5 Strategies for a Winning Nonprofit Annual Appeal

5 Strategies for a Winning Nonprofit Annual Appeal

As a nonprofit professional, you already know that the most lucrative time for donations comes at the end of the year. It’s time to put together your annual appeal letter and coordinate your email and mailing campaigns.

Let’s focus on these 5 strategies to help you write a winning annual appeal letter.


Telling a story is the most effective strategy to engage the reader. Every nonprofit organization has a heartfelt message behind it which is also meaningful and personal to your donors, and it is helpful to the reader to be reminded of their connection through a story.

Remember not to get so intense about the call to action that it becomes a lecture or a frightening letter. Highlight the benefits of a contribution rather than the dire situation, and stay human and friendly– you’re on the same side, after all. For a laugh, take a look at this brutally honest example of what not to write.


Your story should explain exactly how the donor’s specific and personal contribution will help.

Remind the reader that they are helping your organization work to fix a problem or imbalance and you are in it together to fight the cause. People like to understand the expectations you have of them from the start and they are more likely to perform if they know what you need.

The reader wants to feel that their donation will be meaningful in a specific way. General pleas such as “whatever you can spare” or “every bit helps” may feel right, but they are too vague. By giving concrete examples of the value of a contribution, you provide essential context to the personal donation.


There is science behind using the right words in a marketing message, particularly when you are asking someone to help. Annual appeals benefit from personal, simple, and thankful language, but also from a few specific words.

Show gratitude in your letter. Thank previous donors for their contributions; thank the reader for opening and considering your message; thank prospects in advance. Let them know how much you appreciate the donors that support your organization.


There are so many messages out there, reinforcement is essential for conversion.

Nonprofit marketing is most successful when email is combined with direct mail. Written appeals prompt online donations 3 times more often than e-appeals. Combining channels is one of the best ways to maximize your efforts. You can use the same content in multiple ways, catching people in different places and at different times. Awareness builds over time and supports your appeal so that when someone gets your postal mail, it triggers recognition and action.

Depending on the size and budget of your organization, you may also use video ads, whether online or on television, and other methods. Social media is an effective platform for telling and sharing stories. Organic sharing has immense value, but cannot be forced. Instead, you will simply tell the compelling story that drives your organization. When others feel strongly about your message, they will share it and spread the word.


Let’s be honest– you have to assume no one will read every word. As such, you want to write in a way that scanning the text gives the reader the complete essence of your message. Use headers and taglines, images, quotes, and captions wisely to attract readers to your main points.

Write so you can skim it and know what you’re asking. But don’t be too brief. Check to see if you’re missing any of these common elements.


You can get bogged down trying to write the “perfect” appeal letter. So, first and foremost, make sure your nonprofit is telling the story that made it a heartfelt cause in the first place. Then use these strategies to access your prospects and increase your fundraising success.

If you’re ready for the next step, check out these 3 things you need to know about nonprofit mailings.

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