Writing That Year End Appeal – Part 1

Writing That Year End Appeal – Part 1

Overflowing mailbox

Overflowing mailbox

(From LeaderWorks)

It is starting to happen on most afternoons now. I innocently walk to my mailbox hoping for a few letters or a favorite magazine.  I open the mailbox door, and it all starts to overflow into my arms and onto the street. Catalogs. More catalogs. Credit card offers. Direct mail solicitations. And of course, daily appeals for money and support from a whole host of non-profit ministries, companies, agencies, and institutions. Should the church join this stampede and write a year-end financial appeal letter?

The Avalanche:
In the closing 45 days of the year, there will be an “onslaught of asks” from a massive number of non-profit organizations. Some non-profits pay tens of thousands of dollars for writers to develop their year-end letter with just the right ‘call to action’. Companies make millions mining mailing lists to determine what level of giving household by household for each of the 100,000 pieces of mail. And December is the banner month for giving. Many organizations will receive nearly 1/2 of their annual budget in the closing weeks of the year! Most fund-raising efforts are scientific and data-driven, and they make their clients money.

And then there are these incredible facts (found here):
  • The average person makes 24% of his or her annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve. − Center on Philanthropy
  • While the majority of donations come by check (79 %), online fundraising is the fastest growing donation channel. – Association of Fundraising Professionals
  • A third (33%) of all donations made in December occur on the 31st of the monthNetwork for Good
  • The peak giving time on December 31 is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in each time zoneNetwork for Good 
So yes, your church should send out a year-end appeal. But how can we possibly compete with this multi-billion dollar industry? (And when you receive yours, you should be thankful!)
Before I address our ability to compete, let me add another point. There is a more important reason to write a year-end letter.  It surely will be important to lay out the financial needs of your congregation to your members. The members should know, and they should be asked to make a financial response to your mission efforts and any deficits the church is facing.

And think about it from another point of view. The people in your parish are inundated with messages this time of year that laud and magnify materialism, money, buying, bonuses, consumerism, and excess. In a well-written letter, the congregational leader can encourage the people to keep the hope and focus of the Gospel and your church’s mission as a priority, especially at this time of year.

Here is my belief.
Every church NEEDS to write a year-end appeal letter. It is an essential part of a communication effort to encourage and develop a culture of generosity.  (I have written about this here.) But, the local church cannot compete with the big boys of the non-profit fund-raising world. The congregation will lose every time. By sheer volume, redundancy, and a-digest-2various algorithms associated with mailing lists, the non-profits know who to ask, how much to ask for, and how often to ask.
But the church has an advantage over every other non-profit ministry seeking funds in the fourth-quarter of the year. We have something that every direct mail wants but can never have, but will always want. We have a relationship with our givers. We have a participation rate in the ministry and message that is the envy of every Development Department (now called Advancement) or any organization. Someone once told me this: the church is the only non-profit organization in the world that assembles it’s donor base once a week. 

Put another way, the church has the MOST ENGAGED DONOR BASE of any organization. We should not think of our congregation as a non-profit organization, but as the Body of Christ. We are not writing “Year End Appeal Letters”, we are standing in line at Target with a basket full of groceries and supplies that we all need keep the family going and do what we want to do. A year-end appeal letter takes on a totally different tone when it is written to the Body of Christ.  For the church family, the year-end appeal is not, “What’s in your wallet?” but “Look what we get to do together!”.

So, pastors, leaders, and clergy, get out your keyboards or pens and start writing. Go through a couple of drafts. This is an important letter. It needs to carry your vision and make a very important appeal. You need to feel it deeply; as if you had the heart of an apostle. Because you do! Your letter should be a prayerful reflection on what God has done over the year and how thankful you are to be a part of the ministry. Remember the stories of changed lives. Think of the important events and points of shared memory that you have with your congregation. Read of the Apostle Paul’s love for the church he founded in Philippi and echo his words and sentiments in your early drafts: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.
Now, start writing.
Check back in a few days for another blog post on how to say what you want to say when you write your year-end appeal.

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