Peer Pressure at Christmas

By Brad Layland, CEO and Senior Consultant

“Just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean you should do it!”

I remember my dad saying that to me when I was a teenager, right after I made a bad decision to do something my friends were doing that we should not have been doing. Unfortunately, a very similar thing happens in fundraising. Every year, organizations send out their end of year (EOY) appeals because, well, they see everyone else doing the same thing!

As Bob Newhart says in his famous video: “Stop it! STOP IT.”

In all seriousness: don’t keep doing these EOY appeals without a clear strategy. I’m not saying that you should never do them, but if you do them without a strategy, you risk alienating your donors.

Here are six things I suggest you do if you are going to send out an end-of-year appeal:

 1)    Segment your donor list and only send EOY appeals to your lapsed or almost lapsed donors. Sending an EOY appeal to a donor who is a monthly giver or has recently made a gift to your organization can be offensive.

2)    For the donors who have given already this year – do not send them an appeal. Instead, send them a Holiday greeting WITHOUT a return envelope. This is a veiled ask: if they have extra money and you spend the time to thank them, they will figure out how to send you the money.

3)    Address your appeal/greeting to both spouses and personalize as best you can. Learn how to use mail merge, and double check the greeting.

4)    Once you’ve segmented out the people to whom you are sending an appeal, offer them the opportunity to change a life or impact your organization. In your appeal, focus on life-changing aspects like feeding a family, providing scholarships, etc.

5)    Don’t send “stuff” like labels, holiday cards, calendars, stickers, etc. – unless those are things made by people in your organization or they relate directly to your mission.

6)    If you are going to do an EOY appeal, make it part of a larger donor engagement strategy, rather than just something you do because you see others doing it.

Every year I keep all the EOY appeals I get in the mail. Last year I received about 50, about half of which were from organizations my wife and I support. Some were ridiculous… and some were very well done.

This year I’m taking it to the next level – we’ve recorded a podcast where I sift through the year-end appeals and evaluate them. And I am giving $500 to the organization that sent me the best one! Click below to listen to the podcast and to find out which organizations did the best job – and why!

Merry Christmas,


PS. Only 45 days until my book is released… if you have not pre-ordered, I would love it if you would do so as it helps the overall ratings on Amazon. Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

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