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Annual appeal letters: dos and don'ts

Annual Appeals

'Tis the season for nonprofits to send their annual appeal letters. In the universe of direct mail, these appeals are unique and need to be approached with their own set of best practices. Below are some creative and copywriting tips for your annual appeal.

DON'T create a laundry list. Your appeal is not the same as your brochure. You may care about all the details of your programs. Your audience, not so much. While you are at it, avoid sounding corporate, technical, or otherwise sterile.

DO tell a story and keep it intimate. Give your appeal the personal touch. Make it entertaining, personal, insightful, heart-wrenching. The better the story, the better your piece will perform. Don't be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve.

DON'T make it all about you. Avoid tooting your own horn.

DO make it all about the donor. Make your donors feel like the most important people in the world, at least to your organization. After all, they are. Err on the side of flattering too much, rather than too little. And remember, the more times you use the word "you" in your copy, the better your appeal will perform.

DON'T be afraid to ask for more. With digital printing and personalization, you can include the size of a previous donor gift, and then ask for a little more, along with a justification for why your need has grown.

DO take a cue from social media. If it's realistic for your nonprofit, maintain a web page of donors and giving levels. Research has shown that the more folks have others with which to compare themselves, the more they will want to participate. Kind of like keeping up with the Joneses, but in a good way!

DON'T get hung up on "good" writing. Great direct mail copy often features ellipses, sentence fragments and weird sentence structure. Your high school English teacher would hate it but it's been proven to work, over and over again.

DO use bullets, ultra-short paragraphs and other skimmable techniques. Make it easy to read, and while you are at it, use bold and underlines to draw your reader's attention to key phrases throughout your copy.

DON'T wait until the last minute! Get your project in early! It's best to produce it now to ensure your drop date is exactly when you want.

DO use a great printer, like Visions, Inc.. The quality of the printing and mailing reflects directly on your organization. You can't go wrong with Visions, Inc..

AND REMEMBER... Some project components take a little longer than others. Envelopes often take longer to produce than the appeal itself, so we can always start on those in advance. Personalization often requires the added step of barcoding to match appeal to envelope. We can also hang onto the project until you are ready to mail — in case you want to beat the rush and ensure timely delivery on your schedule.


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