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An Annual Appeal Year-End Fundraising Timeline You Can Use

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Autumn is coming. That means it’s time to begin thinking about your critical year-end fundraising campaign.
And, no, it’s not a moment too soon to begin.

December is when 30% of all annual individual giving is done. You want to be sure you’re ready to take full advantage of the opportunity to connect when folks are feeling most generous. Smart fundraisers will prepare now.

If you get started right now you’ll be able to prepare an annual appeal timeline that will get your centerpiece mail appeal into folk’s hands by Thanksgiving (a time when many folks are feeling grateful, and inclined to share their blessings – at least in the U.S.).

There’s no time to waste! The hard work begins now and runs through Q3 and Q4 of the calendar year. You’ll also want to plan follow-up mailings, a series of emails and supplementary social media posts for December. But first, you must plan the core of your campaign.

Let’s take a look at a sample Annual Appeal Timeline.

Annual Appeal Timeline

When What Whom (initials of responsible staff)
Aug 1 Brain Storm Meeting; Theme and Messaging EK, BG, CA, EM, CA, AA
Aug 7 Create Timeline and draft Segmentation Chart EM, BG, AA
Aug 18-23 Draft Letter and Remit BG
Aug 25-30 Finalize drafts for E.D. & D.O.D review BG, CA, AF
Aug 28 Review Segmentation Chart EM, BG, TM
Sept 5 Segmentation of DB; Load appeal codes; Create list of counts per segment; create spreadsheets for review TM
Sept 8 Database Purge & Review TM, EM, BG, AA
Sept 11-15 Spec. out Mail House job; talk to Printer AA
Sept 12 Meeting with Designer AA, CA, EM
Sept 18-29 Run Note-Writer reports; Send to Note-Writers to review TM; AA
Sept 27 Meet with ED to discuss final Appeal Package AA, EM
Sept 22 – Oct. 3 Contact all note writers regarding how they would like to do notes (1) Come here at convenience (2) Come to note writing party (3) We write notes for them AA
Oct. 2 Request check to update BRE account with Post Office AA
Oct. 10 Receive all lists back from Note-Writers; make changes accordingly in database AA, EAN
Oct. 9-18 Printer to have all print materials printed
Oct. 16-20 Pull segments by appeal code. Final segment review. Zip file and send data to Mail House. Run newly updated note-writing lists AA, TM, EM
Oct. 27 Mail House to deliver prepared items back; Set-up in conference room 271; Quality control of Mail House job AA, EAN
Oct. 30 Draft and Produce Thank You Letters and inserts AA, EAN
Nov. 1-2 Assign follow-up calls to Board and Development Committee members who’ve not yet given; Prepare information for note-writers and callers AA, CA, EK, BG
Nov. 7 Generate list of donors who’ve made annual gifts since codes were pulled; delete appeal code from database TM, AA, EAN
Nov. 10 Drop Bulk Segments from Mail House
Nov. 17 Drop First Class Segments by taking envelopes to post office in van PL
Sept. 25 Arrange to have HR provide address labels for Staff Appeal AA, RB
Nov. 18-22 Write Staff Appeal; Get labels from HR; assemble and distribute (Staff who are already donors to fall into appropriate segments in mailing) AA, AF, EAN; RB

Now let’s dig a bit deeper into what this means for you, and take a look at how you can modify this for your own use.

Core Components of Annual Appeal Planning

This is your opportunity to think about your vision, mission and values from the perspective of what truly matters to your constituents. What’s in it for them to be invested with you? What areas do they earmark their giving for? What articles of yours do they read and share? What are frequently asked questions?

TIP: Ask and brainstorm the answers to these questions:

  • What makes your constituents’ hearts sing?
  • What’s going on in the news that people are thinking about, and how can your message tie your back to what folks are already concerned about?

Pull a group together (this may be staff and/or volunteers), and spend some time upfront thinking together about what may be compelling and inspiring to your supporters.

TIP: When everyone on your team has ownership of your annual campaign theme, you’ll get greater investment in seeing every step of the plan through to fruition. Writers have to feel passionate about the message; don’t ask them to write an appeal they don’t believe in (or even one that bores them to death). The administrative assistant who writes the thank you letter has to buy into the theme as well, or the thank you will be dry and transactional, rather than transformational. And so on with each member of your team.

Remember, autumn is coming. Everyone and their dog will soon be competing for your supporters’ attention. What will make your appeal stand out and resonate?

People can’t give to everything. Increasingly, they don’t. Folks are giving fewer, and larger, gifts to fewer organizations. They’re giving to make an impact, not a drop in the bucket.

TIP: Don’t simply repeat what you wrote last year.It’s once again that time of year, so we hope you’ll join us in our mission” is pretty boring stuff. Is now a time when your service is needed more than ever? Why? Spell this out and make me believe you.

Draft a Segmentation Chart

You’ll always get your best results when you show people you know them.

TIP: The first step towards personalization is dividing your database into segments based on (1) how people are affiliated with you and (2) when, how and how much they give. There are many ways to slice this, and you can’t make every possible cut. But think about all the cuts you could possibly make to begin; then narrow your focus.

Once you’ve segmented your list, you can tailor your appeal letter appropriately.

TIP: Just little tweaks in your copy can pack a big punch. If I’m a board member, I’d appreciate a letter that says “As a board member, you understand better than most…” The same holds true if I’m a parent, alum, patient, ticket holder, subscriber, member or some other type of client. If you can acknowledge that connection in your appeal you should.

When you separate larger donors from smaller donors, you can also tailor your remit piece appropriately.

TIP: In fundraising, different strokes for different folks applies in spades. Someone who’s given you less than $100 should receive a different appeal than someone who gives you $500 or more. In the case of smaller donors, you may ask them to repeat their giving by suggesting a string of amounts that will be reflected in your remit piece or donation landing page. For larger donors, you may ask for a specific amount that matches (for first-time donors) or is greater than (for repeat donors) what they gave previously. And you’ll want to use a higher-end response device. It makes little sense to ask a $500 donor to give $15, $25, $50 or $100 or “other.” It’s much better to ask them to give $250, $500, $1,000, $2,500 or other.

Draft Letter and Remit

Here’s where you think about what content to include in order to create an offer your donor can’t refuse. We’re a profoundly social and caring species, with sympathy being a stronger instinct than self-interest. It’s good to have a compelling, emotional story to tell, because plenty of research shows people are wired for stories. Don’t wait until September to look for your best content; by then it may be too late to get it.

TIP: Brainstorm your best stories. Do you have permission to share this story; if not, can you get it or work around it? In a nutshell, you need three things:

  1. The problem you’re addressing – can you make it seem real and relevant to the prospective donor?
  2. The solution you’re proposing to address the problem – with your donor’s help.
  3. Specifically how they can help – the purpose and the amount of the gift you’re requesting.

TIP: Determine in advance whether you have compelling visuals to illustrate these stories. If not, can you get a photo or video? Or should you pick another story? A picture really is worth 1,000 words! Add a photo, ideally of one person donors can help, to your mail or email appeal. Also use visuals on social media. Folks pay more attention on social networks if you include donation impact graphics.

Urgency is a key motivator. Now’s your time to determine what you can do to create urgency.

TIP: Matching grants and challenges work wonders to leverage donor giving, so consider whether you can secure a challenge grant in time for this year’s appeal.

Plan Ahead for Personal Note Writing

People give to people. Which is why this is probably my favorite tip. In my experience, donor response to appeals with personal, handwritten notes is significantly higher than response to appeals without them. You’ll have to test/track this for yourself, but I’ve seen an increase in response from 2% to 34% — making it well worth the effort.

TIP: Ask your board and development committee members (plus other loyal donors and volunteers) to review names on your donor list and pick out those folks they know and to whom they’d be willing to write notes. While you’re at it, ask them if they have names of friends, family or colleagues they’d like to add. Do this sufficiently in advance of your mailing so you have time to add these names as “workers” or “solicitors” in your database. Then spit out a report for each willing volunteer that includes their chosen prospects. Pull these appeal packages from you general mail house mailing so folks can add personal notes.

Draft Your Thank You Letter in Advance

A thank you works best when it aligns with the appeal. If you leave it to the last minute, you’re likely to wind up with something generic that comes across as a transactional receipt. Even worse, you may get the thank you out too late to show the donor you can be trusted. And trust is the foundation of every lasting relationship. You want this relationship to last, right?

TIP: Craft a thank you that reminds your donor why they gave, what they gave to accomplish, and what a hero they’ve become as a result. The goal is to reassure your donor they made a good decision, and that you’ll be putting their gift to work immediately – just as they intended.

Plan Ahead for Segments You’ll ‘Drop’ at Different Times

In the best of all possible worlds, everyone would get a hand-delivered letter. That way you know it’s been received, and it’s certainly hard for the recipient to ignore.

However, that’s simply not practical, and I’m not really serious (though you can hand deliver your appeal letters to committee members and volunteers at already-scheduled meetings; board members should be visited in person or, at the very least, receive a phone call).

You’ll want to think in advance how you’ll deliver your annual appeal to different donor segments. Generally, there are two main mail segments: (1) bulk and (2) first class. Bulk takes longer to arrive, so be sure to leave enough time for it to get to its destination.

TIP: Hiring a mail house for bulk mail can simplify your life and be well worth the investment. Be sure to get clarity on what they’ll do and what you’ll do. A good mail house partnership is worth its weight in gold, so get recommendations from other charities in your area who you respect.

TIP: For first class, mail it in time to arrive just before Thanksgiving if you’re a U.S. charity. Of course, you can send an earlier appeal too. And also a later appeal. But Thanksgiving is generally a prime giving holiday and a great way to pave the way for giving throughout the December holiday season. Plus, your appeal arrives before others do in December – and before folks begin to go away on vacations. And it lays a foundation for supplemental email appeals in December.

TIP: For staff, consider hand delivering appeal letters with a special personal note from your board president or CEO. Or distribute them at an all staff meeting. Or stuff them into individual mailboxes, if you have them.


Autumn is coming.
If you don’t put your best foot forward at this time of the year, you’re going to leave money on the table. So take the time you need to focus on the stuff that really matters and will make a difference.

Plan well in advance to guard against boring folks with tired, irrelevant messaging, especially at a time of year when mailboxes and inboxes are full. Every message your donors see at this time of year should reinforce messages they’ve already seen.

Develop your year-end fundraising plan, message and multi-channel asking strategy as a team. Be sure that all stakeholders (board, marketing, fundraising, volunteer and program staff) are aligned, and that you’re putting forth one, consistent message using every channel at your disposal.

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