A sample annual appeal letter, if nonprofits were brutally honest with donors

[ Hi everyone, this is the last post of this calendar year. NAF will take a short break and will return with a feisty article on January 6th, 2020. Happy holidays! ]

[Image description: A blank white sheet of paper on some untreated wood planks, with various round gold ornaments and green pine branches surrounding it. The top right corner of the paper is covered with a smiling cartoony angel ornament, while the bottom left corner has a gold bow and a red bow, the kind one puts on presents. Pixabay.com]

Dear John,

As the year winds down, I know you are getting inundated with appeal letters from dozens of nonprofits. This letter is one of them. Just like other missions, we are writing to ask you to give money so we can keep vital programs and services running. And don’t worry, despite all those memes floating around about nonprofits spending 94 cents of every dollar on luxury cars and unicorn steaks or whatever, the money you donate is being put to good use. By being spent on staff, who do all of the work, along with critical things like office rent, utilities, etc. Your support makes it all possible.

Let me insert a story designed to affect you emotionally. Our program director Katie had terrible dental pains caused by her wisdom teeth, but we could not afford to give staff health insurance AND dental insurance. For months, she just carried on, but it really affected the program. The kids we serve could not understand what she was saying due to all the agonized mumbling. It made consoling them when ICE raided their parents’ workplaces a little more challenging. But thanks to donors like you last year, we were able to upgrade our healthcare from Copper to Copper Plus, which includes dental! Katie was finally able to get her wisdom teeth removed (with a $1200 deductible that she can pay off gradually with interest)! The afterschool program is stronger than ever!

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More Nonprofit Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

[Image description: Three dogs, draped in white sheets, dressed like ghosts. There is a jack-o-lantern between two of the pups. They are outside in what looks like a forest, all look adorable. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, Halloween, my favorite holiday, is this week. So here are some scary stories that are guaranteed to send tingles up your spine. Make sure you don’t read these alone. Also, if you’re looking for nonprofit-themed Halloween costumes, check out #NonprofitHalloweenCostumes on Twitter (“Dress in yellow clothing. Wear a brown hat. Say things like ‘We will triple the number of people served.’ You are a Strategic Flan.”)

The Chair

There was clearly something wrong with the chair. The team had received it from an anonymous donor. It showed up in the office one day, a shiny black executive swivel, ergonomic, with a headrest. Right away, it gave off a strange vibe that the team had never felt before. Staff who sat on it complained that it made them feel uneasy. Someone suggested they bring in a local medium who was known to be able to purify negative energy in objects and rooms.  

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Let’s stop recognizing donors by donation levels

[Image description: A profile of a fluffy squirrel, with orange-brownish fur, staring to the right. They seem to be standing on a white towel or something. Not sure what this picture has to do with the post. But if you think about it, does anything have anything to do with anything? Or is our need for things to be connected a way for us to cope with our short existence in an arbitrary and chaotic universe? Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, a couple of announcements before we start on today’s topic. In recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, here are a few things we each can do to be more respectful of Native/Indigenous Cultures.

Meanwhile, on October 22nd, at 12:30pm Pacific Time, I’ll be doing a Facebook Live “Ask Me Anything” to provide updates and answer any questions you may have about RVC’s work, nonprofit fashion, adult acne, and why the Oxford Comma is essential to our sector.

Also, a while ago, the Community-Centric Fundraising Council released the Fundraising Perception Survey to ask how folks are feeling about the way the sector does fundraising. Thanks to everyone’s help, we collected over 2,000 surveys. We are in the process of analyzing the results and hopefully will have a report in the next few months. Preliminary data, however, indicates it’s going to be a doozy. Stay tuned. We’re also working on a website and other exciting stuff.

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We need to talk about the handwritten thank-you note

[Image description: A note with the words “Thank You,” on top of a beige envelope. On the top right corner there’s a hand holding a pencil. This makes no sense. The note is clearly in ink, so why is this hand holding a pencil? Unless, the Thank You part is already printed on this stationary, so this person didn’t actually write that. But still, who would write a thank-you note in pencil? Unless, they’re planning to draw their gratitude. Maybe I should have stuck to the usual picture of a baby animal. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we delve into today’s super exciting topic, in the spirit of ending the Nonprofit Hunger Games I am declaring this week to be Wear Another Nonprofit’s T-shirt Week. Let’s help promote one another’s organizations like the awesome unicorns of Equity that we are. Show love to orgs that you don’t work for and are not on the board of. Swap T-shirts the way that some professional sports players swap jerseys. Take pictures and tweet with the hashtag #NonprofitsSupportingNonprofits. At the end of the week, 10 winners will be randomly chosen to receive…the satisfaction of making the sector better.

OK, let’s talk about the handwritten thank-you note (HWTYN). First of all, I love them. I know many of you do as well, especially the fundraisers in the sector, who have turned the HWTYN into an art form. Some of the leaders I look up to the most have gotten so skilled at this that it seems they spend considerable time writing thoughtful and highly personalized notes—“Dear Vu, it was so lovely to have lunch with you today at Piroshky on 3rd! I am glad I took your recommendation and tried the borscht. You changed my mind on beets, and thus, you changed my entire life trajectory”—and YET are able to warp time and space so that their HWTYN arrives mere hours after I meet with them.

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Sometimes the best thing we donors can do to advance social justice is to just write the check and get out of the way

[Image description: A super adorable little fluffy brown baby bear cub clinging to a tree and looking directly at the camera! Awwww, what a sweet little baby bear! Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This post will likely be controversial, so grab a bar of dark chocolate, or, if you are in Seattle, a warm cup of hemp milk and some kale chips. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our philosophy on donor engagement, and I think we need to have a serious discussion. Honestly, I am starting to believe that the way we engage donors, and habits and patterns of thinking we reinforce among ourselves and our donors, are possibly damaging to the work and to communities.

But before we go further, I want to try something different. I often speak from the nonprofit perspective, because I love nonprofit work and I love the people who choose to be in this beautiful and frustrating sector. But I also donate to several organizations; with two small kids, it’s not always as much as I would like, but I still donate. In fact, I am willing to bet that everyone who works in nonprofit also donates to other nonprofits. That means all of us are also donors. So instead of speaking from the nonprofit perspective, for this post I am going to speak from a donor’s perspective. It might be a little weird, but bear with me (here’s a picture of a baby bear for being awesome).

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