Of course you’re working on your annual appeal and year-end fundraising plan. And if you want detailed specifics on how to do either you can grab one of my E-Guides:

Right now I want to give several specific, timely tips you might not be thinking about. 


Things are a bit different this year as the mail this year in the United States will likely be delayed. There’s an election, a pandemic, and a change in leadership at the USPS. So don’t put all your eggs in that basket (i.e., mailbox). Yet, while it may be tempting to forgo direct mail (DM) this year, know that historically, DM has pulled in the most gifts. Per Nonprofit Source, DM response rates averaged 5.3% compared with email response rates of 0.06%. And per the most recent M+R Benchmarks Report, open and response rates to email and social media have seen a small decline. Plus not everyone uses email or social media. So not using the post office could cause you to lose out on connecting with some of your important supporters.

I’d plan to use the post office to mail, simply send it out a lot earlier. How early? That depends. I’ve heard some experts recommending you treat October 31 like December 31 in an ordinary year. I think that’s fine in terms of getting all your planning, printing and personalization done. However, I’d probably wait until after the November 3rd election date in the U.S. before sending any mail. You just don’t want your appeals to get stuck in a corner while ballots get expedited and prioritized.  My best advice is to:

  • Check with your local post office to get their advice as to best times to send mail, both first class and bulk rate. Some states and municipalities will probably handle things better than others. If you can, try to make the post office staff your partners. They’re people too!
  • Consider sending more first class this year. Pick your most likely suspects. If you usually send bulk rate to volunteers who are non-donors, maybe this year you might send to them first class. They’re more connected and engaged than other non-donors, and you definitely have a good chance with them if your appeal is compelling.
  • Give your appeals more lead time than you’d ordinarily give. If you used to expect direct mail to arrive within 2 – 3 days, this year allow a week to 10 days. Give it plenty of time to reach its destination.

Make sure you’re using a multi-channel approach.   Set up an email campaign. Supplement it with social media posts. And double and triple up on the online messaging towards the end of December. It’s never been a good idea to rely solely on mail. In fact, a recent report from Nonprofit Source found campaigns using DM plus one or more digital media experienced a 118% lift in response rate compared with only DM.  To prepare:

  • Begin right away to collect email addresses and/or mobile numbers (for texting) for those supporters you can currently reach only by mail. Add a box to collect emails at the top of your website home page (maybe offer a ‘gift of content’ in exchange for their signing up – like a ‘how to’ guide; research report; recommended reading list; book of inspiring quotes; recipes from staff or clients – think of what would be attractive to your constituents). Also post a link to an email collection form on social media at least weekly. Let supporters know digital communications reduce your costs and increase the impact of every dollar given, and ask them to send you their cell phone numbers and opt in to text messaging. You may be surprised to learn the M+R report found nonprofit text messaging audiences grew by 26% in 2019, at a time when Facebook audiences grew by just 4% and email list sizes declined by 2%.
  • Enable social sharing or engage actively in a peer-to-peer campaign with your emails. One study reported this increased click-throughs by 158% . Most likely this is due to the psychological principle of ‘social proof,’ wherein people are more likely to trust messages that come from their friends or others they admire. Take full advantage of this phenomenon!

If you’re getting pressured to go all email this year, understand that email has a very short shelf life. You’ll get the bulk of your responses the first day, as opposed to within the first two weeks for DM. In fact, 13% are opened and read/discarded in the first five minutes. Mail, on the other hand, tends to hang around the house. Folks may put it aside for later, when they plan to discuss their philanthropy with family members. Or maybe they’ll save it to pay with other bills. Because of this longevity problem with email, or lack thereof, you need to send more emails than snail mails.


  • Select a story, or series of stories, around which to center your campaign. Rather than retreading last year’s generic appeal, or sending something letting folks know “It’s the end of the year, or it’s the holidays, and it’s time to share your blessings,” send a story about ONE person, place or thing that needs their help. Only one story at a time. You want a story that will break their heart, yet potentially restore their hope. That will happen, of course, when they swoop in and become the hero who gives the story a happy ending. 
  • Select compelling visuals to support your story. Pictures capture attention, and really are worth 1,000 words. This is important in our digitally revolutionized zeitgeist where folks consume morsels rather than full meals. Visuals whet donor appetites.
  • Ask donors to fund something specific. Research shows donors will give more if they can designate their gift. People like to be able to visualize how their money will be used.  If you have a multi-program cause, sometimes you can accomplish this by sending a series of appeals.  First, pick your top three strategic initiatives. Tell one story about each (September/October, November and December).  Use one remit card that gives folks the option to earmark their gift for any of these three programs. Alternatively, highlight different stories in your e-appeal series.  Create a different landing page for each appeal that uses the messaging and imagery for each distinct story. This technique works especially well in upgrading mid-level donors because you’re giving them a reason to do something different than just send their habitual unrestricted annual gift.
  • Segment your mailing list and send tweaked versions of your appeal and response device to different segments. There are numerous ways to segment your list (e.g., by amount of donation; first-time vs. renewing vs. lapsed; by donor interest area, etc.). When you segment, you show donors you know them and can more specifically tailor your ask amount.


  • Set up visits with the Top 10 prospects you absolutely want to connect with personally to ask for gifts before the end of the year. If you can’t connect in person, virtual is a good substitute. Try out Zoom, Skype, Face Time or whatever platform your donor may be comfortable with. (See more on securing the ‘visit’ here: Proven Strategies to Get the Major Donor Visit.)
  • Recruit active volunteers to become peer-to-peer fundraisers. People respond better to people than they do to organizations.  Especially when it’s people they know and trust.  So this is a great way to amplify your fundraising power.
  • Hold a special board session to inspire volunteers to be active as ambassadors, advocates and askers during the critical year-end months of October – December. Help them reframe fundraising as storytelling to make them comfortable taking on this responsibility.
  • Approach potential corporate sponsors for your spring special event.  Often this is the time of year they still have budget from the previous fiscal year that hasn’t yet been allocated.  And, if not, they can get you to the top of their list for the new fiscal year.  You win either way. 


The end of the calendar year is when most folks engage in philanthropy. You don’t want to waste it.

Late October or November is too late to begin thinking about your strategy.

Give yourself ample time to collect stories, create copy, collect visuals to support your most compelling stories, recruit your most effective fundraisers and build a timeline for deploying your campaign offer across multiple channels. Writing, editing, getting approvals, printing, collating, affixing personal notes… it all takes time!

If you don’t get control of the details through early planning, you’ll omit the details down the line.

And you know what they say, right?  The devil is in the details! 

Bottom line? Use direct mail and email. And layer in some social media and advertising too if you can. Plus put your appeal up on your website. Ideally front and center during the year-end giving season. You never know where people will find you and take notice of you. So hedge your bets.


Keep doing the wonderful work you do making our world a better and more caring place!