fiscal year-end

For many of you, this is your fiscal year-end. That means you need to make sure you don’t lose any of those donors you took such pains to acquire last year. It also means tying up loose ends to assure you don’t leave money on the table. For those of you on a different fiscal year, skip down to “Cleaning up your Prospect Database” and save this checklist for whenever the time is right for you.

8 Fiscal Year-End Donor Retention Action Strategies + Practical Tips

There’s nothing more important to your bottom line and long-term sustainability than donor retention. And this is the time of year you risk having donors fall off a cliff. Don’t let them! It’s your job to remind folks who’ve not yet renewed or fulfilled on their pledges that it’s time to do so. Don’t count on them remembering. Most donors are well-intentioned; they’re just busy. They can’t be expected to keep track of their giving status–especially if you’re on a fiscal year and they think in calendar years. 

1. Create a list of LYBNTs (gave Last Year But Not This). 

You can also create lists of SYBNTs (gave some year but not this), pledge reminders, and downgrades. Sort them according to dollar range so you can prioritize contacts with the largest donations. You’re going to want to remind these folks of their generous past support or outstanding commitment (thank them!) and let them know they’ve still got time to renew (or fulfill) and make a difference this year. This is important for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that many CRMs and donor databases are set up to treat “lapsed donors” differently than current ones. You don’t want to inadvertently drop someone off your donor stewardship list when they may not even realized they’ve “lapsed” and fully consider themselves to be a loyal supporter.

2. Call your most important lapsed donors. 

Who you call and how many donors you call will depend upon your own resources and the makeup of your donor base.

  • Begin with those who’ve given the most, as well as those you believe have the greatest potential to renew based on their affiliation with you (e.g., loyal donor for a period of years; current board or committee member; active direct service volunteer; enthusiastic user of services).
  • I like to call first-time donors who made an above-average first-time gift. Why? Research shows only 19% of new donors give again, but if you can get them to make a second gift they’ll renew at a rate of 61% — that’s triple!
  • 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. You don’t want to lose these folks, so find out why they may not have yet renewed.

TIP: Strapped for resources and folks to make calls? You can organize this as a live or virtual phonathon and enlist your board and other volunteers to help. Take a look at how much money you might otherwise leave on the table, and you’ll see the merit of such a strategy.

One fun way to organize this in this transitional year (with not everyone ready to join others inside) is via a Zoom call with volunteers. Begin with an ice breaker to make it fun. Then orient callers around the evening’s purpose, review a suggested script you’ve shared in advance, and answer any questions. Make sure you equip people to take down credit cards so you making giving easy and immediate for donors.

Ideally, mail callers stationery in advance (or send them copy they can print on their own stationery) so they can follow up with a thank you note or a letter with a remit envelope, as appropriate. Personal handwriting packs a punch! If this isn’t practical for you, you can also suggest language callers can use in an email–especially if this is your donor’s preferred method of communication.

Do a live role play to help people feel more comfortable and take commentary and questions afterwards. Then adjourn for an hour and ask folks to make calls during that period. At the end, have everyone rejoin Zoom to debrief. Take the time to close with a heartwarming letter from someone you helped, an inspirational quote or bit of poetry, or anything else you think will leave people feeling inspired.

No bandwidth this year to organize this mini-event? Please put it on your calendar for next year as a ‘must do.’ It’s so much more cost-effective to renew an existing donor than to acquire a new one. And, in my experience, a majority of lapsed donors will renew if reminded. This year has been a particularly disorienting one, so the reminders will likely yield even more fruit than usual. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more important for you to do right now.

3. Send a “we miss you” letter to lapsed donors you can’t call. 

You should 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). Stay upbeat and positive, praise your donor for their past generosity and support of your mission, and generally take on the point of view they’ll want to give again if they are able.

TIP: Begin by telling the donor you know they intend to give because you know how much they care. Assume in your tone and language your donor simply has forgotten or has 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 Executive Director added personal handwritten notes to these appeals, and they yielded significant high returns.

4. Send an email targeting lapsed donors. 

An exclusively online campaign can be executed much faster than a traditional direct mail campaign. Since this is not the end of the tax year, don’t try any “last chance to give” subject lines. This might be considered donor-centric in December, when donors are thinking about personal tax deductions, but in June that messaging is really all about you and your timeline. Not good. Your job is to think about how you can make your message about the donor.

TIP: For those who’ve given in the past, how about a simple “Did you forget you made this possible?” Grassroots fundraising guru Kim Klein suggests “Is it all over between us?” This has the subtle psychological benefit of reminding them they already did something. And people are more inclined to keep doing what they’ve already done or already committed to do. In fact, this is one of Robert Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion: consistency and commitment. Also, you should create a branded donation page that reflects the same message featured in your appeal. This reassures donors they’ve landed in the right place.

5. Call donors who’ve not yet paid their pledges. 

Don’t worry about appearing pushy. Usually I find folks have simply forgotten and truly appreciate the reminder.

6. Review the status of all of your major donor asks. 

If you pulled folks from the “normal” cycle of appeals because they were “special” enough to warrant a personalized approach, make sure you haven’t neglected to ask them at all! These all-important donors can often slip through the cracks. Confer with every solicitor who was given prospect assignments to confirm that solicitations were made. If not, give these donors a phone call pronto.

NOTE: Even if you run on a different fiscal year, the summer is still a great time to take stock of where you are with the folks in your major donor portfolio. How close are they to being ready for an ask? What types of “movesdo you need to make to get them there?

7. Send year-end reports reminding 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 really helped you out a lot during the year. I don’t mean anything expensive (that could backfire). I mean tokens of appreciation that just say “I’m thinking about you.”

TIP: One terrific idea from my colleague Pamela Grow over on SOFII is: 

“Dear Dave Donor,

Are you wondering why I’ve enclosed a packet of gum with this letter? Well, I just wanted to say thanks and I was thinking how ‘sweet’ you were to give a gift earlier this year and giving you something sweet seemed appropriate. Enjoy! 

I’ve actually done something similar, sending just a stick of sugar-free gum or some gold stickers with a note saying “Thanks for sticking with us.”

It’s so light it doesn’t even increase the mailer’s cost, it makes the interaction with your donor fun, and it isn’t a ‘give me money’ communication. As a result, your donor will likely see you in a more favorable light when it comes time for your next solicitation.

8. Take the opportunity to build stronger bonds with monthly donors. 

If it’s been awhile since your monthly donors got a real thank you, consider a ‘thankathon’ this month and recruit board members, development committee members, and/or other volunteers to help. If you’re a school, ask students to help.

TIP: I recommend making this a pure thank you call, especially if you haven’t been in touch for a while. You can learn how to make this call by grabbing my free Thank You Calls E-Book + Script.

Don’t ask for an upgrade at this point. However, know this is an excellent way to set the stage for an upgrade ask within the next month or so. When you give people something–even something as simple as a warm, heartfelt thank you–they feel inclined to reciprocate the favor. It’s another one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion that works like gangbusters! People say “yes” to those they owe. And, no, it’s not sleazy or manipulative–unless you find it unscrupulous to bring people joy. Being thanked, and giving both make people happy.

1 Fiscal Year-End Donor Acquisition Tip

Most nonprofits have a “house list” of affiliated people who’ve not yet become donors. These prospects should not be considered “cold calls.” They’ve done something with you, so they’re no stranger. This means you’ve got a real chance to convert them to a donor. Don’t give away your shot! 

For these folks who you know already like your mission, you should get creative. Maybe they’re volunteers, clients, parents, alumni, event attendees, or otherwise connected to you in some way. They haven’t responded to any of your fundraising appeals thus far, so try a different approach.

TIP: Maybe try a challenge email matching for a specific project. Per Kindful, donors tend to give as much as 50% more when responding to a challenge. Make the e-appeal simple and to the point. It’s best if it’s timely and resonates with what folks on your list are likely thinking about now.

Do these things:

  1. Ask a current donor or group of donors if they’ll front a challenge grant up to a certain amount. Donors love to leverage their giving, and the opportunity to double the amount of good they can accomplish can be persuasive.
  2. Consider what’s in the news and how what you do may relate to issues that are top of mind for folks. 
  3. Ask for a specific amount, be clear why you’re asking for this amount, and make it an attainable goal. 
  4. Make it super easy for folks to click on a link in your email, text, or social media post and give. 
  5. Make sure your website donation landing page is simple and optimized for mobile, since this is the way a majority of folks today open emails. Less is more on your donation form–don’t ask for any information you don’t absolutely need; you can ask on the thank you landing page or in a follow-up thank you email or letter.

BONUS Fiscal Year-End Clean Up Tips

1. Get rid of the dead weight in your database. 

Begin to plan to clean up your database so you’re ready for calendar year-end fundraising. 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.

2. Run a NCOA to correct for bad addresses.  

17% of the adult U.S. population moves each year. Not only will NCOA find movers for you, it will also fix addresses such as adding St, Ave, Rd, etc. if missing from your address or change it if incorrect. It also adds or changes the directional (N, E, S, W, NE, etc.) if necessary, corrects misspellings, adds the +4 to ZIP codes, and formats the address according to USPS standards. Many databases have this built in to the software, and they’ll also have a tool to suppress names of deceased. Check with your software provider.

3. Identify potential foundation and business funders. 

Mostly the tips above apply to individual donors. This makes sense, since this is where 80% of donor dollars come from per Giving USA. Alas, too often institutional donor research gets put on the back burner. That’s a mistake because you may be missing out on some potentially significant grants. New fiscal years are about to begin for many of them as well. So get those lists in order so you can get your proposals delivered in a timely manner in the coming year!

Since securing this type of funding is often a matter of who you know, don’t forget to run your list by your board, committees, select major donors, loyal volunteers, and staff to see if anyone has connections with any of these prospects.

TIP: Make it as easy as possible for leaders to review your business and foundation prospect lists. Ask specific questions: (1) Who do they know who works there? (2) Who serves as a trustee (at any of these prospects or elsewhere)? (3) How might they be able to help? (4) Do any of the suggestions on the list you prepared inspire them to provide additional suggestions (e.g., another prospective funder in the same industry)?

Whether it’s your fiscal year-end, time to get a head start on planning for calendar year-end, or both, these tips will help assure you don’t leave money on the table–this year or next!

annual fundraising appeal

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.
Claire Axelrad