Right. It’s almost Christmas. What do most of us do to celebrate? Spend too much, eat too much and drink too much? Probably. But there’s also time for a little retrospection.

What are we proud of? What’s great? What (or who) has been a right pain? And how’s the fundraising profession holding up?

Take a look on your own doormat (or inbox) and you’ll get a pretty good idea. So as a final summary of 2019, I thought I’d share my end of year post-box review.

The appeal that I gave to

This is always something that I really care about. My most important gifts go to the causes that I really care about – and in case you don’t know, it’s normally something to do with educating children who struggle at school. If there’s one thing I recommend for 2020 it’s to focus on the people who show they actually care about your work by giving again and again. Only after they are happy should you start worrying about acquisition (which I’ve always thought is a horrible word). You will raise far more and give new arrivals a much better experience. No need for tricks or anything clever when a cause is close to a donor’s heart.

The appeal that never came

The very humble appeal that demonstrates how much a donor is valued is regrettably very rare. Far too often, it’s a combination of ‘We are great’ and ‘Here’s some need‘. The donor is left feeling a little like a guilty cash point (or ATM for my Canadian and American chums).

The appeal that was amended to death

Always popular. The appeal that probably started out as a great letter but as brand, legal, the CEO and the gardener started ‘improving’ the copy with the help of a crowbar, a barrow load of jargon and a sack of opinions, the flow was destroyed. It left donors scratching their heads asking “What on earth do they want?”

The appeal that never got opened

We all know these. All a bit shouty and very corporate. Summed up with the phrase “We’ve got a brand new brand and we are jolly well going to use it”. Don’t get me wrong mates, there are some great charity brands out there – we just need to make sure they actually work for fundraising.

The appeal that made me smile

Hooray for a big juicy chunk of humanity. The appeals that show people as they are. Loving, happy, sad, angry, joyous and real. I love these. I recognise me in them – or my children. They deliver simple but compelling stories of human existence that are all spotty, hairy and real. As I’ve just said, I love these.

The appeal that I didn’t recognise

This comes from the charity that you’ve never heard of. Why? Because some well-meaning but short-sighted consultant advised them to change their name. Overnight, years of warmth and affection are lost because they have a new name that sums up their mission in some doolally new way. It might work for a policy bod. But to a donor – who’s been supporting you for years – they will just keep their hand in their pocket and wait for their beloved charity to return – which, of course, it never will.

The appeal that got lost

This one doesn’t bother me that much, but it does bother other donors. The simple fact that you get a name wrong can cause donors to pass you over for another charity. It’s slightly worse if you get the address wrong and the appeal doesn’t arrive. As ever, focus on data hygiene. You know it makes sense.

The appeal that went straight into the bin

The self-congratulatory appeal that says everything else other than “we need you”.

The appeal that made me feel good

Proof that I made the right decision to give and that my gift had a real impact delivered in a human terms. Done well, they are delivered as part of a thank you with another opportunity to give. Plenty of love, joy and evidence.

The appeal that got me to upgrade

Another personal favourite. These are the appeals that give you the chance to do something inspiring, special and unusual. Often they ask for more than usual. But if you can give the donor the chance to do something amazing, they will often dig a little to deeper to make it possible.

The appeal that never stopped

See appeal 4. These are the appeals that look so much alike that you think you received it by mistake as you’ve already seen it the previous month. Or perhaps you’ve found your way onto some sort of prospect list and you actually are getting the same pack every month or same email every week.

The appeal that made me cry

Happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin. I love the appeals that make me happy, but I often find that after reading one of these, I’m switching on the computer in the middle of the night to give a gift. Just don’t keep using the same technique or I’ll stop opening them. Inject some happiness in the appeal programme and that’s pretty much perfect.


If you the feel you’ve got all this covered, great! But if some of the less attractive approaches seem a little too familiar that’s good too. It’s time to start thinking about how you can begin to ensure your donors get more out of their giving. Don’t worry about what’s in the past. We all work hard, we can all misjudge things and none of us is perfect. But as fundraisers, we are all on a journey to making the world a better place. And that, my dear fundraising friend, makes you amazing.

Have a great Christmas x