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Before You Write That Holiday Appeal…

…stop and think.  Think about the people receiving your letter.

It’s the holiday season.  You and every other non-profit—there are about twenty five thousand in Puget Sound, and hundreds of thousands nationally—are furiously churning out the good old holiday gift appeal letters.

We’re sure your letter is a good one. Chances are excellent it is filled with carefully crafted adjectives, heartfelt phrases, all framed by a great design with pictures and attention-grabbing typefaces.

But here’s the hard truth. It just won’t do you much good. In fact, we think they do more harm than good. Here’s why:

First, great, carefully crafted letters like yours are ubiquitous. Remember, all charities think the holiday season is the time to send letters begging for money.  Your letter would probably go in the pile (on the desk if you’re lucky) with all the others.

Further, if your cause is truly important and unique, you are undermining that message if you just queue up for attention using the same, tired old methods that everyone else uses!

Finally, the fact is that mail appeals are notoriously expensive for the little money they raise. Mail houses and the USPS see better margin on your mail than your own cause will.

On the other hand, do you have the creativity, the drive, the passion to think differently, to stand apart from the crowd?

Here’s a better approach: Treat your supporters the way you would like to be treated – as a person, not as a direct mail target.

Cultivate your relationship over the holidays. Why not wish people a happy holiday – in person, or on the phone? Do something personal—intimate, casual, friendly—something that reflects your values. Show up at their door with carolers.

Or don’t do anything—save your communication for January, when people are out from under the extra-heavy information crush of the holidays.

Our main point? The highest-performing fundraising teams take the time to connect, face-to-face, whenever possible, with their supporters. It is more fun, more humane, and a much more appropriate way for a social enterprise to communicate with its supporters. If you think, “well, we just don’t have the time,” we say you can’t afford not to spend the time.

If you want to raise the support to really accomplish your ambitious mission, investing in personal relationships with your supporters is the best use of your time.

- Donald Summers

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