The week before Thanksgiving, along with the inevitable flood of holiday gift catalogues in the mail, comes the inevitable flood of annual appeals from your alma mater and any good cause you may have supported in the past, along with requests from many causes you haven’t.
If you’re like me, I’m sure you toss the ones you don’t really care about, which constitute at least 90 percent of the mail, and set aside the ones you want to review for tax-deductible giving before the end of the calendar year.
So what makes a direct mail annual appeal worth opening, let alone reading—let alone responding to with a donation?
Just saying what you do and why it’s important aren’t enough to save an appeal from the circular file. Here are three key criteria to an effective annual appeal:
1) A Qualified Mailing List
This may seem obvious, but given the amount of junk mail we all receive, it’s certainly not always followed. Especially for non-profits that need to watch every dollar spent, it is well worth the time and investment to create and maintain an up-to-date database of qualified donors who have given in the past.
You can amplify this list through effective lead generation materials on your website—free, valuable content that your site visitors will want to download in exchange for their contact information. Understand the people you are trying to attract as donors, what they care about, what motivates them, what they would want to receive that is relevant to your work and helps to educate. Create quality content to give away in exchange for the contact information you need to expand your list of potential donors.
2) A Compelling Story
The best way to bring home the positive impact of your non-profit’s work is to tell a story that illustrates how your efforts benefited those you intend to help. Journalists use this approach all the time to explain a complicated issue—like rising gas prices—by telling the story from a local point of view. Readers can more readily identify with an abstract issue if it’s explained in personal terms.
To hold your audience, your story needs to have emotional impact that’s earned, not forced. People don’t want to feel manipulated. Stick to the truth. If your work is really good, you’ll have plenty of compelling anecdotes that can be woven into your narrative.
3) Great Visuals
A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Not everyone will read a long appeal letter, no matter how well crafted. Use quality photos that illustrate how you help—not grip-and-grin snapshots of donors at events—to help tell your story and draw your reader into your appeal. It also pays to invest in a professional graphic designer to lay out your story in a way that is compelling and easy to follow.
In addition to the above, be sure to get your appeal in the mail in time for it to arrive a month to six weeks before December 31, so recipients won’t miss it in the Christmas rush. And do a thorough evaluation of your appeal’s effectiveness when you’ve received all your donations.
There are many, many good causes out there, all competing for donations. Your chances of raising money for your good works are significantly better if you have a solid mailing list and a great, humane story, well presented, to share with your qualified donors.
Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.