Annual Appeals

An annual appeal is a special fundraising effort done each year. Its purpose is to raise funds above and beyond any membership and grant funds you may receive.

In addition to raising funds for your organization, an appeal can help in cultivating and enhancing the loyalty of your membership and increasing the number of individuals interested in your cause. For example, an annual appeal provides the opportunity to:

  • Communicate your group’s accomplishments over the previous year.
  • Inform members of new initiatives in the coming year.
  • Upgrade current members’ giving levels.
  • Provide important facts about the watershed where your members live.
Getting Started

While annual appeals may seem easier than your general membership campaign, it is important to plan the effort so that it is repeatable and you are able to track trends. Here are some thoughts for developing your first annual appeal campaign.

Plan it Out
Before launching into an annual appeal, take the time to think through both the big picture and the details. Set goals for how much money you want to bring in. Then, use those goals to decide who you will send the mailing to – will it go to members only, or will you send it to other donors and friends of the organization? Also consider the format of the appeal. Appeals are typically done as hard copy mailings. However, more groups are beginning to incorporate email appeals as well. You can pick just one method, or you can combine them, potentially by sending the initial appeal as a hard copy and following up with email reminders. The format will depend on your audience and the contact information you have available. You also want to consider how you will accept donations. Can donors send a check, pay by credit card, and even donate online?

Once you’ve set your goals and determined who your audience is, you can start planning the timing of your appeal. Timing The end of the year is a great time for fundraising because it coincides with the conclusion of the tax year. Many people look for ways to reduce their taxes, including making tax-deductible donations to organizations that deliver public and community services they care about. Another benefit of doing a year end appeal is that many people are feeling generous around the winter holidays. When deciding when to send a year end appeal, consider the volume of holiday mail and packages going out in December. Appeal times that have worked for other New Jersey watershed groups include just before Thanksgiving, the first week of December, and mid-December. There are many other times when you could do a successful annual appeal. For example, spring may be a good time for watershed groups since people are feeling more connected to nature. Or consider sending the appeal to coincide with one of your popular and successful annual events. By selecting a different time to send your appeal, you will be less likely to compete with all of the year end appeals. Test different timings, keep records and see what works for your group.

Developing Your Message
Reflect on and communicate your successes to your supporters, and inform them of what is to come. Here are some questions to help frame your accomplishments:

  • What were the most important programmatic accomplishments during the year?
  • How and where has your work reduced water pollution or improved the health of the watershed?
  • What were the most important organizational accomplishments during the year?
  • What activities has your group been involved in over the past year (e.g. planning, monitoring, public education, and general advocacy)?
  • What were the results of your activities? Was there an increase in public understanding and action, improvement in regulatory compliance, or better environmental conditions?

In addition to talking about your successes and work, be sure to:

  • Thank donors for their past support.
  • Make it personal and compelling. Try using a real life story to draw readers into the letter.
  • Explain why you are writing to them and what their donation will be used for.
  • Include personal handwritten notes from someone in your organization who knows the recipient.
  • Use white space and photos effectively to communicate your message. Use underlining or bolding to highlight important points.
  • Use the P.S. to reiterate your request or offer an incentive.

The Mailing
There is no sure fire way to achieve the most successful appeal. However, below are some suggestions to increase the chances that your appeal will be opened and read.

1. Mailing List
Mail to your general members and list of supporters. This may not be the best time to mail to people who do not already have a connection to your organization. You may also want to exclude those who have recently made contributions.
2. Outside Envelope
Get recipients to open the envelope! Some groups have used a red envelope to draw attention to it, while others have placed intriguing messages on the envelope. Make the outside look as personal as possible, handwrite addresses, and use a bulk mail or first class stamp.
3. Return Envelope
Providing a return envelope makes it even easier for donors to send in their contributions. Some return envelopes are very sophisticated, while others are as simple as printing your address on a small envelope.
4. Response Form
The response form can be a coupon at the bottom of your letter, a small card or half letterhead sheet. Be sure to list all of the giving options you offer and include a place for donors’ contact information. You can even preprint their contact information, and ask respondents to correct it as needed. Be specific about how they can contribute (check, credit card, online), and about the information you need for payment. For checks, indicate who to make the check payable to, and for credit cards, provide fields for type of card, card number, name on card, signature, and expiration date.
5. Inserts
Decide which inserts, if any, will support the message of your appeal. Photos, press clippings, and/or a list of accomplishments are inserts to consider if they are relevant and add interest. Email For email appeals, be sure to put some thought into the subject line. Make it short, yet interesting. You can even test out a couple of different subjects to see which gets the best response. Your appeal may need to be shorter than in a hard copy letter, in order to keep readers’ attention. Include your message in the body of the email, not as an attachment. Be sure to include a link to your online donation page. Processing the Response Send a thank you note to each donor. This is essential to building a loyal group of donors. Consider sending personalized, handwritten, thank you notes when you can, especially for large donations.

Important Note: For any single gift of $250 or greater, your organization must provide a formal letter to the contributor. The IRS requests that the following information be provided to the contributor: organization’s name, amount of money given, and statement indicating that the donor did not receive any goods or services for the gift. There is no standard form, so it may be beneficial to incorporate this information in your thank you note.

Keep records and compare your results from year to year in order to improve your fundraising efforts. This can also provide information for your annual budget. Items to track include the appeal costs (envelopes, postage, paper, staff time, etc.), the money received, the response rate (number mailed divided by number of respondents), the average gift, mailing date, and materials mailed. For email appeals, most e-newsletter programs can track the number of emails sent, the number of emailed opened, and the number of clicks on any links provided. Analyze what worked well and what you can improve on for next year’s efforts.

Helpful Hints

If yhelpful_hintou feel uncomfortable about sending out a letter, try a holiday card. Just be sure to include a way for recipients to donate. When ordering materials, make sure the letter and inserts fit in the envelope and that colors coordinate. The packaging and mailing of an appeal should not be overwhelming even for the smallest of groups. Host a mailing party and have fun by providing food, drinks and even music. When sending an appeal to members, be sure to clarify that any appeal donation is above and beyond their regular membership.

Further Resourcesresources

Grassroots Fundraising Journal, is a bimonthly magazine to help nonprofits raise funds. Their website also provides a Q&A column and articles on basic fundraising approaches. River Advocates Fundraising Guide, from River Network, is an online guide for river and watershed groups. River Network also provides an online library with information on writing appeal letters. Charitable Contributions: Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements, a publication from the IRS, details any requirements for acknowledging large donations and in-kind services.

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