Apr 2, 2021

5 Incredible Annual Fund Appeal Strategies You Should Try

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When it comes to your nonprofit’s different fundraising campaigns, raising money for your annual fund can sometimes be left as an afterthought. With so many ongoing campaigns that are more targeted in nature, it can be easy to lose sight of how annual giving fits into your overall fundraising calendar.

However, if your organization fails to reach your annual fund’s goal you risk being unable to cover some of the basic costs required to run your organization smoothly. If you can’t cover these core expenses, your nonprofit simply won’t be able to achieve its mission.

For this reason, it’s time your nonprofit took a second look at how you appeal to donors to give to your annual fund. Annual fundraising appeals are the letters (or emails) you send out to supporters throughout the year in which you make your case for them to donate.

In these letters, your nonprofit has the opportunity to clearly outline why the reader should donate, how much they should give, and how meaningful their support will be to your organization.

Want to learn how you can use your annual appeals to better connect with supporters and translate that connection into annual fund revenue?

Ready to start making successful annual fund solicitations? Let’s dive in!

1. Make your annual fund appeal personal

Perhaps the best way to convince donors that your annual fund is worthy of their support is by building a strong personal connection with them. In your annual fund appeals, bring them to the forefront.

These appeals shouldn’t feel like they could apply to any other supporter. If your readers are truly convinced that they can make a meaningful impact on your organization, they’ll be more inclined to give.

Keep in mind some of these strategies you can use in your appeal to connect with readers on a personal level:

  • Address them by name. This might seem a little obvious, but it’s worth repeating: if you fail to address readers by name, they’re likely to discard your annual fund appeal as a form letter or junk mail. Always use your readers’ names throughout the appeal (in your salutation, the body of the letter, and in your sign-off).
  • Thank them for past giving. There’s no bigger turnoff to donors than receiving an ask before they’ve been thanked for their last gift. Even if you’ve already thanked them for their last gift, call out their giving history specifically and thank them once more. If you remind them of how they’ve already impacted your nonprofit, they’re more likely to give again.
  • Reference their history with your nonprofit. Another way to strengthen bonds between your nonprofit and your donors is to indicate in your appeal how long the reader has been involved with your cause. Remind them of when they first donated and reference the times they attended things like fundraising events for your organization.
  • Emphasize how they (specifically) can make a difference. Suggest to readers that without their contributions in particular, you risk falling short of your annual fundraising goals. If they perceive their donation as indispensable, that makes it harder for them to expect that others will pick up the fundraising slack.
  • Keep your language familiar. However, don’t be overly colloquial. Use words like “friend” and “partner” when referring to your readers to make your annual fund appeal more warm. Refrain from seeming unprofessional or presumptuous, though. While it’s important to be friendly, you don’t want to come off as disrespectful.

Take a look at this portion of an annual fund appeal letter that showcases how your nonprofit can make personal connections with readers:

Hello Jenny,


Are you ready to make an impact on your neighbors in need? Jenny, for seven years now you’ve been one of Shelbyville Food Bank’s most dependable supporters. In 2015 alone, your gift of $850 allowed us to provide over 500 families with hot meals during the holiday season.


Without partners like you, our organization simply wouldn’t be able to serve food-insecure families with the same impact. Thank you for always being there for our organization and the Shelbyville community.


Jenny, we need your help.


In 2018, the cost of maintaining our headquarters in downtown Shelbyville will triple with rising tax rates. Our organization is in desperate need of funding to cover annual operational expenses like these, and without the intervention of key community members like yourself, we will not be able to serve…

2. Tell a story with your annual fund appeal

Another great way your nonprofit can leverage your annual fund appeal is by using it as a platform for storytelling. Telling a compelling story about your organization can be one of the key factors in convincing donors to give to your annual fund because it makes your mission seem more real to readers.

It’s important that your annual fund appeal is both informative and “entertaining.” This means that you should strike the right balance between telling your readers that you have fundraising needs and making them understand why those needs are pressing.

Consider some of these storytelling strategies your team can put in place when writing your annual fund appeal:

  • Highlight your nonprofit’s mission. Although it’s likely your readers are familiar with the work your nonprofit does, remind them of exactly why your organization exists in the first place. It can be worth “reintroducing” old donors to your cause, as well as clarifying your mission for newer supporters and outlining your fundraising plan.
  • Profile those whom your organization serves. For some readers, the impact of your nonprofit might seem far removed. Show them how much of a difference they can make by profiling individuals or institutions that are directly affected by your philanthropy. You might include quotes from these individuals, or even write the appeal from their perspective.
  • Indicate the impact of gifts. Don’t simply ask for a gift for your annual fund: show readers exactly what a gift will buy, or what a gift will be applied to. Your annual fundraising appeal is a great opportunity to inform readers of your plans for organizational growth over the coming year.
  • Emphasize past organizational success. Your readers won’t want to give to an organization that doesn’t have a proven track record of success, so always remind them of how your nonprofit has achieved its goals in past years. Even better? If they’ve already given, you can remind readers of success points from years in which they’ve donated.
  • Incorporate compelling visuals. Include images in your annual fund appeal, but do so with an eye toward design fundamentals. When you include images, do so judiciously and without crowding the page. You might include images of individuals who are helped by your nonprofit or of valued donors and volunteers.

Check out this letter excerpt for some inspiration you can use when telling your nonprofit’s’ story in your annual fund appeals:

…Franklin’s Family Animal Advocacy has been rescuing abused and neglected pets for over thirty-five years now.


In this time, we’ve found safe homes for over 5,000 dogs, cats, birds, farm animals, and exotic species, affording these special creatures the resources and support they need to thrive.


It all started with Franklin, a lovable fox who was in desperate need of a home after being neglected in captivity at an illegal zoo. He was our first rescue and ignited our life-long pursuit of animal welfare.


When he passed away, Franklin inspired all of us to dedicate our lives to giving animals of all shapes and sizes the opportunity to live life to the fullest.


With your contribution to Franklin’s Family, we’ll be able to take in hundreds of more animals over the coming year…

3. Clearly outline your annual giving needs

One of the ways your annual fund appeal letters can be most useful to your nonprofit is as a platform upon which you outline your annual giving needs. If your organization doesn’t take the time to clearly show people what kind of support you need, how will they know what to give?

In your annual fund appeal, make it clear to readers what kind of contributions you need and how these will be used to further your mission. You should be as specific as possible without inundating them with unnecessary information.

Here are a couple of ways your nonprofit should communicate your annual fund giving needs in your letter:

  • Suggest giving levels. In the text of your annual fund appeal, suggest gift levels to your readers. By providing them with concrete examples of the sizes of gifts you’re looking for, they may find it easier to decide to make their donation. (You should also include gift suggestion buttons on your online donation forms for a similar effect.)
  • Outline gift impact levels. Donors are more inspired to give when they can trust their contributions will be used wisely. By showing the impact of their gifts (i.e., what your nonprofit can accomplish with gifts at varying levels), you’ll encourage more readers to give to your annual fund.
  • Emphasize the importance of annual fund giving. If supporters don’t understand why giving to your annual fund is important in comparison to donating to another fundraising campaign of yours, they’re less likely to give. Be sure to clearly outline why they should donate and how it fits in with your organization’s overall mission.

Think of this as a streamlined version of your case statement. Take a look at how you might communicate your nonprofit’s giving needs in an annual fund appeal by reading this section of an appeal letter:

…By giving to Amy’s Laundry Library, you’ll be making it possible for more women in the Austin metro area to have access to suits, business wear, shoes, and other clothing they can “check out” for job interviews.


When you donate to our annual fundraising campaign, you let us keep the lights on and our closet open for the 3,000+ women we serve each year.


With a gift of just $50, we can invest in an entirely new outfit from top to bottom. When you donate $200, we’ll be able to hold more professional development classes in the evenings for the motivated women who walk through our doors…

4. Empower readers to give to your annual fund online

Use a text-to-donate keyword in your direct mail annual appeals.

One of the biggest mistakes that nonprofits can make is failing to use their annual fund appeal as a way to drive readers directly toward donation. In particular, by incorporating online giving capabilities into your appeal, you can streamline the donation process for your supporters.

Always include pathways to online giving in your appeals, be they digital or traditional paper letters. With convenient and flexible online giving software, your nonprofit can start accepting more gifts to your annual fund faster than ever before.

Consider these ways you can use your annual fund appeal as a platform for your online giving software:

  • Add links to your donation page. In online annual fund appeal letters, you can include donation page links directly in the text of the appeal. For paper letters, you can still direct readers to your online giving form using a branded short link that they can easily type into their mobile and desktop browsers.
  • Use text-to-donate keywords. Another way to direct supporters to your online giving form is to use a text-to-donate prompt in your letter. Whether they’re reading your appeal online or on paper, they can text your branded keyword to the designated phone number and a link will be sent back to them driving them to your mobile-optimized giving page.
  • Incorporate QR codes. Much like text-to-donate keywords and short links, QR codes can be used in your paper annual fund appeal to direct your readers to your online giving page. By simply scanning the code with their smartphone, readers will be instantly sent to your donation form.

Bonus! For universities and colleges, incorporating online giving tools into your annual appeal letters is a great way to make it easier for alumni to give. Since these important supporters may have relocated across the country (or the globe!), enabling them to easily donate online can be crucial.

5. Make offline annual giving easy for those who prefer it

Not all of your supporters are tech-savvy, and for those responding to paper letters soliciting donations, it may not be their preference to give online. For these readers, you should always enable them to donate offline as an alternative to online giving.

By making it easy to contribute to your annual fund on or offline, there will be fewer obstacles between your supporters and successful donation. Without fundraising roadblocks in their way, your pool of likely annual fund donors will increase, paving the way for even more fundraising revenue.

To boost your fundraising success all around, try some of these offline giving strategies in your next annual fund appeal letter:

  • Include a remittance envelope. While some readers may want or prefer to donate offline, they still might have a hard time finding an envelope or postage laying around with which they can make their gift. Include a postage-paid remittance envelope with your paper annual fund appeal to make donating by mail even easier.
  • Survey donors for giving preferences. If your nonprofit wants to gauge the likelihood of supporters donating via mail, be sure to survey supporters to assess their giving preferences. Your team can then only send paper letters to this segment of individuals, saving your team money that might be wasted on unopened direct mail.
  • Count offline gifts toward your total fundraising progress. When donors give via traditional mail, that doesn’t mean your nonprofit has to forego counting those gifts as part of your annual fund campaign. Be sure to count offline gifts toward your annual fundraising progress in order to maximize the number of gifts that count towards your goal.

Our goal at GiveSmart is to help nonprofit organizations create and manage successful digital fundraising campaigns, raise more money and retain donors longer. Request a free demo with one of our fundraising experts to learn, step by step, how GiveSmart can simply help set up your campaigns while transforming your results.


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