Year-End Nonprofit Fundraising: Get Your Ducks in a Row
The last six weeks of the calendar year are make or break time for nonprofits.
In fact, nearly 30% of nonprofits raise 26-50% of their annual fundraising in November and December – when folks are feeling their most grateful and generous.
Nearly a third of all annual giving happens in the single month of December, and 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of that month!
You really don’t want to miss out on this most giving time of year!
That means going above and beyond simply sending out a single year-end mailed appeal letter.
Because once you’ve sent it, and waited a few weeks for responses to come in, that single appeal becomes pretty much a lame duck.
If that’s all you’ve got, you’re sunk.
If you want to get in on more of that holiday spirit, you must get all your ducks in a row. Now!
Let two little words be your mantra:
Let’s get you some tips that will help you have the best fundraising season ever!
Year-End Nonprofit Fundraising Action Tips
1. Send Impact Reports to Set the Stage
If you’ve not done so already, get ‘quacking’ and send a report to remind donors how they helped.
Every donor should get something, even if just a brief email with a photo of someone they helped and a quick “You’re our hero!” or “You did it!” Also consider sending a special thank you gift to donors and volunteers who went above and beyond during the year. I don’t mean anything expensive (that could backfire); thoughtful tokens of appreciation that just say “I’m thinking about you” are welcome, effective and pre-suasive.
2. Clean Up Your Prospect Database
Get rid of the dead ducks on your mailing list.
There’s no sense spending money to mail duplicates and/or deceased and wrong addresses. Ditto to folks who’ve repeatedly demonstrated they aren’t going to support you.
TIP: Make sure you do an annual address correction request using a process like NCOA.
TIP: Purge prospects and donors who’ve not given for quite some time, if ever. I recommend purging any donors who haven’t given for five years and any prospects who haven’t given for three years. You can archive them for historical purposes if you wish, but stop paying to mail to these folks.
3. Establish Priority Goals Based on Last Year’s Results
Look at retention, upgrades and downgrades from last year and evaluate your areas for improvement.
Your database is a potential gold mine when it comes to setting your year-end strategic fundraising objectives. If you don’t focus in on what’s working/what’s not, you’re likely to repeat last year’s results. And you prefer to exceed them, right?
TIP: Consider how you’re doing with various donor segments and other constituencies in terms of retention, upgrades and downgrades: (1) first-time donors; (2) ongoing donors; (3) lapsed donors; (4) multi-gift donors, and (5) upgrades/downgrades. Also look at how you’re converting volunteers and clients (e.g., parents, patients, ticket buyers, members, subscribers) to financial donors. Create specific strategies designed to improve your results in areas that offer the greatest potential.
For more insights into using your data for your year-end campaign, register for this webinar: Fundraising and Technology Insights for Your Year-End Campaigns.
4. Prioritize Contacts with Your Most Promising Supporters
You don’t want to lose your sitting ducks.
Even folks not on your major donor cultivation list may be among the top 10 – 20% of donors who give you 80 – 90% of your funding. If you want to keep these folks, build a plan that assures you don’t duck out on them during the time of year they’re most likely to give!
TIP: Create a list of LYBNTs (gave last year but not this). Sort them according to dollar range, so you can prioritize contacts with the largest donors. You’re going to want to remind these folks of their generous past support (thank them!) and let them know they’ve still got time to renew and make a difference this year.
TIP: Make sure to evaluate folks based on cumulative annual giving. A $100/month donor is not a $100 donor, but a $1,200 donor. When you sort based on most recent gift, you’ll miss these important loyal supporters.
TIP: Don’t overlook Peer-to-Peer fundraisers who bring in significant gift totals. These folks can be the functional equivalent of major donors, and you want to be sure to put in place strategies to encourage their continued engagement and investment.
TIP: Don’t overlook volunteers. Research by Neon CRM shows volunteers are twice as likely as non-volunteers to donate. Sometimes, they simply aren’t asked well. Consider making them a separate campaign segment, and send them a tailored appeal that recognizes their already generous contribution to your cause.
5. Prepare a Year-End Email Series
This will not only bring in gifts on its own, it will also bolster your offline campaign by reminding folks they intended to give.
You want to send enough emails to maximize your chances during this most heavy giving period of the year. Did you know 10% of gifts arrive in the last 48 hours of the year? It’s best to plan at least five email touches in December (one can be in your e-news), with a year-end blitz of at least three e-appeals between December 26th and 31st.
TIPS: Take advantage of best practices:
- The best times to email prospects are between 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Source: GetResponse).
- Subject lines should not be an afterthought. 33% of email recipients open emails based on the subject line alone (Source: Convince and Convert).
- Personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10% (Source: Aberdeen Group).
- Send fundraising emails more than once. You never know when you’ll reach someone at an optimum time. 23.63% of email opens occur within the first hour of delivery (Source: GetResponse) and only 23% of sales emails are opened (Source: TOPO). Give your message a few chances.
TIP: When folks click on the “donate” link in your email, make sure you send them to a branded donation page that reflects the same message featured in your appeal. This can help you raise as much as seven times more than a non-branded page.
6. Plan a multi-channel campaign.
Maximize your chances prospective donors will notice and act on your appeal.
People today are more (or less) responsive depending on the way you connect with them. While your email appeal was like water off a duck’s back for Prospect A, they may take to a tweet with a link back to a compelling story on your website just like a duck takes to water! For Prospect B, on the other hand, direct mail may be the golden duck. Even they, however, might wait to act until they’re reminded via email.
This is why, when it comes to messaging, the “flock” (e.g., direct mail, email, website, social media, and telephone) will do better than any single duck trying to make it on its own. Don’t be afraid to include campaign messaging on several different channels. While you may not be tweeting out direct asks, it doesn’t hurt to include similar campaign theme, messaging, images and graphics so your year-end appeals stays top of mind for prospective donors.
TIP: Send a sequence of messages across different channels. If your donor receives a mailed appeal, then sees a similar message via email or on a blog post or social media link a week later, this may trigger their memory and remind them to make a gift.
TIP: Create a multi-channel campaign content calendar, work plan, and timeline that incorporates all of your offline and online appeal messaging. Plan to use a consistent theme across all channels so your integrated messages reinforce each other.
7. Plan Ahead to Call Your Most Important Lapsed Donors
Who you call, and how many you call, will depend upon your own resources and the makeup of your donor base.
Again, begin with those who’ve given the most, as well as those you believe have the greatest potential to become more major donors. Also take a look at those who’ve given consistently over a period of years. These are your most likely future planned giving donors – the ones who might leave you a bequest. The same holds true with ongoing, loyal volunteers. You don’t want to lose these folks, so find out why they may not have yet renewed.
TIP: If you’re strapped for resources and staff to make calls, organize this as a year-end phonathon and enlist your board and other volunteers to help. It may even inspire some of them to give! No band width this year? Put it on your calendar for next year as a ‘must do.’ Why? It’s much more cost-effective to renew an existing donor, or convert a volunteer into a donor, than to acquire a brand new supporter.
TIP: If it’s been awhile since your monthly donors got a real thank you, consider folding a ‘thankathon’ into your plan. Recruit board members, development committee members and/or other volunteers to help. If you’re a school, ask students to help. This sets you up to ask for an increased monthly commitment this year.
8. Plan to Send a “We Miss You” Letter to Lapsed Donors You Can’t Call
Some folks may manage to duck the question up until the last minute. Don’t give up! Send them a letter letting them know you miss them. Also send this letter to donors you called, but were unable to reach. Make it brief, direct and as personal as you can manage (e.g., if you called and left a message, reference the fact you’re sorry you missed them). And stay upbeat and positive. Reward your donor for their past giving and praise them for their ongoing generosity and good intentions.
TIP: Tell them you know they intend to give because you know how much they care. One of Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Influence is “commitment and consistency.” People are inclined to keep doing what they’ve already done in an effort to appear consistent. Assume in your tone and language that your donor simply has forgotten/just not got around to it due to the busyness of daily life (based upon my own experience, this is often true; many folks think they already gave and just need a reminder). I used to send a short note (in an envelope emblazoned with a finger tied with a little red reminder ribbon) that said “Did you forget?”
The end of the calendar year only comes around once annually.
If you miss it, your would-be donors will have already flown the coop, having spent their wad. Elsewhere.
Plan ahead to get your full piece of the fundraising pie this year.
- Prime the pump with an impact report.
- Get your mailing list ready. It’s fruitless to mail to dead ducks.
- Set goals based on past performance. It makes sense to hunt where the ducks are.
- Prioritize strategies based on potential for highest yield. This should be a no-brainer – as easy as duck soup – yet too often nonprofits focus more on the 80% of donors who give 20% of the money because mailing seems easier than phoning or meeting face-to-face.
- Plan as carefully for email as for direct mail. Don’t make your email a bit of a strange duck.
- Build a multi-channel strategy so no one strategy is all duck and no dinner.
- Don’t neglect lapsed and other loyal supporters. Compared with cold prospects, these folks are more likely to take to you like a duck to water.
Now that you’ve got your duckies in a row, may you have smooth sailing this year-end.
Guest Author: Claire Axelrad , J.D., CFRE and principal of Clairification.com