Through research and practice, we've encountered the good and the bad of year-end fundraising. As someone who is called in to provide advice and guidance, I'm always heartened by hearing that the vast majority of organizations typically have their plans for year-end efforts well underway by October 1. (If you don't, move "Year-end strategy and planning" to the top of your to-do list today.) With so many things to do for year-end fundraising, be sure you do these two things to maximize the results of your campaign.

1. Communicate and shout out loud your organization's beliefs in your appeal.

It's likely that your year-end direct mail solicitation list is the largest of any of your solicitation campaigns. It's also likely that your year-end recipients run the spectrum in terms of their familiarity with your work. If you want the reader to respond to your appeal, your belief statement - that is, what you truly believe your beneficiaries should experience because of your work - should be abundantly clear.

Belief statements speak to the core of why your organization exists. It is the "hook" that brings a reader into your appeal. It is a statement your reader either agrees with or not, and speaks to your closest supporter as well as a stranger. For example, The Girl Effect uses a belief statement like, "This is the moment to make girls impossible to ignore." Or the Ronald McDonald House might say, "The family who stays together, heals together." Whatever your organization's beliefs, your statement must come across clearly and strongly in your appeal.

The copy you write for both print and online appeals should underscore the belief statement. It should be repeated, prominent and present on all of your campaign materials. One of the most effective ways to do this is to tell a story of how your organization served one person. By doing this, you attach your prospective donor to the issue through the belief statement.

Donors have a hard time relating to the masses, but they will relate to the story of a single individual. Using illustrative writing, tell the reader how an individual's life changed because of your organization, then tie that in with your organization's belief statement. The donor should feel their relationship to the story is direct - not a dotted one that stops with you or the organization and then goes to the recipient of their gift. You and your organization are not the heroes. The donor is. This direct connection is essential for donor understanding of social change.

2. Think critically about design.

The most effective campaigns are those that successfully make an emotional connection. Your appeal should:

  • Draw in the reader.
  • Use images that illustrate the narrative story.
  • Include colors that are brand-specific.
  • Include a gift form that is easy to understand and captures what you need for future communication with the donor.

Before you hand off the copy of your appeal to your designer, think about what you want the visual impact of your appeal to be. Outline these thoughts for your designer in advance, and don't leave key elements up to interpretation.

Your creative team should design elements that directly reflect the belief statement. In the example mentioned earlier about the Ronald McDonald House, images should focus on a parent-to-child relationship. Colors should reflect healing and the brand - like Ronald McDonald House's corporate yellow. These should appear in all components of your year-end campaign: appeal letters, remit slips, mailing and return envelopes, event invitations, email solicitations, web site and social media pages.

In addition to using visual cues to highlight your belief statement, also use visual cues to highlight your call to action in text blocks. (This call to action is your "give today" plea.) Without this ask, there's no purpose to your appeals. Make it stand out through visual cues such as text blocks, underlining and bolding where it is important to call attention to the statements you want the reader to draw their eye too.

On the outer envelope, use a color bolded statement and image to draw attention to the direct mail piece. Given the amount of solicitations mixed in with ads and other junk mail, you need this to stand out. Humanizing the piece with an image of the beneficiary or even text blocks will do more than just the standard #10 envelope.

In the coming months, you'll invest a lot of time into making your year-end campaign great. Take leadership over your campaign and the results with a strategic focus on the belief statement and design. These steps will set you up for success this year and provide a vital benchmark for the future.


Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and creative agency for causes. In addition, he leads a national research team for the Millennial Impact Project, the premier study dedicated to millennials and how they engage with cause work, and is the co-author of Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement. In his last post, he explored the importance of taking your donors on a journey.

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