Annual-fund solicitation

By Jane Mitchell

Helping donors understand the importance of unrestricted gifts to nonprofits is a primary challenge of all annual fund administrators.

Even with the proliferation of email and electronic newsletters, an old-fashioned letter can still be one of the most effective, low-cost ways to encourage donors’ annual giving.

To keep annual fund solicitation letters fresh and effective, nonprofits can:

* Personalize letters: The more personal an annual fund letter is, the more effective. At Meredith College, we ask volunteers, such as parents, alumnae and corporate partners, to sign the annual fund letters. We also recruit class gift agents for each class year. These alumnae, who serve as the contact person for their class, sign letters and often write personal notes on the bottoms of the letters.

* Note specific reasons to give: Effective annual-fund solicitation letters provide specific examples of programs and improvements that are paid for through the annual fund. We often use solicitation letters to convey that annual fund gifts have the power to stretch across campus, positively affecting each and every student, faculty and staff member.

* Make letters short and easy to read: A solicitation letter should never be more than one page. Bullet points are helpful, making the letter easier to read.

* Segment letters by donor type: By writing specialized letters to different types of supporters, solicitation letters can be better focused on the donor’s particular interests or reasons for supporting your nonprofit. We segment ours by class year, donor type (whether they have or have not given in the past), young alumnae, non-traditional or older alumnae, and graduates.

* Don’t forget the envelope: When writing an annual-fund solicitation, consider the envelope in which the letter is mailed. We use “teasers” on the outside of the envelope designed to make the potential donor want to read the letter. This tip is perhaps the most important because, after all, if the person doesn’t open your envelope, the quality of the letter inside won’t matter.

Jane Mitchell is interim director of the Meredith Fund, the annual giving fund of Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

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