How to Write a Successful Appeal for Ongoing Programs


I get asked some form of this question all the time:

“How do I do an effective appeal letter for a program that runs all year long? We’re not one of those organizations that has One Big Need, like ‘meals on Thanksgiving’ or ‘summer camp’ or a new art exhibit. We do the same thing all year long…”

The answer is pretty simple: narrow your focus on what’s happening at your organization about 6 weeks after you mail your appeal.

Let me give you two examples of how this works…

Ongoing Program #1

Say you’re a children’s museum that fosters kids’ interest in the arts. And every month, local schools send their kids to the museum for field trips.

Narrow your focus and think about what will be needed about 6 weeks after you send your appeal. You can then send an appeal in January that says something like this:

“Your gift today will introduce a child to the arts! This March we have several bus-loads of children coming from local schools. Will you send a gift today to introduce one child to the arts by funding their visit to the museum?”

By narrowing the focus of the appeal onto a specific period, you’ve made it easier for the donor to understand and visualize how her gift will help. And any time you do that, you tend to raise more money.

Ongoing Program #2

Say you provide food and shelter for refugees fleeing violence. Narrow your focus and think about what aid you’ll be providing about 6 weeks after you send your appeal.

Your January appeal could say something like:

“Your help is needed to provide food and shelter for refugees in March. Shelter is so important during the rainy season. Will you send a gift today to provide food and shelter for one family?”

Again, by narrowing the focus you’ve made it easier for your donor to understand what’s happening at the nonprofit. Additionally, you’ve also added a dose of urgency to the appeal. In a clear, non-alarmist way, you’ve made it clear to your donor that these expenses are real and they are coming.

You’ll be thrilled with how your donors respond.

For the fundraising nerds, there are two fundraising principles at work here:

  1. Break your work into smaller chunks. In your direct response fundraising (appeals, e-appeals, newsletters), you’ll raise more money if you ask donors to help fund small, specific parts of your work instead of asking them to fund all your work.
  2. Ask before the need happens. You’ll raise more money if you ask donors to help before something happens, as opposed to asking them to help you “continue to” provide your services.

If raising funds for an ongoing program or service is something your organization struggles with, narrow your focus. Don’t ask donors to fund the whole program. Ask them to fund what’s happening a little more than a month from when you send your letter.

You’ll have made your appeal more timely, relevant, and easy to understand – all of which are keys to successful appeal letters.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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