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Annual Appeal Basics and Getting Started — Nonprofit Catalog

Nonprofits have a variety of impactful initiatives throughout the year that they prioritize in their fundraising calendar. Annual appeals, which can bring in some of the largest donations in a calendar year and often fund the core of a nonprofit’s activities, are one of those top priorities. Read on to learn what an annual appeal is, what you need to get started, and how to write an annual appeal.

What is an Annual Appeal? 

An annual appeal is a message your nonprofit sends to its supporters, often toward the end of the calendar year, updating them on your organization’s accomplishments and asking for their financial support. These messages can be sent via email or direct mail. 

Annual appeals are critical to the healthy functioning of a nonprofit. In fact, 25% of annual gifts are received in December, meaning that a quarter of all gifts that a nonprofit receives in a calendar year are driven in part by annual appeals.

According to the 2021 M+R Benchmark Study, 25% of nonprofit donations were received in the month of December in 2021.

Annual appeals not only bring in end-of-year donations but also allow for opportunities to engage and retain donors. Donors are interested in what your nonprofit is doing, and, more importantly, how you’re using their donations.

Annual appeals are essential across the fundraising sector, as colleges and universities can send annual appeals to solicit donations as well. Alumni and other supporters of colleges and universities are equally interested in learning what initiatives their alma mater is taking on, and annual appeals present the perfect opportunity to maximize university fundraising efforts.

What Resources Do You Need to Write an Annual Appeal? 

Once you decide to capitalize on the benefits of an annual appeal, there are a few things you’ll need to actually write your annual appeal. These resources include:

  • A nonprofit CRM: Utilize your donor data to personalize your messages with supporters’ names and giving histories. Make your donors feel special by letting them know you remember their contributions.
  • A photobank: Make sure to include images from your organization’s events throughout the year. Remember, donors want to see for themselves what your nonprofit has been doing and where their donations will go.
  • A word processor and grammar checker software: While some fundraising appeals can be hand-written, opt to write your annual appeal electronically to ensure that your process is efficient and your message is professional.
  • Email marketing platform: An email platform can help you automate your annual appeal while facilitating personalization through donor segmentation. Plus, you’ll be able to see information about open rates, which will help you gather data on the success of your appeal.
  • Direct mail marketing provider: If you choose to send a hard copy of your annual appeal via direct mail, work with a direct mail marketing provider to help you design, print, and send off the appeal letters to your supporters.

How to Write an Annual Appeal Letter

There’s no exact formula for writing an annual appeal that will work for every organization. But there are a few best practices to keep in mind to ensure the success of your annual appeal:

Writing an annual appeal requires you to know your audience, develop your story, provide an easy way to give, and express gratitude.
  1. Know your audience. Create different versions of your annual appeal to send to different audiences. For example, you might highlight background information about your nonprofit in a letter to a new supporter. On the other hand, you can provide more detailed updates in your letter to longtime donors.
  2. Develop your story. Your appeal should highlight the great work you’ve done throughout the year. Choose a specific example of the work you’ve done to include in your annual appeal. Make sure it has a compelling protagonist, includes direct quotes and images, and weaves in your fundraising metrics and outcomes.
  3. Provide an easy way to give. Include a link to your online donation page, provide a QR code, or offer a pre-addressed envelope. If your donors want to give, make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
  4. Express gratitude. Donor recognition is integral to donor retention, meaning donors who feel appreciated are much more likely to give again. So don’t forget to say, “Thank you!”

The most important thing to remember when writing your annual appeal is that there’s a reason your donors have supported you in the past. Stay true to your mission and show appreciation for the donations that make your mission possible.

Additional Resources