End of the Year Appeals: Mission Statement

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Your mission statement is a living document that changes over time.

Do not cut and paste your mission statement. Rewrite it from scratch. Every time.

Why? As your organization evolves, so should the mission statement. It should get better over time. Look for new words. Make the sentences shorter. Throw in a (very subtle) joke. Find ways to shake everything up.

That is all.

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End of the Year Appeals: Intro Paragraph

Woman writing notebook

Let’s be real. People don’t read letters. They scan them, to see if they want to read the whole thing.

The first thing they read is their name. (We all like to see our names.) Then comes the first paragraph. You want to grab their attention. You want to entice them to read the rest of the letter. You want to infect them with your enthusiasm.

How do you start?

Tell them why you are writing. It’s that easy. There are usually two reasons:

  1. Good news! Always good news! “I writing today to tell you that our production of “Hair” sold out all 16 performances.” “Just a note to let you know we fed 500 homeless children at our last event.” Find something exciting, and brag about it.
  2. We want a contribution from you. Don’t be cute about it. Don’t hint around. Tell them flat out that you need money from them, to continue your exciting work. “We hope you will support [or continue to support] our work with a generous donation.”

Many people won’t read any further. (At least not now. They might come back to it later.) But you have conveyed your entire message of the letter in a couple of sentences. They know why you are sending them a letter.

It is entirely appropriate for a charity to ask for money.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in appeal letters is — no appeal. Many nonprofits have trouble asking for donations. They dance around the subject, they hem and haw. I understand it is not easy. But you have to ask. Otherwise you won’t get anything.

Let me say it again. You have to ask or you won’t get anything.

It is expected that you need donations. It is understood. So ask for money, and see what happens. I dare you. And let me know how it goes.

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GiveIt’s autumn. The leaves are changing. Kids are going back to school.

Time to start working on your year-end appeals letter.

Individuals give most of their donations in December. Nonprofits can get 50%-80% of their income at the end of the year.

What does that mean for your organization? The competition for donor dollars is fierce. Start working on your letters now!

Go Old School

Let’s get something straight right now. An appeal letter is just that. A letter. Not an email or text message. Not a lame Kickstarter campaign. It’s an old-fashioned letter. Stuffed into a paper envelope. With a nice first-class stamp.

Why a letter? Who sends letters anymore?

That’s the point. No one sends letters. That means that your appeal will stand out. It won’t get lost in a spam folder or deleted by mistake.

Take a minute and think about how you collect your mail. Most people immediately sort it. Junk mail goes on the bottom of the pile, then bulk mail, then bills. And on the top of the pile are letters. We open them first. People love to get letters.

That’s where you want your letter to be: on top of the pile.

Later, we will talk about the 6 parts of a great letter.

  1. Intro Paragraph
  2. Mission Statement
  3. Summary of recent activity
  4. Upcoming activities
  5. The Appeal
  6. The PS
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You Are Your Donor’s Sidekick

Boom!A short, nifty blog about how to treat your donors.

(Hint: You are not a superhero. They are.)


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How To Get Funded: Advice from a Donor’s Mouth

Ever wonder why some nonprofits get donations year after year, while some languish in the desert of Nodonorland? Here is a good blog from a donor that lays it out: how he and his wife make decisions.

This section stood out for me. The donors added a new nonprofit to their roster of grantees. Here’s why:

This organization was showing us that they were completely in control, knew exactly what they needed the funds for and how the funds were going to be spent. They were not just asking for money with an implied “trust us, we’ll use it well” promise. They were raising money for a specific purpose (actually about 30 specific purposes, which were detailed). It is very unusual to see a plan in advance, and be able to decide whether it is something we wanted to donate to. We were pleasantly surprised and decided that we did want to contribute.

Read the whole kit and caboodle here.

Posted in Donations, Fundraising, Giving, Grant Writing, Grantwriting, Nonprofit, The Ask | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is That Income Unearned or Contributed?

Is That Income Unearned or Contributed?

Did You Earn It or Not?

From Shana Ross, the Development Shrink, comes this really good article on the difference between unearned and contributed income.

“When you work yourself to the point of exhaustion trying to bring in enough contributions to support your organization, it might seem like a very low blow to call all of that “unearned” income.”

Her point, get used to “unearned” because it’s the correct terminology. It is not a moral judgment of how hard you work for contributions. “Contributed” is just plain incorrect.

Any thoughts? Which do you prefer?

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Types of Nonprofit Income

Wad o' Benjamins

I met a new client yesterday. He had an exciting nonprofit theater, about 18 months old. He wanted to know about making a budget. But he didn’t understand the different types of income he should be considering.

I know lots of you folks are in the same boat. So here is a cheat sheet for nonprofit income.

Two Types of Income

Nonprofits have two different streams of income.

  1. Earned income. This is money your company earns. Ticket sales, admission fees, concessions, contracted performances, membership fees. Stuff like that.
  2. Unearned (or Contributed) income. This is money your company receives as donations and grants. Your company doesn’t actually earn it. It is a gift. There are four basic sources for unearned income.
    1. Individual donations. These are gifts from regular people. This is your largest single source of unearned income, to the tune of 75% or more. It is the most reliable place to find money.
    2. Corporations. This is money from businesses, large and small.
    3. Foundations. Foundations are nonprofit corporations that make grants to charities.
    4. Government. This funding comes from city, county, state or federal sources.

There are variations on the four themes: corporate foundations or public-private partnerships come to mind. Don’t fret about that. Just make sure you have a strategy for pursuing each funding source.


Got it? Good.

Posted in Donations, Fundraising, Giving, Grant Writing, Grantwriting, Nonprofit, Writing | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Are you committing this taboo with your appeals?

Don’t think of your donors as ATMs!

Everything Case (for Support)

Every six weeks or so I get a nasty piece of mail, my visa bill. I don’t like it. Who does? But if the charges on the bill are mine, then they are mine. If my neighbour asked me to pay his visa bill, I’d shake my head in disbelief. I didn’t ring up his charges.

Direct mail appeal

Yet, ‘pay our visa bill’ is a common undertone in direct-mail, fundraising appeals. I received such an appeal recently. A foundation had made a commitment to fund X, Y and Z and would I kindly make a gift toward the project. They have committed. I am asked to pick up the bill. The idea of positioning the donor as a bank bothers me, both as a donor and as a communicator.

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Thoughts on Writing Your Own Grants

Hope you had a great Fourth of July. I spent a good deal of my time writing a grant proposal. Not for a client. For me.

It has been a long time since I wrote a proposal for my own project. I had forgotten how hard it is to write about yourself. I can smack out a proposal for someone else in no time flat. But writing for myself is really hard.

I realized anew how important it is to get another set of eyeballs on your proposal. First, it’s difficult to write objectively about your own project. Everything seems clear and self-explanatory to you, but it can be mud to your reader. Second, find someone to copy edit. They will point out inconsistencies, anomalies, bad punctuation, and (worst of all) the Oxford comma.

Never never never trust yourself with your own proposal. Get help. Get feedback. Call the funder and go over e project with the program officer. Get all the input you can. And leave your ego at the door. Don’t argue. Take the notes, integrate them if you can, and ignore the rest.

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Keep Your Royal We on the Donor *tee hee*


That’s what she said.

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