Year End Appeals – Controlling the Madness

Decisions, Decisions...
Decisions, Decisions…

Get ready for the deluge of year-end solicitations from nonprofits that may have already started arriving in your mailbox.  The flow will continue through the end of the holiday season.

Yes, it’s that time of year again.

Some people enjoy the process of reviewing these appeals and writing checks to each organization that sends the request.  Others consider the process as enjoyable as paying bills – or worse. If you’re among those who enjoy this process of reviewing and deciding what to do with all these requests, this post is not for you.  Consider yourself lucky.  You are a great friend to those organizations.  Funds collected in response to appeal letters can be a large chunk of a nonprofit’s annual budget.  So, if you like these organizations and you feel good about writing the check, keep doing it.

But for those who feel a sense of angst or even dread as that pile continues to build over the remaining weeks of the year, this post is designed to give you a way to help you decide which organizations to support.  First let me say that the process outlined below assumes that giving through annual appeals is a relatively small percent of your overall annual giving.  These suggestions are designed to simplify and reduce the time required to get through the stack of requests, but they are not supposed to replace the thoughtful, strategic consideration you apply to larger gifts.

These appeals come to your mailbox for many reasons.  Some of them include the following:

  1. You donated to the organization in the past year
  2. You are a donor that hasn’t given in the past year (or even longer), and they hope it was a mistake
  3. Someone you know made a gift in your honor
  4. You haven’t donated before, but the organization believes you are a good prospect

Nonprofits know that a certain percent of their donors will go away each year.  These letters have become part of the annual funding process that development professionals rely on to meet their annual goal.  But just because you supported the organization in the past doesn’t mean you have to continue.

Acts of charity should not feel like a burden.  In fact, you should feel good about each gift you give.  If each addition to the growing stack of annual appeals gives you heartburn, the steps below provide a simple way to streamline the process:

  1. Collect appeals through mid-December – Find a place to keep them together so that when you’re ready to take them on, you don’t have to spend any time locating and sorting through them.
  2. Establish a budget – Think of how much money in total you want to allocate to your year-end annual appeal giving. This is the amount of money you will divide between the organizations that sent you letters.
  3. Determine how many gifts you want to make – The fewer gift you make, the greater the impact for each organization. Somewhere between 5 and 10 gifts gives you flexibility but prevents the next task from becoming overwhelming
  4. Read each letter – The person who agonized over every word certainly hopes that you will be captivated by their letter, but you may decide to scan them. The point is that you should read enough to conjure up a memory and remember something about the organization.
  5. Do a “gut check” sort – Call it something different if you prefer, but the point is that you want to establish a quick way to identify the organizations you plan to support. After reviewing each letter, rank them all based on the way you feel about each organization.  Use a number ranking of 1 – 3, with those you feel best about going into the “Number 1” stack.
  6. Review the letters in the Number 1 pile – If you have more letters in the pile than the number of gifts you decided to give, go through the pile using the same ranking system until you have reached the target number of organizations you will support. If the letters in your number 1 pile is less than the number of gifts you were prepared to write, consider either reviewing the letters in the number 2 group to achieve your target number or splitting the total budget among the number of organizations you identified as your favorite.
  7. Write checks – this is the easy part.  You can either decide to give them all the same amount or you may decide to allocate the budget differently between them.
  8. You’re done! – Place the remaining paper in the recycling bin or shredder.

Once you have read the letters, the whole process, should take less than thirty minutes.  For bonus points, if you have kids in the house, ask for them to help you review and sort the letters.  Make sure to explain that this process is different from the one you use for other gifts.

Sort the letters into the different rankings with them or give them each the opportunity to add one or more of the letters you received to the highest rated group.  Ask them to explain their reasons. If they advocate for adding an organization to the list, put their name on the donation so the child receives info from the organization.

There are lots of other creative ways to get this done, so feel free to modify the process so that it works for you.  If you have other tricks you use, please share them.

Good luck!!

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2 Responses

  1. Jim salt

    Jamie,
    Loved your most recent post about your time in Honduras. Still hope to catch up with you.

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