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Last Minute Holiday Fundraising Email Appeals

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Published December 12, 2013 Reading Time: 4 minutes

So you’ve procrastinated a bit. The holidays are here and your end of the year appeal is still in the, ahem, “drafting phase.”

Well, don’t worry too much. You aren’t the only one who’s behind and you can still pull this thing off; you just have to be smart about using your limited time and resources.

Who Cares Anyways?

It’s fairly trite to say at this point, but in case you’ve been hiding somewhere it’s worth repeating – December is really important for fundraising! With somewhere in the neighborhood of 33% of all individual gifts being made in December, it’s not the best idea in the world to skimp on holiday fundraising. So the clock’s ticking now and you know you’ve got to do something, but where do you start?

Your End of the Year Appeal Should be the Priority

If nothing else, you’ve got to send out a solid end of the year email appeal to your existing donors. We’re focusing on email appeals here, because if you don’t have a direct mail campaign planned and implemented at this point, you probably aren’t going to be able to pull one off. Instead, cast your gaze at that file of donor email addresses you have hanging around. It’s not that hard to whip up an email campaign and generate some holiday returns quickly…you just need to come up with the actual content.

Develop a Specific Message

An email campaign, like all other fundraising campaigns, is fundamentally about communication – it’s about one person talking to another person, trying to establish a connection. It makes sense then, that the first step is figuring out what exactly you’re going to talk about. What are you going to say to this other person who will open up your email? What’s the basic message you want to deliver?

There’s no one right answer to this question, but here are a few different messaging options to help you get the mental wheels spinning:

  • Highlight your program success through an individual story
  • Send a personal note from an executive staff member about your mission
  • Send a thank you to existing donors for being involved throughout the year

Develop a Specific Ask.

This a fundraising email. That means you have to ask for something! Don’t make it overly complex, just present a clear ask at the end of your message. For example, let’s suppose you choose to send a personal note from your executive director, your ask might go like this:

Will you show your support this holiday season by making a donation to help fund the next wave of research for a cure to childhood cancer?

[Link to your donation page]

Your support means a great deal to all of us at GreatOrg, and more importantly, to the children we serve.

Jane Doe

Executive Director

Be Emotive, But Authentic

Like it or not, the decision to donate is usually based in emotion. To craft an effective email appeal, you need to tap into the reader’s emotions. Of course, that doesn’t mean being overly sappy or exploitive. Narratives like that will generally backfire, since many donors see them for what they are – “too slick.” Instead, focus on your own passion for your mission, draw on your emotional connection to your cause, and then authentically tell the story you have chosen to tell.

Let’s say the message you chose was to highlight program success through an individual story. Your message might be something like:

“Walking into the hospital for the first time I have to admit, I was nervous. I had just started as the new director of programs at Music Heals and I’d never actually been in to see our staff working with the children.

As we swung through the hospital door moving out of the sharp fluorescent lights of the hallway and into Brian’s hospital room my nervousness melted away.

Seeing the smile on Brian’s face as our staff member Kelly strummed the guitar and sung to him instantly put me at ease. I knew I had chosen the right organization to continue my career with…”

Back Up Words With Visuals

A picture is worth a thousand words as they say. And that well-worn maxim is never truer than in the context of a fundraising email. Pictures help us lock in on an emotional level that is reinforced and augmented by the text.

To continue the example from before, imagine that the text above is accompanied by a picture of a young boy in a hospital gown. He is sitting up in his hospital bed with a beaming smile and his eyes are looking out from the photo right towards you, the reader. An image like that helps readers connect quickly to the emotional hue of the appeal and it underscores what you are saying in the text.

Be Concise and Conversational

People don’t spend a lot of time reading emails. Just think about how quickly you close emails you receive. Generally, if you don’t capture someone’s attention in a few seconds, you are going to lose them. Don’t let your words get in your way. This is not a direct mail appeal and it’s not a time to go on and on about your program methodology. Keep your message short.

On a related note, you should make the language simple and the tone personal. You want the reader to understand you and feel like they are engaged in a conversation, so keep it simple!

Whip Up Multiple Donation Pages

Before you send your message, segment your donor file into a few groups based on past giving. For example, you might have a one group for your relatively low dollar donors, one for your middle tier, and one for your big givers. Once you’ve segmented your list, spin out identical branded donation pages, but swap out the default giving levels to fit each group’s giving range. This way you can try to upgrade donors, without inadvertently downgrading larger donors.

To learn more about this strategy check out our article on choosing giving levels.

Send More Than One Email

A study by M+R Associates showed increased response rates and higher average gifts from multiple part email appeal series versus one-off email appeals. This makes a good amount of sense. People often ignore, or miss, a single message. If you send to or three messages, you are more likely to connect.

If you are worried about sending too many messages, or you don’t have time to put together the arc for a three email appeal, there’s a shortcut you can take. Just send out a “last chance” email a few days before the end of the year, to “remind” donors that it’s the last time to lock in tax-deductible donations for 2013. You might consider reusing the image from the first email appeal you sent with a caption to reinforce your initial messaging as well.

If you’re feeling the pressure to crank out a fundraising appeal before the brief holiday season draws to a close, we hope this tips will help set you on your way!

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Beginner's Guide to Email Appeals

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