5 Tips for Your Best Year-End Letter


5 Tips for Your Best Year-End Letter – Part 1

Get crackin' on that letter! rawpixel@upsplash.com

Unbelievable. It’s not even December 1st and the letters are rolling in. Not the hand-addressed Christmas ones (which, BTW, I love getting…hint, hint) but those letters. The other ones. The letters asking you for that year-end gift. And by “gift” I don’t mean a box of Trident Sugarless Bubblegum or a new Instant Pot (not that I’d want anything like that, mind you).
The “gift” is that year-end financial donation every non-profit is vying for. And, you faithful readers, already know why you are being bombarded. Let’s say it together now: At least 31% of all giving is done during December and 12% of all donations happen during the last three days of the year.

Back to those letters: There’s so many of them, how will yours stand out?
Remember this first: You’re reaching out to your biggest fans. These are people who worship with you, attend your events, and volunteer for you. They like you, they really do (thanks, Sally Field!). The people on your mailing list are already primed to give to you. You just need to ask.
Here are five ways to help your letter rise to the top amidst all the noise:
1. Create lots of white space. More space makes it inviting and easier to read (you do want people to read your letter, right?). This is not the time to jam as many words onto one page as possible. That’s why the second tip is…
2. Make your letter, at minimum, two pages. You’re not going to believe this, but the research shows that the optimal length of an appeal letter is four pages. Quality writing is key says Tom Ahern, development professional extraordinaire. “A lousy 4-page letter will not outperform a lousy 1-page letter. A great 4-page letter will outperform a great 1-page letter.” Because you’re not going to stress over the length of your letter, tip number three:
3. Use at least a 13-14 point, easy-to-read font. The primary readers of your fabulous letter are, ahem, “of a certain age.” And that age means someone needs glasses to read. Please don’t make your fans squint while reading your letter. And use a serif font for print materials (think Georgia, Helvetica, Verdana).
4. Write your letter for a 6th-8th grade reading level. This is not your dissertation. People who read your letter should feel like they are hearing from a friend. We don’t talk in high-falutin’ language with our friends, so keep it simple. Want to know the readability of your letter? There’s a nifty tool on most computers called “readability statistics.” Expert writer Ann Wylie outlined how you can find this on your computer:
Open a Word document. Then:
-  PC users: Go to File > Options > Proofing > Click “Show readability statistics” box.
-  Mac users: Go to Word > Preferences > Spelling and Grammar > Click “Show readability statistics” box.
Run “spelling and grammar check.”  Once you go through your document, a report pops up with your readability score. So cool.
And last but not least:
5. plus bonus tip: Add photos and a signature. With photos, one face is better than six because the reader can relate better to one person. Make sure the photo is a good, clear shot. The signature? Nothing irks me more than to have a letter minus a signature. Write your name on a piece of paper, scan it, and insert it into the letter. Better yet, if you don’t have a lot of people on your mailing list, personally sign the letter (in blue, green, anything but black ink). As long as you are consistent with the name and any other note you send, you don’t need to worry about jeopardizing your non-profit bulk postage.
This is the time to feel pride in your important ministries or programs and reach out confidently to your fans/congregation/donors for a year-end gift. I want you to have your best year-end ever. These tips will be part of your success. Now if you’ll excuse me while I prepare my annual appeal asking for Trident Sugarless Bubblegum and a new Instant Pot…
Next week: The content of your year-end Christmas letter.
P.S. This also marks my annual Christmas offer to review your year-end letter and make some suggestions on ways to make it even more effective. Shoot me an email with your letter attached. I can’t wait to read it!

Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past fifteen years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She’s not that addicted to Trident Sugarless Bubblegum; but don’t try to take it away from her either. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity or at CesieScheuermann.com.

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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.