughout the year.

Think of it as your case for support as you appeal to donors — what has your organization done over the past year to warrant their contributions this time around?

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be a source of stress for your fundraising team; instead, you should view this as an opportunity to highlight key stories of your nonprofit’s success in the communities you serve!

We’ve got some tips for showing donors how much you’ve accomplished in the past year in a compelling way:

  • Focus on the donor. It may seem counterintuitive (after all, you are trying to illustrate what your nonprofit has achieved), but hear us out: you want to remind your supporters why their donations are valued. Illustrate what their support has accomplished, and remind them that your organization can’t make an impact alone.
  • Use visual elements. High-quality photos (and, in online appeals, videos) can go a long way to put faces to the individuals, places, or animals that you support. Plus, a photo or graphic can break up the text and catch a reader’s eye, drawing them toward your call-to-action.
  • Include statistics sparingly. A powerful statistic showcasing the need for your organization or the effects you’ve already had can do a lot to motivate supporters. However, your readers will almost definitely gloss over a wall of numbers, so make sure you’re framing stats in an appealing way and only using them when necessary.

In a way, your year-end donation request letter is a way for you to remind donors why they’ve supported your mission in the past and to get them excited about contributing once again.

The more you can do to illustrate the powerful things your supporters have helped you do, the more likely they are to make a donation and share these stories with friends and family. After all, who wouldn’t want to broadcast such amazing stories that they’ve made possible?

Takeaway: Your year-end appeal letter is your chance to reiterate how vital your donors’ contributions are by illustrating the impact they’ve already had. Tell the story of what your fundraising campaign has already accomplished and your supporters are sure to give again.

5. Format your appeal letter strategically.

Now that you’ve got some idea of the content you’ll be including in your year-end fundraising appeal, let’s dive into some specific tips for laying out your letter in a way that leads to best results.

There’s no such thing as magic formatting, but there are some proven techniques you can utilize to get your appeal letter in optimum shape:

  • Start with “thank you.” The first paragraph of your appeal should include a thank-you message to your donors. They’ve already done a lot for your organization, so you don’t want to launch into a request without acknowledging their existing contributions.
  • Keep it conversational. Don’t force donors to read a complicated dissertation on why your nonprofit deserves their funding. Invite them to play a part in your organization by using a warm, friendly tone and simple, to-the-point language.
  • Be brief. Email appeals should be shorter than direct mailings, but all of your appeal letters should be easily readable in one sitting. Jump into the meat of your story quickly so that donors don’t get lost before they make it to the call-to-action: the ask.
  • Write for scanners, not readers. You’d like your recipients to soak up every thoughtfully crafted line in your appeal letter, but realistically, many will only scan it. Use short paragraphs, images, and bold or italic lettering to keep your appeal scannable.
  • Include a clear call-to-action. Finally, you need to ensure your formatting facilitates the point of your letter — a donation! Reiterate this call to action throughout the letter in clear language, and explicitly reiterate your request in your closing.

On top of those important tactics, you’ll also want to spend some time looking at the draft of your letter with your audience in mind.

Show a printed copy of your direct mail appeal to a board member or staff member — do they have issues reading the font? Do they get distracted halfway through? Do the images make sense to them at first glance?

Takeaway: Format your year-end appeal letter in a way that draws readers in. The easier it is for readers to get to the message of your letter, the more likely they are to follow through with a donation!

6. Follow up after your year-end appeal letter.

The end-of-year season is a busy time for your nonprofit, but it’s an equally busy time for your supporters. Don’t let them slip away if they don’t reply to your initial solicitation letter!

Using integrated marketing and fundraising software can help you track where your appeal letters are in transit and whether your recipients have made their gifts yet. (In fact, some software can even automate the data entry process so that all year-end transactions are stored instantly in a supporter’s profile.)

When you know where your donors are in the year-end giving process, you can better tailor your follow-up efforts, which might include:

  • Additional solicitations. If your recipient hasn’t replied to your first appeal, consider following up with an email, direct mailing, or a phone call. Time your first message early enough in the season that you have time to follow up before the year’s end.
  • Matching gift information. Show your contributors how their gifts can go twice as far through corporate philanthropy programs. Follow up with all donors or segment your list based on employer information to send the most detailed matching gift information.
  • Thank-you notes. Perhaps the most crucial follow-up you’ll send is the thank-you message! Depending on the gift size, you may send an email or personal note in the mail, but either way, send these communications as quickly as possible following the gift.

Again, when you have software that automates many of your important communication tasks, you won’t have to worry about manually sending follow-up messages to each supporter in your database.

And when all of your nonprofit systems work together, all of your donor information can inform your segmentation and outreach style, making each follow-up relevant and engaging for its recipient. Now that’s a recipe for year-end appeal success!

7. Reference our free year-end appeal letter sample.

Now that you’ve got all the top tips in your back pocket, all you need is one last push in the right direction to get started on your year-end campaign.

Luckily for you, we’ve put together a sample your team can reference as you craft your best year-end appeals yet. Our letter works for direct mail or email appeals, but you’ll need to tailor it to meet your nonprofit’s specific audience, of course.

“Dear Jane,

Thanks to your generosity, over 5,000 homeless animals received shelter, food, and life-saving veterinary care last year. With your help, many of these dogs and cats have been placed in loving homes. On their behalf, thank you for your help.

Just take a look at a dog like Fido. We brought him in off the streets hungry and scared. Thanks to donations from supporters just like you, our vet staff treated Fido for malnourishment, and he became healthy and trusting again in just a few weeks. Now, Fido is in the care of his forever family.

Fido can’t say thanks, but we can! We are so grateful to have supporters like you making stories like these a possibility for helpless pets.

Today, we embark on our Year-End Campaign. Our goal is to provide care for 500 more animals in need by raising $10,000 by December 31, but we can’t do it without help.

We’re reaching out to you because you’ve already demonstrated your compassion for cats and dogs like Fido. Would you be willing to make a special year-end contribution of $25, $50, or $100 to save 500 more animals in need?

With your support, we can impact our community in a lasting way.

Please join us by making your gift on our online donation form or by sending a check in the enclosed envelope. The lives of hundreds of animals are at stake.

Thank you for your continued support.

Best wishes,

John Smith
Executive Director
Local Animal Shelter

P.S. On our website, you’ll find dozens more stories of animals just like Fido. You can learn more about the amazing work your donations make possible by checking out our nonprofit website, Facebook, and Twitter.”

There you have it! Tweak our sample to fit your recipients, mission, and channel, and you’ll be well on your way to fundraising appeal success in no time.

Year-end fundraising appeal letters are critical. With our strategies on hand, you should have no problem outlining a plan that reaches donors and guarantees donations.

Check out these additional resources for maximizing year-end fundraising: