most wonderful time of the year?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

In theory.

Would your donor feel that way?

John Lepp (of Agents of Good fame) and I sat down to give you a tried and tested YEAR END checklist you can use as you sit down to craft the most meaningful appeal of the year.

Some context for you as you get to work:
– 1/3 of all annual giving happens in the last month of the year
– some organizations raise 50% of their annual revenue in the last 3 MONTHS of the calendar year
– some organizations raise 10% of their annual revenue in the last 3 DAYS of the calendar year
– 2/3 of donors who give to a year end appeal do ZERO research about you or your cause before giving
– direct mail is still the most popular and successful channel for year end gifts
– and
– the average donor is the USA can be receiving up to 40 – 50 appeals PER DAY during the last quarter – HOW the HELL are you going to reach her?

So, here our TOP 10 #donorlove ideas for your YEAR END CAMPAIGN

1. Ornaments

Question: how often do you give opportunities for your donor to talk to YOU? Tell you something about themselves? Express their values and emotions as it relates to your cause?

I’ve asked this question across the USA and in many other countries. So far (in the USA) I have a 100% success rate of not having a single hand go up.

Your donor is getting 40 – 50 appeals a day! Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask…

Take, take, take, take, take, take…

Come on guys.

This isn’t good enough.

Your year end appeal is a GREAT time to add a simple ornament like this your appeal.

Send an ornament

It can be included on the bottom of your reply form or as a stand alone piece.

One can be kept by your lovely donor for her fridge or Christmas tree. The other, she can write a few words about you, who she thinks of when she gives, a meaningful memory or something else entirely.

NO ONE EVER ASKS HER ANYTHING. She will take great delight in being asked and sharing it with you. She may even decide to give more because of it. Regardless, she will give with love in her heart and a smile on her face. What’s the ROI on that?

2. Pareto

The Pareto principle is the good old 80/20 rule. In relation to your fundraising, you are quite likely raising 80% of your revenue from 20% of your donors (give or take…). These are your intermediate or higher annual donors, monthly donors, legacy donors, loyal donors, etc.

But if 80% of your revenue is coming from these 20% of people – why are we sending them all the same appeal? (Please don’t tell me you are asking them for all the same thing too? Please – I can’t take that. Let’s assume you’ve done some basic segmentation for your letter and reply form so you are asking them for a gift in the ball park of their most recent gift – ok?

What I want you to do is take these amazing people and try to fulfill as much of the mailing as you can in house. (The other 80% of the file can be printed and mailed by machine and computer as it likely usually is – but it better be good!)

Ideally, the mailing is sent out in a hand addressed and first class stamped 9” x 6” or 9” x 12”. Even better if the ink is a little smeared or has multiple stamps placed a bit eschew. They are subtle hints to your donor a REAL LIFE human was a part of this mailing! What a concept!

The letter should be brilliantly written, filled with emotion, values and a specific story about why you are mailing them. (NO! No one cares that it just so happens to be the end of the year.) You can print it off on your laser printer, it should be personalized and every single one should be hand signed. The more levels of human touches you can apply to it, a note in the margin, crossing our ‘Dear Ms. Sample’ and writing ‘Dear Jane’, something paper clipped to it, a sticky note attached, etc. – the better it will do.

The full sheet, 8.5 x 11 reply form should be personalized and ask for only one thing – a single gift – with a TON of white space and large type (14 pt or higher) for your donor to take all the space she needs to fill out her info.

Include a photograph, or an ornament, or some other piece that adds to the appeal and fleshes out the case for support.

And don’t forget the BRE (Business Reply Envelope)! If you can, maybe use a reply envelope with a stamp on it for the best of the best! It will make a big difference.

This is not the time to spend as little as possible. Lavish love and attention on these people. If you can, do this approach for every appeal – I guarantee you’ll start raising more immediately from these folks.

3. Voice

You have one shot to get the attention of your donor from the moment they reach into their mailbox or inbox and wade through the stack of appeals they have received.

Tactically, we always suggest you use a different size carrier than everyone else – which in the context of white, #10 envelopes – you use a larger 9” x 6” envelope, a #11, or a 9” x 12”, or a 6” x 4”, or… you get the point. Anything other than a white #10 will do, for starters.

But then what?

A common question we ask ourselves around here at AOG HQ is who, or what, is the right voice for your story. I think you’ll agree that almost anything other than the droning, overly professional tones of your ED would be better. (No offense to your droning, overly professional ED of course.)

I was telling Mary about an appeal I did many years ago (with the Godfather of Good, David Love) for an organization called the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee (CARC! Ugh). You can take the time to look them up but the nutshell of CARC is they protect the arctic and the caribou.

So we pitched doing a pack that would come from Santa. The outer envelope featured an illustration of an angry Santa writing a note while out his window, some oil tanker had run aground spilling its contents all over the place and sick reindeer falling over. I really wish I had a copy of this pack. But I’m sure you can imagine it. And the letter, from Santa, told donors why he was so upset and asked them for help.

The client was terrified.

Raise your hands if you’ve heard this: “our donors are too sophisticated for this type of approach”.

We mailed it and it raised a shed-load of money. Better than any appeal they had done before. Donors were enchanted, they had levity in the onslaught of negativity and guilt and they heard about a familiar issue in an unfamiliar sort of way.

Using a different voice to tell your story can do that for you.

So ask yourself, who, or what, is the right voice for this story.

4. Urgency/offer

Almost every appeal I see shouts at your donor – OMG! It’s the end of the year! Give now!

Yes – some donors wait all year to decide which organizations they will give to, especially to get that tax receipt or because they feel so good about giving to their friends and family, they want to help out the dogs, or kids or poor or hungry…

But can’t you do better than that?

Knowing that my $50 will ensure that a homeless man will have a bed to sleep on for one night or that $7 will make sure that dog won’t be euthanized since there isn’t any space at the shelter for it – and the goal is to help X number by the end of the year – will raise you a ton more.

Our pal Jeff Brooks says every single fundraising offer should
1. explain the problem
2. share the solution
3. explain the action your donor can take

And when you overlay a sense of urgency – because – IT IS URGENT isn’t it?

…you will raise more money.

If you can’t express what the problem is or how it solve it to your donor… Well… time to put down that latest awareness campaign directed at millennials and get back to doing some hard work.

Your donors deserve it.

5. Understand your case for support.

Don’t even think about writing this appeal until you’re clear about what you’re asking for, who you’re asking and why.

“Support our annual fund” is not a reason to give. What will change if someone makes a gift? Why is it important to give right now? Why is your organization the best way to change something?

Then home in on this particular appeal. What do you need the donor to do? What problem can she solve?

This is an old appeal. But Habitat knows exactly what the problem is and what they want the reader to do about it.

6. Story

We are built for narrative. It’s the way our brains work. So base your appeal on a story. Illustrate your need on a human level.

Where can you find a story? Everywhere, really. Start with the people delivering your mission – and the people you help. Talk to donors who already love your work. Or get creative like Agents of Good.

Statistics get the rational part of our brain working. You’ll get better results when you appeal to emotions.

story begins on the outer envelope

This story starts on the outer envelope. (Piece from Merchant’s Quay, Ireland. Copy by Lisa Sargent of Lisa Sargent Communications and design from Sandie Collette of S. Collette Design. They do brilliant work!)

This one is part of the appeal.

7. Emotion

A good, emotional appeal is like a painting. You, the artist, choose your palette of emotions and mix them carefully to get the result you want.

Learn about emotional triggers and use them. They’re powerful! Choose one or two that work best for your appeal. Balance hope and fear. Or anger and compassion. Plan ahead, so that you know what you want to use – you’ll find yourself doing fewer rewrites.

Put simply: what do you want your reader to feel as he reads?

8. Look for a donor bargain.

Donors love to give – but they love it even more when their gift “buys” more. Think about a match challenge. r an illustration of how far your organization can take a dollar. (Just $25 buys enough food for a week of meals for a family of four!)

As a donor, it’s gratifying to know your donation will accomplish much more than you thought possible. So it’s much harder to pass the opportunity by.

Three times the lifesaving – that’s a bargain!

9. Speak before you write.

Your appeal should read like a person talking. Informal, conversational, easy to understand. Try dictating your appeal to begin with. Imagine you’re having a conversation with your reader. What would you say?

Your ear is also more likely to catch jargon. (You should kill jargon.) If you work in a space that makes it too hard (or embarrassing), at least sneak away to read what you’ve written aloud. Or try Text to Speech Online. Hearing your appeal is the best way to be sure it’s easy to read.

10. Gratitude

We are fundraisers. Our job is to raise funds. We spend a lot of time in meetings talking about how to spend less to make more, when that appeal should hit mailboxes, what the ideal ROI is for that insert, sharing photos of the stacks of returned mail that comes in and so on.

You know what gets lost in all of that?


I’ve never sat in a 3 hour, board room meeting, planning for all of the beautiful ways we will show our donors how much we love them. NEVER.

I know you all care a whole lot about asking your donors for gifts.

But getting thanked and being told how you used their gift is the part THEY CARE about. If you’re going to spend 3 hours talking about how to GET the gift, you better be spending 4.5 hours deciding how to THANK them for it.

Yes, I’m serious.

If you aren’t taking the time to thank them, don’t come complaining to me about donor fatigue or crap retention.

Donors will ignore charities that ignore them.


It CAN the most wonderful time of the year… and using some of these tips and suggestions will ensure your donor really feels that way too.

Did we miss any essential Year End tips? Share them in the comments below and best of luck as we head into the final few months of the year!

Photo by Caley Dimmock on Unsplash