Are you working on your end of year appeal right now? What are you doing? An in-house mailing, acquisition mailing or both?  For those of you playing along at home,

What’s an in-house mailing?

It’s a letter to your current list of donors.

What is an acquisition mailing?

It’s when you try to get new donors through a letter that pitches your charity.

If you want to expand your donor base and you have a little extra money, you might want to consider an acquisition mailing.

If you’re ready to go with your new list of donors but want to see how to write a better acquisition mailing, check out this letter that Smile Train sent to my great aunt last year.

They are doing it right.

Let’s talk about everything that is right with this letter.

1. Compelling clear color pictures of people they are helping freaking everywhere. The envelope, the letter, the reply device, everywhere. This envelope has a live stamp and three pictures of children with cleft palates, and the words: Triple the impact of your support to help three times as many children!”

How can you use pictures on the outside of YOUR envelope to have your donor eager to tear open your envelope and give?

Here's the Front of Smile Train's envelope

Sample Year End Appeal Letter

2. A monthly giving ask insert: It’s compelling because it encourages donors to save money, and save effort. How can you use this monthly giving ask idea for YOUR nonprofit? This insert says,

“Just a few dollars a month can save children’s lives. Our Smile of the Month Club is an easy and economical way to help children born with clefts while maintaining your budget. Select a monthly amount affordable for you and your family, and Smile Train will automatically bill your credit card or deduct it from your checking account each month. You’ll never have to write a check, buy a stamp or find an envelope again!

  • A monthly pledge of $42 (about $1.20 per day) can provide cleft surgery for two poor children in just 12 months.
  • A monthly pledge of $21 (about 69 cents per day) can provide cleft surgery to a poor child in just 12 months.
  • A more affordable $11 monthly pledge (about 36 cents per day) can provide cleft surgery over the next two years.

YES! I want to join the SMILE of the MONTH CLUB. (They also have a section for planned gifts and matching gifts. At the bottom they have three pictures of children, and three compelling reasons to give under each child’s photograph. Can YOU think of three compelling reasons to give right now to your cause?

Reason 1:  Give a child hope for the future. Reason 2: Give a child a second chance at life. Reason 3: Give a child a new smile.


3. Social Proof on the outside of the envelope: A compelling envelope with a quote on it “One of the most productive charities -dollar for deed- in the world”  The New York Times


4. Social proof on the letter that their charity is using their money effectively from the Better Business Bureau (plus their logo).

The second page of their letter reads:

“Although it’s the end of the year when many people are taking a break and slowing down to enjoy the holiday season, Smile Train can’t slow down. We know that:

  • In a developing country, a child is born with a cleft every three minutes.
  • And every 4 and a half minutes, Smile Train provides a free cleft surgery.

We’re catching up and are determined to help close the gap between cleft births and surgeries in 2014… but we’re not there yet.

With your help -and this special Triple Match Challenge -we’ll continue to work 24/7 to keep pace with the increasing number of children hoping, praying and waiting for “their turn” to live a normal life.

Please be as generous as possible to make the most of this triple match opportunity. With your support, we can give more children something to smile about in the new year!

Wishing you and your loved ones health and happiness in 2014,


5. A compelling triple match opportunity for the donor, with a deadline “Challenge Grant Deadline: 2/8/14” (in handwriting font)


6. Multiple asks throughout the letter: This reinforces what you want the donor to do.

7. Blue signature and website address in handwriting font (see the image above)

8. Compelling headline on outside of envelope and top of letter: Triple the impact of your support to help three times as many children!

For a full transcript of the first page, see below.


Dear Ms. Stoddard,

As I write this letter, we’re at the very end of 2013  – a year  when we will have reached an incredible smilestone of completing our 960,000th cleft surgery. Just think about the incredible number of children’s lives permanently changed because of the generosity of loyal friends like you, Ms. Stoddard. Thank you so much!

Smile train helps families who cannot possibly afford lifesaving and life-changing cleft repair surgery. earning less than two dollars per day, their children have no one to count on except committed generous Smile Train supporters like you.  In fact, your gifts help us provide over 340 free surgeries every day!

Now we have even better news: we can begin the new year with a special Triple Match Challenge that can help three times as many poor kids born with clefts!  A group of our long-term supporters wants to “kick off” 2014 by accelerating Smile Train’s efforts to save children. To help make 2014 a record-breaking year and increase the number of cleft surgeries, they offered us a grant of $300,000. …

…and challenged us to raise $150,000 from this appeal.

In essence, your gift today can be tripled to provide three times the impact: work three times as hard and help three times as many girls and boys living with clefts.

Send a gift of $25 which can be tripled to $75 by our Triple Match Challenge.

A larger gift of $35 can become $105, or a very generous contribution of $50 can be matched two-for-one to become $150, helping relieve the pain and suffering for three times as many children.

9. Live stamp on the outside of the envelope.

10. A PS that reinforces the deadline and how to use the reply device: (does NOT introduce a new idea)

“P.S. To triple your gift, just select one of the enclosed Triple Match Coupons with the appropriate amount, and enclose it with your tax-deductible donation before the February 8, 2014 deadline. Send a gift today that can help three times as many children – thank you!”


Talk about a compelling ask, a serious deadline, heartwrenching pictures and a clear call to action all the way through the letter!


Want 43+ more tips on how to write successful appeal letters? Just go here!