I’m amazed when I find out that a non-profit isn’t in the habit of sending out a year-end letter. In fact, I had come to assume that a year-end letter was just the norm for all non-profit organizations. I was surprised to learn that that isn’t true. So I have a few tips for the non-profits who might want to implement this practice.
Why a year end letter?
The reality is, if you’re not sending out a year end letter, you’re probably leaving money on the table. Philanthropists of all giving ranges tend to give at the close of the year. They’re able to see the amount of money they need to donate by December 31st to get the right deductions for their taxes. So throughout the busy holiday seasons, and the Christmas shopping, they’re also taking note of their annual income and taxes due, and considering the many letters they’ve received from other organizations expressing funding needs.
Did you catch all that? People are getting ready to give, and other organizations are providing the giving opportunity.
So if you don’t also provide that opportunity, then you won’t receive any money. The year-end letter should be an annual campaign for your organization.
The first thing you need to know is that ideally, you want the letter to get to your constituents in October. If you aren’t able to get it out by October, don’t let that stop you from sending one altogether. In fact, you may choose to send an email to your constituents with a donation button included. (I hope you have an email list, and an online giving option… That’s another thing I’m sometimes surprised by with non-profits. But that’s another post for another day.)
But if you’re able, aim to get the letter in the mail by mid-October. This allows donors the time they need to consider options, amidst the busiest time of year, but isn’t too early that the letter risks being forgotten.
Keep in mind that this probably means writing it in September, planning any additional stuffers, ordering your envelopes and remittance envelopes, dealing with bulk mail processes if that’s applicable, and stuffing, sealing, and posting the letters over the course of the next month. It can be a huge undertaking, but it’s important to do it well or you’ll look like a hot mess.
What to put in your letter
Honestly, this is very much up to you. Here are a few content ideas:
- Depending on your fiscal calendar, include a very short update on your fiscal year end.
- Tell a story of the good your organization did this year
- Share some recent statistics
- Tell about some upcoming initiatives
- Introduce the newest leaders at the organization
- Tell about your own personal experience with the organization this year
- Paint the vision for the future
And always include your request for support. You decide whether your request is a hard or soft ask.
- A hard ask would essentially be a plain request for money. “We have told you about our plans for new initiatives and how they factor in to the dreams we have for the future, will you please help us fund those initiatives?”
- A soft ask, rather, would sound a bit more like, “If you’d like to get one more tax-deductible gift in before the end of the year, we’ve included a remittance envelope for your convenience.”
If you have a few annual fundraisers each year, it might be better to stick with a soft ask. But if you have specific funding needs, or you don’t do hard asks very often, it’s very appropriate to use the hard ask option.
The year end letter can become a huge part of your fundraising efforts, if you’ll do it well. Therefore, it can also be a massive project. There are quite a few steps to getting your letter done on time and representing your organization well. But with the potential for bringing in revenue that you weren’t getting before, it’s worth it.