Is Your Year-end Letter Treasure or Trash?


The last few months of every year I get a lot of mail.  I’m sure you do too.  Christmas cards from friends and family members, catalogs and special offers, and year-end appeals from every nonprofit I’ve supported in recent history.  Every day, I dump the contents of my mailbox and sift through it sorting it into three piles:  bills, trash, treasure.

Daily Mail

Here’s a look at a typical day’s mail:


Which item would you pick up first? I don’t know about you, but I go for the blue envelope that appears handwritten, addresses me informally (No “Mrs.” or “Ms.”) and has a real stamp in the corner.  I don’t think about it much, but the size and shape and color of the piece make me feel that it is a Christmas card.  I like Christmas cards.

Envelope #1

Inside I do find a bit of holiday cheer.  As I expect, it is a card.  The card is silly and cute.


In the card, I find a message that feels like heartfelt appreciation for my business.  I know the card was mass produced, but the choice of font and color makes it feel fun and personal.


I close the card thinking, “It’s kind of cool that my pet food company sent me a Christmas card.”

Envelope #2

Then, I pick up a letter from a nonprofit organization that does great work and that my husband and I support year after year.  It comes in a business envelope with the title “Mr.” preceding my husband’s name.  It has a postage meter stamp in the corner.  Only the logo in the return address lets me know that this is not a bill or a credit card offer.

Inside, I find the following formal letter.



It’s not a bad letter…but it’s not inspiring or warm or cheerful or any of the things one wants to feel during the holiday season.  It starts with the promise of stories about those whose lives have been changed as a result of the work of the organization I support.  But it doesn’t tell me a story.  It gives me some statistics that tell me how many people will die of lung cancer this year despite the incredible increase in funding for research over the past 6 years.  That’s not inspiring.  It makes me wonder what good my money is doing.

Again, I love this organization and I have close friends who have benefited greatly from the work it does. This is not the only letter like this I have received from a nonprofit organization.  In fact, MOST of the letters I receive are very similar to this one.  So I’m sharing this in the hopes that it creates a “teachable moment”.

Food For Thought

When you craft your year-end letter to donors, make sure it reads like a letter to a friend.  Share good news and inspiration.  Make the recipient feel your gratitude for his/her support.  If your message includes an appeal for additional support, or invites the recipient to deepen engagement by volunteering, be sure to include a link to specific landing page that reinforces the message in your letter.  This will help you maximize conversion and track online response to your offline communications.

Want me to offer feedback on your year-end letter?  Email it to; I’ll gladly take a look.



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