year-end appeal

Are you finalizing your direct mail year-end appeal? Just a few simple edits could help you raise more! If your year-end appeal hasn’t gone to print or your year-end email appeals are still in the draft folder, these tips can guide you through a few last-minute changes. 

Your appeal letter should feel like a letter from a friend, not a business communication or a paper for school. Let go of those formal tendencies and allow yourself to break a few brand guidelines if that’s what it takes.

Tip 1: Salutation 

Address the letter informally. Use a first name or nickname to address your appeal. The only exception here is if you have a donor who has explicitly asked to only be addressed with the formal salutation. If they haven’t, use their nickname if one is recorded in your database and their first name if not.

Tip 2: Signature

There should only be one person signing the letter. It can be your executive director or your board chair, but not both. Two signatures sends a message to your donors that this letter is something a committee put together to send out, and that they’re getting a communication from a brand. One signature makes the recipient feel like another human is writing directly to them. 

Tip 3: Paragraphs

Break up your paragraphs, make them smaller. A good appeal often has some paragraphs that are only a single sentence! Increasing white space makes the letter easier to read. And easier to skim, which is what most of your readers will do. 

Tip 4: Reading Level

You’re aiming for a 6th grade reading level. Yes, your donors are smart enough to read at a higher reading level. But they don’t need to – keeping it simple means your donor can quickly and easily get the message you want them to. 

My favorite tool for this is the Hemingway app – it’s free! Just copy and paste your text into the tool online and adjust until it’s easier to read.

Tip 5: Emphasis

You can use bold text and underlining to make your most important points resonate and draw your reader’s eyes to them. Make sure your ask is emphasized, and hit the parts of the story that are most going to make your donor want to give. Look over what you have emphasized; if someone read just those parts, without reading the rest of the text, would they understand your message? That’s your goal. 

Tip 6: Font Size

Please bump your font size up to 14 point font. It’s so much easier to read. If someone opens up that envelope and looks at your letter, you want them to immediately get your message, not set it down to go in search of better lighting or reading glasses.

Tip 7: Length

Now that you’ve spaced out your paragraphs and made your font size larger, maybe your letter doesn’t fit on a single page. Good! A 4 page letter (two sheets printed front and back) often performs better. Let it be longer than a page.

Tip 8: The Envelope

Your letter is going to be one of a stack of pieces of mail that lands in someone’s mailbox one day soon. Will your donor want to open it? Adding a teaser can help. Don’t make your teaser say what you want them to do. They aren’t going to make a gift because the envelope asks. Make your teaser entice them to open the envelope. 

Try these easy changes before you send your year-end appeal out the door this year. Small changes can make a big difference for your year-end fundraising!

annual fundraising appeal

Sarah Willey
Sarah Willey, MA, CFRE, SMS is an experienced fundraising professional with a passion for learning, teaching, and building community. She works as a coach and consultant with nonprofits across the US and Canada to build sustainable individual giving programs and write great communications. A lifelong learner, she holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis as well as the CFRE certification and a social media strategist (SMS) certification from the National Institute for Social Media, and is now pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Missouri - St. Louis and expects to complete her dissertation in 2023. Sarah can be reached at