Quick Fix for Your Year-End Email Appeal. It’s Not too Late!

Let’s take it from the T O P.
D O  C A R E about what you’re trying to achieve. 
Email in a bottle
Get it opened, read and acted on.

Remember your primary purposes: (1) Get it open; (2) Get it read; (3) Get the donation. 

Do not – I repeat, do not!—deviate from these primary purposes.
I’m writing this because 40% of online gifts are made in December. You don’t want to blow this year-end chance!  And there’s still time to tweak your emails so that they do the job for you. Ready to spend a few minutes assuring your hard work pays off?
THE ‘ONE’ I’ll open.
You’ve got two seconds to persuade folks that this, among all the other emails in their in-box, is the one they should open. So your subject line is critical. You want something to capture attention, pique curiosity and/or create a sense of urgency (it’s common towards the end of the year to use a deadline for this purpose).  It’s best to keep the subject line at 40-50 characters, especially since so many folks read email on their phones. [Check out Lost in Translation: When Email Hits Mobile, Then What? ]
OH GOODY!It’s from my trusted pal.
Some folks think the ‘from’ line is more important than the subject line because it’s often what motivates people to open the email.  You want folks thinking “Oh goody!  An email from _____. She always has something interesting to say.” Your email should come from a person or brand your targeted reader knows and, ideally, likes.  Often this will be the E.D.  It could also be another beloved staff member or lay leader. Even when you have a trusted brand, you’ll likely get a better response from the person at the brand. It’s certainly something worth testing!
PERSONAL. Yep, it’s for me.
Email is more casual than mail. Use a first-name salutation (if your email service provider doesn’t enable this easily, switch). And try something like “Hello” rather than the more formal “Dear.” Now you’re cooking – you’ve got a letter from a real person to another real person!
DECODED. I “get” what this is trying to say.
A key is to make your message “scannable.” Very few will read every word. And no one will stop to understand jargon or acronyms. Your goal is to create a persuasive message that, in 7 seconds or so, tells your readers exactly what to do. That means:
·      Short sentences
·      Short paragraphs
·      Just why you’re asking; how their gift will help
·      No self-laudatory language; no recitation of your mission and history
·      Numerous links to your donation page
·      Graphic insets telling your reader what to do
·      Bullets
·      Selective use of bold and italics (reserve underlining for hyperlinks only)
Make sure your organization doesn’t send more than one email appeal to overlapping constituencies on the exact same day. Youmay be separated into different departments, but your donor (hopefully) is one fully integrated person. You’ve got to keep your donor’s perspective paramount. If your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing, figure it out quick!
Don’t give them any.  In other words, when you’re asking folks to donate, try not to offer them opportunities to do anything else!  You especially don’t want to cannibalize your annual campaign by sending folks to places where they’ll end up giving you pennies on the dollar. This is not the place to announce you’ve got a website portal where they can shop and get you rebates.  Nor is it a place to promote buying scrip … or purchasing tickets… or volunteer opportunities … or signing a petition… or reserving for your next event.  Do all these things in a separate email or e-newsletter.
The call to action is the “Just Do It” of your email. You’ve got to make it easy for people to find and “do.” This is why you want to have your call to action placed several times throughout your appeal.  The first one should be high up (definitely “above the fold”) and stand on its own line. You also want to create a sense of urgency and use words such as “today” and “now” that provide incentive to the reader to click right then and there. 
Include a sidebar with all the ingredients for a successful appeal – even if folks don’t read the letter! Ingredients include:
·      compelling photo with caption that makes your case for support
·      DONATE button
·      downloadable printable donation form
·      share links
·      contact person’s name/email/phone number
EASY.The donate link took me exactly to where I wanted to go.
Take folks directly to the donation landing page when they click on a donate link or donate button from your email appeal. Do not pass GO – or an overview page that makes the case for support a second time.  Take folks where they can immediately enter in their payment information.  Many people will not click more than once. [Check out Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button? One Huge Year-End Tip to Increase Donations].
And here’s one final tip.  I’ve borrowed it from Erica Mills who recently guest posted on Beth Kanter’s Blog : If you can put your copy on someone else’s letterhead without someone wondering what’s up, it probably isn’t a very appealing appeal.
Eyeball your year-end messages before you launch them this week and next.  If all they say is: “You can change the world.  We have a match that ends December 31st. Please give” then you’re missing the heart and soul of what might compel someone to choose to give to you.
Remember your primary purposes.  Do not deviate from these primary purposes.
T O P. It’s the one they’ll open because – from the top! — the subject line is enticing, the email is from someone they trust or admire and the message is targeted directly to them.
D O  C A R E  It’s the one they’ll read and act on because – they do care! — it’s easy to decode/understand the case for support, it’s the only message they received from you, it’s clear that just one thing is being asked of them, and it’s easy to take and complete the action.

Is there just one thing you can do today or tomorrow to improve your chances for success with your year-end email appeal?
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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Hey this are the good tips!

  2. This is brilliant advice, I love your acronym. If someone were to follow these tips they would be great results for sure. Love your posts!

  3. Great advice. I'm going to mark this post to use as a checklist for every appeal. We work hard to follow these guidelines to a "t," and are rewarded with higher click rates, opens and… donations. We also try to include a visual extremely succinct info-graphics demonstrating impact or outcomes.

    I'm appalled at how many appeals that I receive do not follow these rules, and provide a long weaving narrative instead. Makes me wonder if there is a correlation for organizations that that don't express themselves succinctly in email appeals also not having a short/crisp/compelling elevator pitch that for verbal, face-to-face appeals? Hmmmm.

  4. Great tips for email blasts for the year end and for all year! I will sometimes send emails without logo and just info from me. These can seem more personal if I focus on only one thing. I am still testing this out.

  5. Thanks to all for the reads and comments. I find that a lot of our success comes just from PAYING ATTENTION. This is an easy checklist to do, and just as easy to forget to do or ignore in the interest of expediency. But efficiency does not always equate with effectiveness. So, before we push those critically important communications out the door, we must take a few moments to think through whether we've ended up with what we started out to achieve. It's amazing how things can get lost along the way.

  6. Tips that everyone should bookmark and use to make their appeals (no matter the time of year) better. Nicely done Claire.

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