If you consider the year-end appeal to be a December pursuit, think again. September is the month when you should be starting, as that’s when your donors are starting to think about it, too. Donation-related searches increase 30% from August to September, according to Google, and nonprofits generally see 40% of gifts arrive in the last four months of the year.
You can’t afford to be idle during this critical time to your bottom line—and it isn’t too late to catch up! Use this step-by-step process to maximize your year-end gifts:
Step 1: Start discussing your strategy by September
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re asking in September, but your development and other key staff should be brainstorming in early fall. Do a review of your last three years’ appeals and compare them with the results. Did one outperform the others? Build on that. Also look at drop dates compared with response—all of this data will tell you how and when your donor base likes to be communicated with.
Step 2: Get your board on board
Once you have put down some initial ideas, it’s time to bring in board support. Keep year-end giving on the agenda for summer/fall board meetings, and make sure all board members have made meaningful personal gifts. You could also consider issuing a challenge gift to the community. Start them thinking about other ways to get involved. The reality is, board members will not wake up one morning and think of these ideas themselves, so you, as a staff leader, need to guide them.
Step 3: Communicate early — and often
Don’t get so busy with planning for December that you forget to actually talk to your donors. This could be the time you send the first in a series of emails, direct mails, phone calls and/or visits that lay the groundwork for your big end-of-year ask. A multi-channel approach to communication is always your best bet.
The last quarter of the year is ideal for ramping up donor communication. These additional touches position your organization at the forefront of the donor’s mind when they start thinking about where to give toward the end of the year.
Step 4: Match board members with tasks
Through board meetings and through one-on-one conversations, determine how to get each board member engaged so you can maximize success. Consider their strengths and interests, then enlist people to:
- Make calls
- Set appointments
- Give tours
- Sign appeal and thank-you letters
Step 5: Be proactive—don’t just sit at your desk
One of the biggest year-end giving mistakes you can make is assuming that last year’s gifts will be repeated, especially for your top donors. You must ask—and for your top donors, this should be in person and prior to December. Sitting down with your donors and prospects for specific in-person asks will:
- Secure higher-level gifts, including multi-year commitments
- Build meaningful relationships
- Allow you to hear from the donor why they support you and if they would be willing to help connect you to additional potential donors
Bottom line: If your strategy does not involve in-person meetings, you are leaving serious money on the table.
Step 6: Communicate a strong case
It’s vital to have a coordinated message that is clear to donors. It needs to:
- Use a multipronged approach (in-person, direct mail, online and social media)
- Make sure written and electronic communications complement each other
- Tell strong stories that tap into donor emotions
- Demonstrate impact
Step 7: Make sure your communication materials are appropriate
When creating the materials, remember you don’t have to spend an enormous amount of money—it should be appropriate for your organization and mission. Donors don’t want to see a small human services organization with highly flashy materials, but they may expect that from their university or a statewide arts group.
Step 8: Be online and mobile friendly
While online giving is less than 10% of giving overall, December is the biggest month by far for these gifts, so it’s important that you are leveraging this channel. A donor-friendly website will be:
- Clean and easy to navigate
- Mobile optimized
- Clear about what your organization does
- Easy for visitors to find the donate button (preferably large and at the top of the page)
Your e-giving strategy should include e-blasts that weave together messages of impact, solicitation and gratitude—so, not every email should be a solicitation. Consider sending testimonials or creative “thank you for your support” messages using engaging stories in between solicitations. This pattern should also be how you use social media to drive traffic back to your website. And don’t forget to plan around #GivingTuesday!
Step 9: Report back what their last gift did
One of the top reasons donors say they stop giving to an organization, besides their not being asked, is that no one reports back on what their gift did before they are asked for the next one. Now is the time of year to get those messages out, if you have not already started doing so.
Step 10: Ask for repeat gifts
If you’re only contacting those that haven’t given yet, you are leaving dollars on the table. The people who already made an investment in your organization this year have demonstrated they are interested in your mission! Don’t ignore this pool of possible repeat givers.
Once you’ve successfully reached the end of the year, it’s time to turn your attention to first quarter of next year. Don’t use January for an organizational nap! Use this time to:
- Send impact statements, testimonials or thank-you postcards
- Involve your board and staff in this process—this responsibility does not lie with the development team exclusively
- Report success—was this the year you raised the most money? Report it, and tell them what you are going to do with the dollars!
Feel free to use this timeline summary in your planning: