Ultimate Guide to Last Minute Year-End Fundraising Strategies

year-end fundraising strategies

The end of the calendar year is make or break time for most nonprofits.

  • Nearly 30% of nonprofits raise 26-50% of their annual fundraising in November and December – when folks are feeling their most grateful and generous.
  • 30% of annual giving occurs in December. 
  • 30% of all online giving happens in the month of December.
  • 10% of all giving happens in the last three days of December! 

Needless to say, you really don’t want to miss out on this most giving time of year!

Even if your mailing is at the printers and ready to roll, or even if you’ve already sent it out, there are still a lot of things you can do to boost your year-end results.

If you just pick one or two of these things, I can almost guarantee you’ll bring in both more donors and more dollars.

Ready to take a look?

7 Last Minute Indispensable Year-End Fundraising Strategies + 16 Specific Action Tips

1. Prioritize Contacts with Your Most Loyal, Promising Supporters

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. You don’t want to lose your current donors. Especially those who are most loyal.

  • Major donors.
  • Monthly donors.
  • Donors who give multiple times over the course of the year.
  • Donors 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).
  • Donors who also volunteer.

Even folks not on your active 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 pay adequate attention to them during the time of year they’re most likely to give!

ACTION TIP 1: Create a list of LYBNTs (gave last year but not this) and sort 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.

ACTION TIP 2: 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.

ACTION TIP 3: 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.

ACTION TIP 4: Don’t overlook volunteers. Volunteers are twice as likely as non-volunteers to donate. If your volunteers aren’t making monetary gifts, it may be because you’re simply not asking them well. Consider making them a separate campaign segment, and sending them a tailored appeal that recognizes their already generous contribution to your cause.

2. Plan Ahead to Call Your Most Important Lapsed Donors

Even if you’ve already sent out your mailing, it’s not too late to assure your current donors don’t lapse. Don’t sit by the phone or mailbox waiting to hear from your current supporters. Let them know how much they mean to you, and make it easy for them to give. Sometimes it’s a good idea to be the squeaky wheel. I often find lapsed donors don’t realize they’ve not yet given; it just slipped through the cracks. Your call reminds them, and it’s super easy for them when you offer to take their credit card info right over the phone.

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 upgrade their giving.

ACTION TIP 5: Put together a little script for callers to use. Try something like this: “Hi, this is Claire calling from XYZ charity. Do you have just a minute?

If YES, then…Great! I promise I won’t take much time. I’m just calling to let you know how much your past support means to those who rely on us for help. Here’s a super quick story of someone helped just last week… There’s no way this would’ve been possible without your caring. Thank you again! Also, I see you’ve not yet made your gift for this year. Would you like to make it now?” [You can offer two opportunities: (1) Take a credit card over the phone, (2) Ask if you can take a pledge commitment now; remind them to try to postmark their gift before December 31st if they intend to itemize their donations. Then follow up with a thank you in the mail.].

If NO, then…  “Okay. I just really wanted to say a big thank you for your past support, and share a little story of someone you helped. I’ll send that to you in the mail. I know it’s super busy this time of year, so I wanted to remind you we’ve not yet heard from you this year. If you want I can take your credit card info now, or you can simply go online. Again, I can send you info in the mail if that’s most convenient.”

ACTION TIP 6: Recruit a team of callers most likely to make the calls, and hold their feet to the fire. Do not farm out calls to volunteers who are unsupervised. The folks you’re calling are too important to leave anything to chance. Manage this effort! It’s fine to make these calls yourself and ask other staff to join you. If you’re a school, ask students to help; donor’s love having this connection. If you don’t have students or enough staff bandwidth, recruit board members, development committee members and/or other volunteers to help.

3. 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.

ACTION TIP 7: Tell your donor 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?”

4. 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. You prefer to exceed last year’s results, right? If you don’t focus in on what’s working/what’s not, you’re likely to simply repeat them. 

ACTION TIP 8: 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 under $100; (3) ongoing mid-level donors (e.g., $100 – $999); (4) ongoing $1,000+ donors who are not in your major donor cultivation pipeline; (5) lapsed donors who gave the previous year, and (6) lapsed donors who gave some year, but not last or this. 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.

5. Prepare a Year-End Email Series

Don’t neglect this or make it an afterthought you delegate to marketing staff. This is a super important fundraising strategy that will not only bring in gifts on its own, but 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 the average online donation amount is $128? These gifts can really add up!

ACTION TIP 9: Send a year-end blitz of at least three e-appeals between December 26th and 31st. Again, 10% of gifts arrive in the last 72 hours of the year. It’s best to plan at least five email touches in December (one or two can be in your e-news or blog posts).

ACTION TIP 10: Take advantage of best email practices. You can always do an internet search to find out what’s trending at any point in time. Here are some guidelines:

6. Clean Up Your Database

There’s no sense spending money to mail duplicates and/or deceased and wrong addresses. In fact, doing so will actually depress response because it ticks folks off. If you send me three mailed appeals I’m likely to get irritated that you haven’t de-duped your database and are wasting limited resources. And if you send an appeal to my deceased spouse, after I’ve told you he’s no longer alive, I’ll just feel sad. And that won’t incline me to want to renew my support.

ACTION TIP 11: If you still have a mailing going out before the end of the year, de-dupe your addresses before you generate labels or send contact information to a mail house.

ACTION TIP 12: Make sure you run a query that will omit deceased donors. I mention this, because this is something too easy to overlook.

ACTION TIP 13: 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.

ACTION TIP 14: Make sure you do an annual address correction request using a process like NCOA. 17% of the U.S. population moves every year! [Note: you can do this through Bloomerang.]

7. Go BIG

To maximize your chances donors will notice and act on your appeal requires thinking outside the mailbox. People today are more (or less) responsive depending on the way you connect with them.

Humor me with a little “get all your ducks in a row” analogy. 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 or a message on your Facebook page.

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 appeal stays top of mind for prospective donors.

ACTION TIP 15: 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.

ACTION TIP 16: 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.

Summary

The end of the calendar year only comes around once a year.

It’s a not-to-be-missed golden opportunity.

If you don’t maximize your chances to reach your most likely donors during this most generous giving season you’re going to be kicking yourself the rest of the year.

  1. Prioritize strategies based on potential for highest yield. Just because you can’t do something with everyone due to limited resources doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something with someone. And your best prospects are loyal current supporters and major to mid-level recently lapsed supporters.
  2. Make the telephone your friend. It’s direct and personal.
  3. Segment out your best lapsed donors. They deserve a personal appeal.
  4. Segment all your mailings by areas where improvement is needed. Set goals based on past performance. You’ll get a better response when you target your mailings with messaging tailored to different sub-groups of donors.
  5. Plan as carefully for email as for direct mail. A lot of your donors will respond to an online appeal, so this is a trick you don’t want to miss. And, like any other strategy, if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well.
  6. Get your mailing list ready. It’s fruitless to mail to folks who will never receive your message.
  7. Build a multi-channel strategy so you’re not dependent on any single means of communication. All donors are different. You need to reach them where they’re most likely to see you. And, especially during this busy time of year, you need to message them multiple times.

Use the year-end momentum to get in on more of that holiday spirit!

Select one or two of these strategies, kick it up a notch and get your full piece of the fundraising pie this year!

Want 12 additional, completely different year-end tips?

Honestly, there’s a LOT you can do to super-charge your year-end fundraising strategy. Some things are pretty easy tweaks. Other things require a bit more planning. And what’s easy for you may be hard for someone else. So pick what’s in your wheelhouse and… DO IT!

Then, stock up on some bubbly and get ready to celebrate. You’ll be amply rewarded when January rolls around.

annual fundraising appeal

Claire Axelrad
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
By | 2018-12-04T14:44:33+00:00 December 6th, 2018|Fundraising, Year-End Fundraising|

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