You may have seen them – the countdowns to Christmas have already begun showing up as memes on social media. Of course, in the social sector, that means we are already working on our year-end appeals. In the coming month, we will collectively send out millions of solicitations to help reach our annual campaign goals and capitalize on the season of generosity. It has me thinking, though — are we missing the point? Rather than seeing these solicitations as a single-minded request for donations, should we reposition them as invitations to do more? Do we need to upgrade our thinking from merely asking for donations to inviting individuals to become investors in our work now and in the future? For the past few years, we have conducted a research project. We collected end-of-year solicitations and asked friends and colleagues about these letters. We also asked people who gave $25 as well as $2,500 to see if there was any difference in what inspired them to give. Through this informal research, we developed a few recommendations to make your appeals more meaningful:
Focus on a consistent theme, visual impact and brevity – People are busy, and they need help sorting through all the clutter. Find a clear theme (or, as we call it, a BIG idea) and be consistent throughout the piece. Minimize text and make the text you do use stand out through color, bullets and fonts. Use infographics to tell your data story. Use high-quality, action-packed photos of clients. Personalize letters whenever possible by having board members or others sign or write notes.
Elevate stories through data – People love stories, but they also want to ensure that the social sector organizations they support are making a difference. Show your results. Share your goals. Let individuals feel like they are a part of the story by sharing ways they can contribute other than through cash donations (e.g., becoming a mentor).
Show value through endorsements and ROI – People have shifted from giving a donation to wanting to make an investment in the social sector. When we make any investment, we want to know the organization’s track record and ROI (return on investment). Establish your credibility by sharing where you have spoken and/or been published in the past year. Calculate your social return on investment and share those results. Consider quantifying donations. For example, you could say: “For $100 a month, we can ensure that a child in your neighborhood has a weekly reading partner.”
Treat the appeal as an invitation – As the new year approaches, people are not only considering where to donate their money, but they are also carefully considering where to spend their time. Give them an opportunity to donate to your cause as a holiday gift for a loved one or an employee. Offer them future opportunities for a tour or share the date of your upcoming annual luncheon. Think of this letter not as an ending, but as an opportunity to continue building your relationship with them.
Don’t stop at the year-end appeal letter – After you send your year-end letters, the real work begins. Post your appeal on social media and send via email. (Remember, people now need to hear or see things SEVEN times before they take action.) Use matching challenges as a leverage point. Track responses. Follow up with board members calling individuals with your organization’s latest exciting news. And, start planning your next appeal – with the changes in the tax laws, we are encouraging our clients to consider adding at least one more letter to their appeal cycle when it makes the most sense for the organization to capture attention, such as during an awareness month (e.g., Domestic Violence Awareness Month).
As you plan your annual solicitations, we hope you’ll employ these strategies and share your ideas and experiences on increasing the impact of your annual appeal.