Holiday Gift Appeals Done Right

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Are you a nonprofit gearing up for your holiday gift appeal? Before you hit the send button on your e-appeal, read this first.You and every other non-profit—if you live in a city, there are thousands within a few miles of you—are all churning out the same emotional letters and uplifting emails.  We suggest that these appeals are not effective and may even be counterproductive.

We’re sure your mission is worthy. And your letter a good one. But these notes may do harm than good. Here’s why:

First, messages like yours are ubiquitous during the holidays. All charities think the holiday season is the time to send appeals. Even though some people do make smaller annual gifts during the holidays, there are so many appeals to them, we believe this “gift appeal” overload offers stronger reasons for a nonprofit not to add to the din of solicitations.

If your cause is truly important and unique, consider that you may me undermining your uniqueness if you solicit attention and support ways that are not at all unique. Emails are cheap and easy to do, but they are de facto spam, and you may be annoying more people than you inspire to give. And gift solicitations via the mail are very expensive and offer poor return on investment, with response rates of 1% being the norm. Just like auctions, mass written appeals, digital or paper-based, are not good returns on investment and often undermine brand awareness and trust.

So, if the crowd of nonprofits does a zig, we suggest you zag. Cultivate your relationships over the holidays. Show joy and gratitude. Wish people a happy holiday – in person, or with a call. Do something creative, intimate, casual, friendly, fun—something that reflects your values. Show up at the door of your biggest supporters and your board members and volunteers with the staff as 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.

The highest-performing fundraising strategies emphasize creative and unique mass-market appeals but spend much more budget and energy on face-to-face, high-touch pieces with current volunteers and current and prospective major investors.

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. Not mail or e-appeals, unless they are truly fabulous and promote awareness and engagement, not just direct solicitations of money.

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