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How to lay the groundwork for a successful year-end appeal

Posted August 21, 2018 by Virginia Davidson

year-end appeal groundwork

Will your year-end fundraising appeal bring in the results your organization relies on in order to carry out its mission in the year ahead? The work you do in the months leading up to your appeal can lay the groundwork for great results. Follow these four steps to get your appeal off to a strong start.

Step 1: Find a great story.

What are the most compelling stories from the year so far? What will your organization be focused on in the year ahead, and why is it so important? Make time to talk with program staff and hear the stories that have stood out to them in recent months. They may also be able to connect you with program attendees or other stakeholders who can share their story directly with you. In addition, make a point to witness your organization’s work firsthand. Attend a program or workshop as an observer. Seeing your organization in action and collecting stories from program staff will give you plenty of material to work with when you sit down to plan and craft your appeal letter (and if you run into writer’s block when you get to that stage, try using our worksheet to get over the hump!)

Step 2: Collect images.

An appeal letter with images is more compelling than text alone. Once you have some potential stories to consider for your letter, see if your organization already has images that help tell the story. If you do have images, make sure you have permission to use them in your fundraising materials. If you don’t have images, make a plan to take photos that help illustrate the story.

And, while a great appeal letter is important, it won’t do any good unless your letter reaches the right people who are inspired to give, so…

Step 3: Bring your database up to date.

Running your data through the National Change of Address Registry (NCOA) helps you maintain up-to-date addresses for your contacts and saves you from having to manually update addresses in your database. NCOA contains the names and addresses of permanent change-of-address records from individuals, families, and businesses who have filed a change of address with the United States Postal Service. Take advantage of this service at least a month or two ahead of your appeal mail date so you can ensure that the letters are sent to your donors’ and prospects’ most up-to-date addresses. Many printers offer this service for nonprofits.

Step 4: Do a communications audit.

When was the last time your donors heard from your organization? If you haven’t engaged with donors since you sent a thank you letter for their gift to last year’s appeal, they may not feel inclined to respond to your appeal this year. If this is the case, you need to prioritize communicating with these constituents. Put together an update thanking them again for their support and sharing clear examples of what their gift has made possible so far this year. Make sure your donors feel appreciated and informed so they’ll be inspired to contribute to your next appeal.


It takes a lot of work to put together a fundraising appeal, but you can help ensure its success by laying a strong foundation. Once you’ve followed these four steps, you’ll be poised and ready to follow our six steps to a successful appeal.

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