1.       Have a schedule and plan.  Stick to the schedule and plan.  Revise the schedule and plan for next year if it doesn’t quite work this year.  Repeat.

2.       Get a good story.  Talk with your program staff.  Talk with a client.  Be clear in the direction you want the letter to take, and then ask pointed questions to get the details you are looking for.  Remind program staff that sharing our story is important, and we will always keep confidentiality when applicable.

3.       Renew last year’s donors!  Last year’s donors are the “easiest” donors to get for this year, so be sure you renew as many as you can.  Send them a personalized letter.  Remind them they’ve given recently.  Send them a follow-up email.  Make a follow-up phone call.  Do the work – it’s worth it.

4.       Focus your efforts on individuals and households.  Eighty percent of all charitable contributions come from individuals, and the percentage is even higher when you talk about direct mail.  Play the odds.

5.       Use social media and your website to reinforce the story in your appeal letter.  Show pictures, highlight successes, give details you didn’t have room in the letter for.  Keep that message in front of your donors – everywhere.

6.       Only send your appeal letter to people who have donated in the last five years or have been added to the database in the last three years.  If you’ve solicited someone for six or seven years and they haven’t responded, chances are, they aren’t going to.  Keep them in the database, but stop mailing to them – it’s going to take a different type of appeal to engage them.  Save the stamp.

7.       Have Board members or other key volunteers/staff write personal notes on the letters of people they know.  This is perhaps the single most critical step in increasing both your response rate and the average size of your gifts.  It’s often a lot of work and a pain to coordinate – but it’s really worth it.

8.       Drop your letter in the mail so it arrives BEFORE Thanksgiving.  Don’t forget – it’s an election year (as if it’s possible to forget that if you ever turn on a tv or radio)– and direct mail is going to be at a very high volume.  The letter will have plenty of time to arrive if you drop it on November 7 or anytime in that following week.