Fall Appeal Planning

Fall Appeal Planning


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


In February, I suggested that you begin writing your appeal letters at that time. The logic is that the results from your just-completed fall campaign will be fresh in your mind, and you can combine what you learned with the communications themes you developed for 2015 in January.

July is a great month to pull those letters out and refine them even further. Hopefully, you won’t need to start from scratch.

Fundraiser’s Almanac: July

  • Fall Appeal Planning
  • Board Screening of Foundation/Corporation Officers
  • Taking Stock
  • Direct Mail – Mailhouse


For many organizations, as much as seventy percent of operations funding is raised in the fall, and a healthy percentage of that comes from the fall appeal campaign. Planning NOW will help you get the most from your campaign and will help you from going crazy in the process.

As with any other appeal process, segment your audience first – into at least the following groups:

  • Members who give less than $100 – ASK FOR $100
  • Members who give between $100 and $250 – ASK FOR $250
  • Members who give more than $250 – CASE BY CASE, Consider visiting them
  • Members who give $1,000 or more – Definitely visit them.


Now make a plan for each one. Look at that last group first. This is where most of your money will come from. Start right after Labor Day, and make appointments to go visit them. Take a board member with you! Or better yet, assign the task to board members who are willing to go meet with donors – no ask involved!

In the meetings, share the organizational vision for the next few years, listen for the points they are most interested in, and tell a story related to one of their interests. Tell them how important their on-going support is. And ask them to keep you in their philanthropic plans again this fall. The “appeal” letter is a follow-up to that visit, and asks them to carry on their support for another year with a gift of a specific amount.

If you can make time, repeat this same process for your $250+ donors.

When you’ve done what you can in the time you have, mail variations of the appeal letter to the rest.

With adequate time to plan, the letter campaign could easily include three letters and at least one email. The first letter goes to everyone. After that, the subsequent letters only go to those who have not yet responded. (BTW, NO is a response!)

I would time the first letter for the last week in September, a second letter for the first week in November, and a third letter right around the 15th of December. A last minute email blast sent between Christmas and New Year’s Day can also be effective, assuming recipients can give to you on-line.

I personally like the idea that the three letters are VERY different from each other, even while connected thematically. For example, one year I used a land stewardship theme. The first letter was written from a more science perspective. It detailed short-term wonders of restoration efforts even in the context of a long-term strategy to rebuild functioning ecosystems. The need for long-term, sustainable funding was inherent in the description of the job ahead. The second letter was written as a first-person testimonial from a land steward. And a third letter was written very much tongue in cheek using a variation of the “stone soup” parable – no one of us has the wherewithal to take care of the land by ourselves, but if each of us brings what we can…..

The letters themselves should be written in the four-page style (See Writing Appeal and Recruitment Letters, and A Dozen Rules for Writing Better Appeal Letters). Use good technique, even if it seems awkward and stilted. And be careful of the language. You want your fall appeal to generate operations (unrestricted) income. Don’t phrase your ask such that donor responses are restricted.

Keep in mind that, there is NO REASON NOT TO PRINT THE FIRST LETTERS NOW. Print the letters with a September date, fold and stuff them, seal them and put stamps on. Then put them in a box on a shelf with the drop date written on the outside.

One More Thing – over the last three years of doing fall appeals, you have had some donors who gave every year, some who gave one or two of them, and a bunch who did not give at all. If you’ll begin to keep track of this latter group, you eventually won’t need to mail to them.

Got appeal letter stories? Please consider sharing them here.




Editing Appeal Letters

Dealing with Renewal-Appeal Traffic Jams


Photo credit: Autumn River courtesy of Hannah Stonehouse Hudson.


See how David can help you with your membership fundraising here.

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