How is it already September? We’re wondering the same thing!

As the new month approaches, we’re continuing our series on monthly preparations for the year’s busiest fundraising season. (Psst. If you missed our August post, check that one out first. Just don’t forget to come back!)

Continue your year-end fundraising preparation with these steps this September.

1. Choose your beneficiary story (or stories).

In August, you spent time speaking with beneficiaries to gather stories of how their lives are better as a result of your organization’s work. Early September is the time to revisit the stories you’ve collected and determine the strongest one around which to base your year-end campaign.

Unsure where to start? The best narratives are those with strong, illustrative language and emotion, so opt for the story with the most detail and where the beneficiary was most (positively) affected. Think in terms of cause and effect: What was their life like before they encountered your organization, how did staff help them, and what is their life like now? What can they do now as a result of your organization’s assistance? Are they in a position to give back or pay it forward?

If you’re stuck between two strong stories, consider using both. Weave together stories with similar themes, or juxtapose two unique stories to show the breadth of the people you serve. Or consider using one for direct mail and another on your blog or social channels. Don’t pass up an opportunity to get creative and show donors the good work your organization is doing through the people you serve.


2. Determine your campaign theme and strategy.

Remember in August when you took the time to analyze your past campaign efforts? That exercise will pay off now when you’re setting your campaign’s theme and strategy. Pay attention to the channels, messaging and creative that produced the best results with your constituents, and use those “wins” to focus your efforts this year. Set your overall fundraising goal, then break it down by channel (direct mail, email, social media, etc.) or set week to help understand how much you need to bring in by a certain date or from a certain tactic.

When creating your theme, start with the beneficiary story (or stories) you chose in step 1 above and search for quotes or statements that reinforce your organization’s beliefs. Your theme (e.g., “No one deserves to have no one” or “Save 300 dogs in 30 days”) can be thought of as your campaign’s slogan or rallying cry and can be used as your direct mail’s opening statement, the “ask” in your email, social media taglines and more.


3. Write the first draft of your direct mail appeal.

Your direct mail appeal acts as the anchor to your year-end campaign, and the piece from which all other messages and tactics (likely) will be derived. Because of its importance, this can also be the hardest place to start.

Break your writer’s block by starting with the core elements of a direct mail: The opening statement (which you determined as your campaign theme in step 2), the “ask” (what will happen as a result of a person’s support) and the P.S. statement (a reiteration of the opening statement and/or “ask”). Then fill in the gaps with the beneficiary story you chose in step 1. A lot of your appeal’s language will be repetitive, and that’s okay. Donors have short attention spans and tend to scan appeals, so make sure to bold the important pieces.

Still struggling? Check out our suggestions of the questions to ask yourself when developing your year-end messaging.


4. Gather imagery.

Almost as important as your direct mail’s core pieces (as mentioned above) are the images that accompany your message. Unless you face a privacy issue (like HIPAA), we suggest using real photography of the person or people on which your appeal focuses. Opt for close-up photos of faces, and strive to only include one to two people per image. If possible, find (or take) a shot of the beneficiary in action in a way that communicates the emotion and supports your narrative, helping bring it to life.


5. Coordinate with your print/mail house.

If you have a regular vendor for printing and mailing your direct mail piece, now’s the time to get on their radar for your year-end. (Remember, they’ll be just as busy if they have multiple nonprofit clients!) Make sure to communicate to them your ideal drop date (i.e., the date you want your direct mail in donor mailboxes), then work with them to work backwards through earlier deadlines – like when they’ll need final creative, how long you have to approve a digital proof and more.

If you’re working with a new vendor, you have a few more questions to ask. Obtain quotes for your mail piece (with varying letter and response device size, one- or two-sided, full color or black and white, etc.), talk through file types and deadlines and designate a single contact person on both sides. You’ll also want to discuss your data and any dynamic content you anticipate in your appeal, from address to suggested donation amounts and more. Find out if they have a template or specifications for formatting and submitting your data so you’re ahead of the game when it gets down to crunch time.


Year-end fundraising is fast approaching! Make the process a breeze with our month-by-month approach.

Want more tips to boost your fundraising efforts? Download our year-end planning guide here.