More on the Art of Sending Appeals

In my last blog post, “Is It Better or Worse to Send More Appeals?,” I acknowledged that sending multiple appeals to donors can raise more money for your organization, if you do it right. However, I also recognized that determining the correct number of appeals, raises more questions than answers.

Some organizations are not appealing enough while others are sending too many solicitations. As you might imagine, the post inspired a lively conversation in the comments section and in a number of discussion groups on LinkedIn.

One of the last comments I received came from Erica Waasdorp, President of A Direct Solution and author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant. Her insights and recommendations were on target and excellent. Because I did not want readers to miss what Erica had to say, I decided to share her message with you as a guest blog post. In turn, she was kind enough to add some additional material from her own blog:



I love this discussion. Super!

Whenever I present a webinar, I ask the question: how many times do you appeal to your donors. The answer typically is once, twice, maybe four times a year, if you’re lucky. Very rarely is it more than that. Now, these are usually the smaller organizations.

When I ask those same nonprofits what their retention rates are, they’re usually around the median, 43 percent.

When I ask those same nonprofits what they do with donors who just gave, the answer typically is, we’ll take those out of the next mailing of course.


When I ask them how deep they mail into their lapsed donors, they typically cut that off at three years. In other words, if someone has not responded in three years, they’ll never receive mail again.


I have extensively tested the following over the years:

1.  Always include those donors who just gave to you in the next appeal. Many of them will give again, especially if you have a great appeal that hits on all cylinders, namely, you thank them, you show them the impact of their donation, you have a great story and a good call to action.

I’ve seen, time and time again, that this is the best responsive group. Recency, Frequency Monetary Value has not become the standard in segmentation for nothing.

2.  Always include your lapsed donors in your appeal at least once a year, preferably in the fall/holiday appeal time frame. With the National Change of Address required by the post office, you’ll know you’re mailing to mailable addresses.

I’ve seen time and time again that this group responds at higher levels than a prospecting/acquisition campaign.

Michael’s numbers are correct: for acquisition of new donors, in fact, in some cases they might even be a bit worse, like perhaps $2.00 to $3.00 to raise $1.00.

No Junk Mail by Rupert Ganzer via FlickrBUT, when you bring these new donors in and you mail them as donors, you’re typically looking at $0.20 to raise a dollar. That means, you’re investing $1,000 to get $5,000 back. Where do you find that in the stock market?

Not to mention the opportunity to convert these donors to give monthly and upgrade them (and certainly increase their retention rates further that way, leading up to the ultimate gift down the road since monthly donors are seven times more likely to leave you in their will).

What I typically see with small organization: if your appeals don’t work, you may not mail enough, or not mail to the right donors, or you may have spent too much money on your direct mail and it’s not looking like a letter any longer.

Direct mail letters still work, but it’s all about which donors you target.

And if you have the right stories and the right mix of gratefulness and love for your donor, you can send them as many appeals as you’d like and they’ll respond every time.

Speaking of monthly donors, a question fundraisers often ask me, is:

Can I send appeals to my monthly donors?”

My answer is a resounding YES!!!

Sending annual appeals should be part of your ongoing cultivation and recognition process.

Typically, there’s this pause. Then they tell me, “But wait, they’re already giving me a gift monthly. Wouldn’t these donors get upset and think we’ve become too greedy if we sent them an appeal with an ask again?”

No, they will not get upset, as long as you do it correctly. In fact, your monthly donors will love the opportunity to give to your annual appeal.

The biggest mistake organizations make is taking monthly donors out of the communication stream.

I’ve heard this time and time again. Donors receive annual appeals for years. They care about your organization. They love reading your stories and the difference you’re making to the individuals or animals or children you serve.

They become a monthly donor and then after the thank you for joining the monthly donor program, there’s a BIG NOTHING.

These donors care about you. Why would they all of a sudden stop caring, just because they like giving a small gift each month because that’s easiest on their budget?

So, here are a few simple solutions.

All of these mean that you include them in your annual appeals, but you acknowledge that they are a monthly donor and thank them for that.

If you typically send personal notes to a portion of your annual appeal file, include these monthly donors in that group. Nothing beats that personal recognition.

A simple note on top of the letter or near the signature that says: “Thank you so much for your ongoing support as a member of the [name of monthly donor program]. I’m so pleased to send you an update on how your monthly gifts make a difference.”

If you’re short staffed or outsource all of your mailings, that same message can be lasered on your letter, preferably in a handwritten font. Not quite as personal but still the second best solution.

If you’d like to do something different or alternate in different mailings, you could also create a little thank you buck slip, an insert of say 3 x 7 or 8 1/2 x 3 1/2 that you drop into your mailing, with that similar type message printed.

Most small to mid size organizations mail two to four times a year, some only once. So, there’s no way you’ll ever alienate your monthly donors.

And even with organizations that mail more often than that, I recommend choosing your four best appeals a year at a minimum, but with the right message and recognition, I’ve seen even great results when sending them all of your appeals.

You never know which story is going to resonate with your monthly donors. Let the donor choose!

There’s only one exception to the rule. If a donor asked you to be excluded from future mailings or only want to hear from you once a year, of course, you’ll honor that request.

And of course, if you occasionally have volunteers or board members thank your donors by phone, include your monthly donors in that group. Invite them to events. Recognize them in your annual report. There are lots of great ways to cultivate and recognize your monthly donors. Your appeals are just one way of doing exactly that.



As Erica suggests, most organizations are not asking for donations often enough. However, the key to being able to ask more often is practicing solid stewardship that shows gratitude to donors and explains to them how their gifts are making a real difference.

Donors do not want to be thought of as piggybanks. They want to partner with the organizations they support. If you honor that wish, you will be able to successfully ask for support more often than you probably are.

However, as we saw in last week’s post, some organizations still might net more revenue by sending fewer appeals. To arrive at the best strategy for your organization, you’ll want to carefully target your appeals and test.

That’s what Erica Waasdorp and Michael Rosen say… What do you say?

4 Comments to “More on the Art of Sending Appeals”

  1. This is an excellent post, and I really appreciate Erica’s input. The most important point made in this post is that gratitude must be expressed every time your organization contacts its supporters. Even if the donor does not give for each appeal, they must be thanked for their support and told how their support makes you able to do what you do successfully. That is what is most important.

    • Richard, thank you for your kind comment. Yes, if a charity does not express gratitude to its donors and share with them how their support is helping to achieve the organization’s mission, it’s doubtful that multiple appeals will be effective. For that matter, it’s doubtful that those donors will ever renew their support.

  2. We’ve come a long way from one solicitation in the holiday season. Also the principle of increasing personalization of the solicitation in relation to the constituent’s decreasing currency of involvement is worth noting.

    • Steve, thank you for your comment. Those of us who have been around the nonprofit sector for decades have certainly seen dramatic changes. When we started out, once upon a time, the “annual fund” was something you pretty much did once a year. Unfortunately, many organizations still think that way.

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