You’re coming into the home stretch! 

It’s the end of the calendar year. This is the time when your annual fundraising goals will likely be met, surpassed or put onto life support. Because even if you operate on a fiscal year, now is the time when most people do most of their annual giving.

Did you know 50% of nonprofits receive a majority of their annual contributions from October to December? In the U.S., roughly 30% of all donations happen in the month of December alone. 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of the year.

Online giving is especially frenetic at this time of year. 19% of online giving happens in December. Of this amount, 20% is received from donors who procrastinate until the last 48 hours of the calendar year.

This means the last six weeks of the calendar year are make or break time for nonprofits. It’s the most giving time of the year, and you want to set yourself up to maximize results.

Let two little words be your mantra:


You’re not done if you’ve already prepared your mail appeal. Or even if it’s already at the mail house, or maybe even in the mail. 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.

Now is the time to line up all your duckies and send them out to sea in a timely, sequential manner.  Working together, the “flock” (e.g., website, direct mail, email, social media, and telephone) will do better than any single duck trying to make it on its own. Absolutely do not have a one appeal/one-shot deal strategy. Your donor’s media filter is way too overloaded for that. You’ve got to increase the chances your appeal will both get noticed and acted upon.

To get to success you’ll want to plan ahead to:

  • Predispose donors to give
  • Establish priority year-end fundraising goals
  • Assure pre-conditions are in place to meet your goals
  • Leverage your mail appeal through an integrated series of communications using multiple online channels (email, P2P, and social media)
  • Boost response with follow-up calls and notes
  • Set up your ‘next gift’ strategy with terrific year-end donor service and ‘ready-to-go’ compelling thank you’s

Let’s get started with a baker’s dozen of end-of-year “to-do’s”!

Predispose donors to give

1. Send Impact Reports to Set the Stage

Your objective here is to make past donors feel inclined to give again. If you’ve not done so already, send a report to remind donors of their past decision to give to your cause and show how they helped. One of Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence and Persuasion is “commitment and consistency.” People want to repeat their previous behavior in order to be consistent. When you remind folks they gave to you, and the result was positive, this acts as a decision-making short cut by showing them they made a good decision.  It’s a subtle way to predispose donors to renew when they receive your year-end appeal.

TIP: Every donor should get something, even if just a brief email or hand-written note with a photo of someone they helped and a quick “You’re our hero!” or “You did it!” Make sure that for donors who earmarked their giving for a particular program (especially major donors) that you send a report that reflects back their particular interest.

Establish priority year-end fundraising goals

2. Establish Goals Based on Last Year’s Results

Your aim here is to set realistic, measurable objectives. Otherwise you won’t know if you did a poor job, a status quo job or a “hit it out of the ballpark” job. 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 on what’s working/what’s not, you’re likely to repeat last year’s mistakes.  By evaluating data strategically you may be able to develop a plan to raise more than you’d imagined.

TIP: Run database reports to determine 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.

TIP: Evaluate results and create specific strategies designed to improve your results in areas that offer the greatest potential. This will likely inform how your segment your mailing list and draft variations of your core annual appeal letter and e-appeal copy.

3. Prioritize Contacts with Your Most Promising Supporters

The point here is to pay special attention to your existing supporters, and not become so focused on acquiring new donors that you forget it’s much easier and more cost-effective to renew a donor than to acquire one. Make donor retention and upgrading a priority.

TIP: Create a plan to treat every single donor specially, by showing them you know them – even if it’s just by tweaking one single line of your appeal copy (e.g., “As a board member, you understand better than most…” or “Your loyal support over the years…” or “Your volunteer service and financial support make you a true hero,” or “It meant so much when you joined the fight against cancer last year”). Donor segmentation is not black and white (major vs. non-major), but shades of gray. Even folks not on your major donor cultivation list may be among the top 20% of donors who generate 80% of your funding.  Other loyal supporters may not be in a position to give big now, but they may leave you a bequest down the road. As long as you don’t neglect them now. You’ll find the clues you need right in your own donor base – so get ready to run some reports!

Assure pre-conditions are in place

4. Build Your Donor-Centered Case for Support

You absolutely must have a compelling reason for people to support you – right now. You might think this would go without saying, but far too many nonprofits send out completely forgettable appeals that say things like “Please support our organization. We can’t afford to run programs without you.” Yawn. Always ask: What’s in this for the donor? How do they benefit by giving here? How can we demonstrate we’re relevant to their lives? To what they’re thinking about and caring about? And… don’t forget to include a clear, persuasive call to action. There’s no point to making the case if you don’t explicitly make the ask!

TIP: Consider what you do that aligns with what’s in the news today. Ask your receptionist about what issues folks seem to be most concerned. If you’ve done any recent surveys which inform you as to what’s on peoples’ minds, collate the responses and use the information gleaned (and right now, calendar doing such a survey to help inform next year’s appeal). Bottom line: What would happen if you ceased to exist? If the answer is “not much,” go back to the drawing board. What stories can you tell that will break people’s hearts, and restore their hope? You’ve got to show a need people agree is an important issue, and one they’d like to see addressed. Then you’ve got to show why your organization is the best one to solve the problem.

5. Optimize Your Website

This is the foundation of your nonprofit’s online presence. 82% of donors report visiting a nonprofit website prior to making a gift. Your objectives with website visitors are to:

  • Make sure they find what they’re looking for. Assure your donate button is prominently placed and information about your mission is easily accessible, cogent and compelling.
  • Make sure they see an efficient and effective organization. Clean house before they arrive so they don’t see a lot of messes.
  • Entice them with stuff they may not have been looking for, but which they find compelling nonetheless. Compelling stories about positive outcomes fit the bill nicely.

TIP: Make it easy for folks to take the actions you wish them to take. If they have to click more than twice to get to your donation landing page, they’ll likely leave before they complete their gift.

6. Build Compelling Donation Landing Page(s)

Visitors who are directed to a landing page are 10X more likely to give than visitors who start on a home page. This is a huge deal, and it may be the single most underused tactic by nonprofits. Firespring reports that 44% of all clicks are directed at home pages, rather than a relevant landing page. This is WRONG. Wherever folks come from (email, hard copy appeal, social media, blog post, organic search), you want people to go to a page where they’re compelled to take action! And when they do, your objective is to make the user experience compelling and easy.

TIP: Landing pages should match the appeal. If you’re sending slightly different appeals to different segments, you’ll need multiple landing pages. For example, you don’t want to direct a donor from whom you’ve requested a $500 gift to a landing page that asks for gifts ranging from $15 to $250.

Leverage your mail appeal through multiple online channels (email, P2P, and social media)

7. Plan a Multi-Channel Campaign

Make your hard work do double and triple duty. Don’t waste all that thought and energy you put into your mail appeal. Reinforce and leverage your efforts by spreading your message through multiple channels.  This will 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. Some check their email inbox frequently, others are more likely to notice your appeal via your tweet or Facebook post. Some may decide to give based on your mailed appeal letter, but might wait to act until they’re reminded via email. So plan ahead 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: Plan to use a consistent theme and design across all channels so your integrated messages reinforce each other. Create a multi-channel campaign content calendar, work plan, and timeline that incorporates all of your offline and online appeal messaging.

8. Plot Your Year-End E-Appeal Series

Your objectives with e-appeals are to:

  • Assure you ‘cash in’ during the final month of the year when such a large percentage of annual giving occurs – with the big spike coming in the final few days. Plan to send enough emails to maximize your chances (three between December 26 and January 31 is recommended, with two to four additional in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas). Many folks wait until the last minute; you want to make it easy for procrastinators to follow through. You don’t want to blow this year-end opportunity!
  • Reinforce the messaging in your mailed appeal(s) and remind folks who’ve not already given to do so.
  • Drive folks to your website’s donation landing page.

TIP: First, think about who you’re going to email. You want to consider segmenting your list, just as you did with your snail mail list.  You may want to send a slightly different version of your appeal to former donors than to new prospects.  Or to donors at different levels.  Or to folks who are connected to you in other ways (e.g., volunteers, parents, patients, alumni, patrons, etc.).

TIP: Now, think about your influencers. Would your board be willing to “host” your email appeal and send it along to some of their contacts?  Or would they be willing to engage in a peer-to-peer campaign using templated pages you host on your website? This type of social fundraising can be extremely powerful, so give this some thought.  And give your volunteers a heads-up and some simple instructions that make it easy for them to share (see more on P2P fundraising below).

TIP: Each landing page should adhere to the K.I.S.S. philosophy. Keep it simple and to the point. If there were ever a case where less is more, this is that case. Don’t include multiple links and action items. You want them to do just one thing: DONATE!

TIP: Try to make a donation to your nonprofit by clicking your donate button from different devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, Android, iPhone; try different browsers too). What did you find? Are you happy?  Will your donor be happy?

TIP: If you use Google Analytics you can check to see how much of an issue folks accessing you via mobile might be for you by tracking how much of your donation page traffic is coming from phones [this video shows you how].

9. Incorporate Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Fundraising

Studies show peer-to-peer fundraising is on the rise, and well worth your serious consideration, ranging from 23% to fully one-third of all online fundraising (see here and here). There are four great reasons to add P2P to your year-end fundraising strategy:

  • It’s a powerful digital tool that makes reaching out for targeted campaigns within your year-end strategy relatively simple (e.g., #GivingTuesday, #holidayturkeys, #wintershelter).
  • It reaches new donor prospects, enabling you to reach a broader base of supporters by leveraging the power of your advocates’ online networks – whose combined mailing lists (email and social media) will be much larger than your organizational mailing list.
  • It assures the ask comes from the best asker, increasing the likelihood you’ll get a “yes.” Relationships matter. 85% of donors report they prefer to be asked by friends than strangers (Mason Academic Research System).
  • It’s a donor-centric strategy that empowers your supporters to do something for you other than simply writing a check, facilitating deeper donor engagement.

TIP: Today, it’s relatively easy to accomplish P2P with off-the-shelf software. You can set it up to operate year-round, with minimal disruption to your existing workload. Numerous companies who will build online, customizable P2P fundraising pages for you, and they’ll even integrate these pages with your social media accounts so folks can instantly spread the word about your campaign. Look at their customizable options, support services (including training, coaching and promotion), and reports. They vary in fees and costs. Some are free, some have plans with monthly charges and some get their fees from your donations (much like a credit card company). Fees range between 3% and 8% of the funds [Learn more here: How to Use Peer-to-Peer Fundraising to Grow Year-End Giving and How to Increase Your Fundraiser Proceeds with Peer-to-Peer Fundraising].

10. Share Your Campaign on Social Media

Your objectives with social media are to:

  • Reinforce the message in your appeal letter and e-appeal.
  • Send folks to your website home page and donation landing pages using links.
  • Spread the word to new prospects using advocates and influencers.
  • Predispose prospects to give by building your brand and sharing your impact.

TIP: Use the social channels your constituents frequent. For most charities, the big three are still Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You’ll want a written plan with assigned deadlines and responsibilities to assure you create maximum leverage by aligning your campaign mailings with your social blasts.

Boost response with follow-up calls and notes

11. Lapsed Donor Renewal Push

Your objectives with lapsed donors are to:

  • Remind them they gave before. People are more inclined to repeat past behaviors than begin new ones, so this reminder acts as a decision-making short cut (per Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence and Persuasion).
  • Thank them warmly for their past giving. Gratitude is always appreciated, and feels rewarding.  This will incline your donor to seek this reward again.
  • Tell them you miss them. Channel an attitude of gratitude. Think about what your donors make possible, and specifically why you’d miss their support if they don’t renew. Tell them!
  • Assume they’ll give again; tap into their best impulses.I know how busy you are, and this may have just got lost or buried. You’ve been so generous in the past, and this means more than you know. Would you take a moment now to send a contribution this year?

TIP: Even though you’ve messaged multiple times across multiple channels, some busy folks may manage to duck the question up until the last minute. Don’t give up! Lapsed donors should be a priority target.

12. Offer Stellar Year-End Donor Service

Your objectives are to:

  • Make giving to your nonprofit easy.
  • Make giving to your nonprofit pleasant.
  • Help donors make their gifts in time to get a year-end tax deduction.
  • Minimize donor frustration.

TIP: Have someone in the office who can answer donor inquiries during the last week of the year! If you’re not going to be fully staffed during the last week of the calendar year (say you’re a school, and everyone takes vacation), plan ahead for how you’ll handle donor inquiries around making donations. Options include having someone on call, having simple, clear directions on your website and including a recorded phone message that provides instructions and a contact person folks can reach.

13. Build Your Acknowledgment Plan

Your objectives in preparing your acknowledgement plan in advance of receipt of the gifts are to:

  • Assure all thank you’s get out promptly, ideally within 48 hours.
  • Assure thank you’s align with the messaging in your appeal, so donors are reassured their gift will be used as they intended.
  • Prepare different thank you templates for different donor segments.

Want to assure you get all these things done?

Download our free Year-End Fundraising To Do’s Checklist! You’ll find action items for each of the 13 areas covered in this article, with lots of practical help to assure you have your best fundraising season ever. To your success!

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.