end of year fundraising

When donors make a year-end philanthropic gift they feel joyful. 

Seriously, MRI-based research has found when people give, or even contemplate giving, to others their brains light up. In a super good way. They receive a ‘feel good’ shot of dopamine that goes straight to the brain’s pleasure center – the very same thing that happens when people eat chocolate or enjoy sex. It’s called the ‘warm glow’ effect, and it’s powerful. 

Sadly, this glow doesn’t last long.

If you want donors to continue feeling joyful about their affiliation with your organization beyond end of year fundraising, you must do something proactive to continue to engage them. 

In Part 1 of this two-part article, “Beyond End of Year Fundraising: Give to Donors NOW,” I introduced the concept of giving in order to receive. It’s something many of us learned as children, perhaps in Sunday school. Or maybe from our parents or teachers. It’s a concept at the foundation of many of the world’s religions. Yet, somehow, we tend to forget this concept when we cross our office threshold. Yet it’s just good old-fashioned common sense. 

If you want people to continue feeling joyful about you, you should give something to them.

And not just once, but repeatedly. 

What could be more joyful than repeating that shot of dopamine?

Don’t just ask for gifts once a year!

Remember the Two Key Donor-Centered Giving Strategies:

  1. Cultivation: Donor-centered content marketing (Part 1).
  2. Solicitation: Year-round, multi-channel fundraising (Part 2).

Don’t deny donors the opportunity to experience the joy of giving. 

Fundraising is actually a demonstrated, concrete way to give to your supporters.

Did you know the father of modern fundraising, and one of my mentors, Hank Rosso said: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.

I absolutely love that sentiment.

If you ask in a way that puts your donor front and center, you never need to worry. As long as you’re presenting donors with opportunities to add meaning and purpose to their lives, you’re good to go. Donors can always say ‘no.’ It’s not your job to say ‘no’ on their behalf. 

Building a donor-centered, strategic year-round multi-channel fundraising plan takes some effort. Now is a wonderful time to plan ahead for the year to come.

Giving via Year-Round, Multi-Channel Fundraising

The easiest thing you can do is plan to send email appeals throughout the year!

Most nonprofits simply don’t ask enough. And just as you may have heard “Give and it shall be given unto you,” you’ve no doubt also heard “Ask and ye shall receive.” They’re both ways of opening the door.

Asking is the best way to open the door to joyful donor participation with your nonprofit.

Data backs up the fact that fewer donors today are giving solely in December. Since 2012, the percentage of online giving — and overall giving — that happens in December has decreased. In 2018, only 17% of overall giving happened in December. A new low of 17.3% of online giving took place in December. Smart nonprofits have started to shift away from the crowded inbox that is end-of-December giving campaigns.

And research shows current donors are your best prospects for additional gifts throughout the course of the year.

Be aware recency is a prime indicator of likelihood to give again. You don’t want to miss out on the magic window (within first 3 months) before asking folks to consider a second gift. So if someone gives in January or February, don’t wait until November/December to ask again!

Don’t Procrastinate; this is Important!

Think about what will make it compelling – and emotionally fulfilling – for donors to engage and invest with you all year long. 

Now is the time to develop your donor cultivation and solicitation strategy for the rest of the year. This means looking at all of your donors – segment by segment – and considering how they may be moved to give again. Or perhaps persuaded to give even more.

1. Consider how many of your donors may be giving ‘head’ gifts at year-end

Gifts from the head are generally spontaneous or habitual. Not a lot of emotion or thought goes into them. Consequently, they tend not to be the most passionate gifts these donors can make. They’re more transactional. Folks who make ‘head gifts’ tend to manifest as:

  • First-time donors
  • Renewing donors who downgrade
  • Renewing donors who stay at same level
  • Occasional donors
  • Donors who made a token gift in honor of a friend
  • Donors who attended an event (on someone else’s dime)

Might there be some solicitation strategies you could cook up to inspire these donors to give more from the heart?

TIP: Consider inviting one-time, smaller donors to enroll in a monthly giving club.  

Tie what they’ll accomplish each month to the request for more frequent, consistent, reliable giving. For example, when I worked at the San Francisco Food Bank we had a “Meal a Month Club.” Donors responded emotionally to the idea they’d be providing someone with a meal every month throughout the year. As a result, many donors ended up increasing their total annual giving. And they felt greater joy as well.

2. Review past engagement with your content.

Try to figure out what particular donors, or segments of donors, care most about. Look at things like opens, click-throughs, donations, sign-ups, shares and other actions demonstrating areas of high interest. 

Also consider whether the problem is the message or the medium. If you’re asking via the wrong channel, it’s a bit like not asking at all. Consider all your donors’ preferences – what they most like to hear and where they most like to hear it – and adjust accordingly.

Might there be some solicitation strategies that significantly outperform others? 

TIP: Prioritize your best strategies; drop your least effective strategies to make room for new ones. 

This seems obvious, but shouldn’t go without saying. Too often folks continue trying to do everything – for no other reason than it’s what they’ve always done. For example, is your fundraising event really yielding enough of a positive return on investment to merit all the resources you put into it? Or would it make sense to do more of other higher yielding strategies? The goal is to look for your highest and lowest performing strategies. Do more of what works best; less of what doesn’t.

3. Brainstorm new ideas for how you might move ‘head’ donors to ‘heart’ donors by getting them to identify with you and your cause. 

Heart gifts are passionate, demonstrating the donor is committed, loyal and self-identified as a member of your community. Rather than being simply transactional (like a one-time, year-end gift), these donations are transformational. They help the donor feel heroic – so they like themselves when they look in the mirror.

One way to help donors like themselves more – and simultaneously tie this new-found love to your organization’s good work – is to get folks to incorporate being a supporter on behalf of your cause as part of their personal identity

When asked what they do when they’re not working, you want donors to tell their family, friends and colleagues:

  • I am a Greenpeace supporter.
  • I am invested with [your name] in the fight against cancer.
  • I am an ACLU donor.
  • I rescue dogs with [your name].
  • I work with [your name] to save the environment.
  • I work with [your name] to help the homeless.
  • I stand up with [your name] for equal pay.

Might there be some strategies you can incorporate into your fundraising to inspire donors to identify with your cause and like themselves a bit more? 

TIP: One of the best ways to get folks to self-identify is to incorporate feedback strategies in your communications. 

One easy technique I’ve used with multiple charities is to simply include a box on the remit device where donors can add one word that comes to mind when they think of the organization. Typically they’ll write words like “caring,” “helping,” “compassionate,” “necessary,” “cutting edge,” and “vital.” These words are important, and help the donor to feel important as well. You can also ask folks to complete cards you promise to distribute to beneficiaries of your work (this works especially well for holidays). Both of these techniques are ways to get your donors expressing themselves in the context of what your organization does and stands for.

Summary: December, January and Beyond

As you build your end of year fundraising e-appeal strategy, simultaneously build your supportive year-round stewardship, cultivation and integrated appeal strategy.

Don’t hold out on your constituents who need your help and attention all year round. If you want loyal supporters, be a loyal communicator.

1. Get your worthwhile content together, put it into your content calendar, and share it across multiple channels! 

The way you build a lifelong donor relationship in the digital age is different. People expect you to be online as well as offline. They expect you to know what they care about. They want to be communicated with in the channels they favor. And they want engaging with you to be convenient and useful.

Ask not so much what your donors can do for you, but what you can do for your donors! I recommend sharing 4 to 7 non-fundraising communications for every fundraising one. And make sure you integrate your marketing across channels. We’re too far into the 21st century for you to ignore social media when planning your comprehensive development strategy.

2. Offer your supporters multiple opportunities to feel like heroes.

Think of yourself as a ‘philanthropy facilitator’ and not a beggar. Just because you make an ‘ask’ does not mean you’re asking for something for nothing.

Don’t ever forget that when donors even contemplate making a charitable gift they get a ‘warm glow.’ The value of giving for donors is not so much what you do, or the values your organization enacts. Rather, it’s the value of identifying themselves as worthwhile, ‘good people.’

Give donors the opportunity to solidify their identification with you, and feel good, more often!

It’s never too early to plan ahead! Download our Lucky Year-End Fundraising Tips to help you get started developing and implementing a plan all year round.

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.