Are You Leaving Money on the Table?

Q&A for end of year letter appeals.

The end of a calendar year is an ideal time to accelerate your fundraising. In some cultures, year-end giving brings about 30% of the total giving for the year. Here are some common questions I have been asked over the years about year-end appeals.

Q: Should I send an end of year appeal letter?

A: In most cultures the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Here's why:

  1. With a new calendar year starting January 1, you can share your inspiring plans and vision for the coming 12 months and ask for your reader's partnership.
  2. If you are behind in your funding you can ask your contacts to help you "catch up by December 31."
  3. Many giving partners do not choose to give monthly but will gladly give once or twice a year. But they need to be reminded and invited.

Q: I send my year-end appeal to donor only, right?

A: Wrong. Send your year-end appeal to everyone on your mailing list, both donors and non-donors. This is another reason to build a large mailing list. Sending to donors only is a huge mistake many mission workers continue to make. Assuming that your non-donor readers are not interested in giving is making the decision for them. Why not give them an opportunity! Without an invitation hardly any volunteer to give. The appeal letter makes it easy for them to make a stewardship decision. 

In his thank you chapter to the Philippians, Paul said: "You were concerned before but you lacked opportunity." (Philippians 4:10) Your end of year appeal is giving your readers an opportunity. 

I prepare two versionsdonors and non-donors. For donors of the last 36 months I customize their letters, including a line about their giving history. "Thank you for your gift of $100 last December..." Then I ask them to "do it again" and even increase.

The second version is for non-donors, and it is identical except I do not mention previous givingobviously. I say, "Thank you for your prayer support and encouragement over the years..."

Both version say, "Dear Joe and Sally," not "Dear Friends."

Even for those who do not give, my letter energizes them about my calling.

Q: What about those who might be offended by an appeal letter?

A: Few will be offended, but there is always the possibility. But if they are offended, it is on them--not you, if you have written an honest, non-demanding sincere appeal. For my part I simply withdraw the envelope or email address (for this mailing) of those whom I think would be offendedlike my Mom and a few non-believing friends. I am careful not to make giving decisions for others.

Q: Email or Hard Copy?

A: Both! Hard copy gets much better results! It is worth it to ask your email readers to send you their physical mailing addresses. But if the postal system in your country is unreliable, then that may not be wise. BTWyour hard copy appeal can be several pages long. For newsletters I strongly suggest only one page, but for appeal letters, go longer.

Q: What should the appeal letter contain?

A: An appeal letter is different from a general newsletter. The appeal letter has one focus--your vision with an invitation for the reader to join you. Do not add additional lengthy ministry or family news as it will dilute the appeal. Include:

  • Your Vision--dreams for the coming year
  • Story--describe a problem that needs to be solved and illustrate it was a story about one person. It need not be a successful story.
  • Photos--of you in ministry action, perhaps a family shot as well. Be sure to include captions with important information. Readers always read captions first and skim letter copy.
  • Invitation to Give--include the total amount you are trying to raise and suggest a range that would help, such as sponsoring one day of your travel.
  • How to Give--be clear on how the reader can make his or her gift. I give directions in a P.S. Readers will read a P.S.
  • Deadline--explain the date by which you need the money. Do not "pick a number from the air."
  • For hard copy--I take my time to hand sign every hard copy letter! And I try to pray for the reader as I sign his or her letter. And I write a personal note (even with my bad handwriting!) on many. Takes hours, but well worth it!

Your end of year appeal inspires your readers about your ministry whether they give or not. It also prepares those to whom you would like to make a face-to-face appeal in coming months.

A well-written end of year letter should be an important part of your funding strategy.

For more on how to write financial appeal letters, please read chapter 15 of my book, Funding Your Ministry (NavPress)