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Year-End Appeals? . . . Increase Your Return Rates 5x!!!

Updated: Apr 25

Woman on phone calling Tom Iselin

Here's all you need to know . . .

Year-End Appeals - Increase Return Rates

(podcast link below)

Notify First!

The solution is simple . . . NOTIFY FIRST! If you make a call announcing to your donors that you’re in the midst of a year-end campaign, and that they will soon be receiving an email or letter about the campaign, your response rates will soar—as much as 5 times or more.

For donors that answer the phone and have a connection to your nonprofit, more than 50% will make a gift. Done well, this figure can skyrocket to 70%. Seriously.

On the flipside, just sending an email or an appeal letter, with no announcement or personalization, will yield a response rate of 1-3% . . . maybe 5% if you’re lucky.

Why Does Notification Work?

When you call first, you’re priming donors with a personal announcement that they will be receiving something from YOU. Making it personal means the donor will feel more obligated to respond. Why? People don’t like to blow off other people when asked for a favor.

Increase The Odds Even More!

If you send an appeal letter as part of your campaign, write “Open Me! Tom and Sara” on the outside of the envelope. Then write a personal note on the appeal letter, and make sure to mention something about the donor specifically, “So glad to hear your kids will be home for the holidays.”

Also, write a small note on the response card, “Thank you for making a difference,” or “Last year, you gave $500. This year, please consider a gift of . . . (and then circle the amount you want them to give, or write it) Thank you!”

Make the Calls!

Now, if you have a large list of donors, say 2,000, you can’t expect to call all of them. Therefore, segment your list. Call your top 200 (top tier) donors and send out an email notification to the rest. The more calls you can make, the better. Call. Call. CALL!

Making notification calls is a perfect job for board members. It’s quick and they don’t have to freak out feeling they have to make a specific dollar ask, because they aren’t; they are simply announcing your campaign. Combine this task as part of a board retreat or a board development night, and include dinner or a holiday celebration. Staff, volunteers, and family members of beneficiaries can help too.

In this case, you may want to do some coaching. Just have a hot chocolate night, give everyone some scripts, and then have them practice by making calls to others in the room. Making 10 practice calls is all you’ll need to prime everyone. Then, before they leave, give everyone a list of names to call. The most confident people should get the biggest donors.

What if the Donor Answers?

If the donor answers your call, sound friendly and upbeat, and read your script (below) and let them know they’ll be receiving an email in the few days. But be prepared, they may commit to a gift on the spot.

If this happens, refer them to your website, or better yet, if you must, write down their credit card information and process it after the call. Or, just take their “pledge” and tell them that the ED or someone from the development team will be in touch to take their payment.

What if No One Answers?

If you call and no one answers, no problem; the notification effect is almost as effective when leaving a voicemail. Leave a friendly, upbeat voicemail, using a script (see example below).

One Last Call

Toward the end of your campaign, say on December 22, 23, 27, or 28, make another notification call to your biggest donors one last time if they haven’t yet made a gift. Announce the campaign again and how close you are to your goal, and how much it would mean to the kids (beneficiaries) if they made a gift in the next day or two.

What About Email Notifications?

If you’re sending email notifications to announce your campaign, send only 1. But after the original notification email, keep sending campaign emails every 5 days to the end of the campaign. ALWAYS change the subject line, photo, and a couple lines of text – but you do NOT have rebuild the entire email each time you send one.

Crafting an Email Notification

For email notifications, make it SHORT. Did I say SHORT. Yes, VERY SHORT. No more than three sentences. The shorter the email, the higher the probability a donor will read it and act on it.

1. Have a greeting (Hi, Tom . . . Happy Holidays!)

2. Have a quick greeting and “thank you” for supporting your efforts in the past

3. Write a SHORT blurb saying that they can expect a letter in the mail or an email explaining your year-end campaign, and the kids (beneficiaries) would be grateful for your support.

4. Add a close-up photo of your programming (emotional close ups of kids work best).

That’s it. NO MORE!

What if You’ve Already Started Your Campaign?

If you’ve already started your year-end campaign, it’s still smart to make a phone notification or send an email notification. It will increase your response rates.

Remove Donors from Your List

When a donor makes a gift, be sure to remove them from the email and call lists so they don’t get contacted or emailed again.

Notification Script Example (phone):

Hi Tom!

<If they don’t answer, start with “Sorry I missed you . . .”>

My name is xxxx, and I serve on the board for Storybook Farm. Do you have a minute to talk?

Let me start by saying "thank you" for being a supporter <fan> of the Farm . . .

The purpose of my call <Tom> is to let you know that we’re sending out a series of emails regarding our year-end campaign. You may have already received one, or you can expect one.

Next year, the Farm will serve more than 3,000 children . . . But our waitlist is at an all-time high . . . 250 children!

These kids shouldn't have to wait for the kind of childhood joy we know they all deserve.

If you would make a gift to help AT LEAST 1 of these children this holiday season, it would mean the world one of these children and Storybook. <This is the key line to speak clearly and passionately>

Oh, and we've raised about $80,000 to date so we’re nearly 1/2 way to our goal. Plus, your gift will be matched by an anonymous donor!

Keep a lookout for our emails . . . and thank you for restoring childhoods!

Have a wonderful holiday! . . . Goodbye

This simple process will help you increase your return rates on year-end appeals!

BONUS: Free Accountability Policy Template! What good is it if you have a Roles and Responsibilities for your boad, but no policy in place to hold them accountable if they don't fulfill them! I’ll happily send you an Accountability Policy template. Simply send an email to and include your contact info. Put "Accountability Policy" in the subject line.

Interesting in public speaking coaching? Give me a ring . . . 858.888.2278.

Additional Resources:

Tom's Books and Channels

Tom Iselin

“Rated one of America’s 10 Best Retreat Facilitators”

Tom Iselin has built four sector-leading nonprofits and four foundations. He’s written six books, sits on six boards, and hosts a video blog and podcast. Each year, Tom speaks to more than 5,000 nonprofit leaders at conferences across the country. He is considered America's best board retreat and strategic planning facilitator and is a leading authority on high-performance nonprofits, and his impact on the industry has been featured on CNN, Nightline, and in Newsweek.

om is the president of First Things First, a business specializing in board retreats, strategic planning, fundraising, executive coaching, and speaking. To relax, he loves mountain biking, hiking, skiing, tennis, and baking.

If you’re in the hunt for the best board retreat/board development facilitation, or the best strategic planning facilitation, it would be a privilege to learn more about your organization and the aspirations you hope to achieve as you work to propel your noble mission. Jot me an email to set up a meet-and-greet call.

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