The year-end giving season is your nonprofit’s final push to meet and exceed your financial objectives before the start of next year. This is a popular time for charitable giving because supporters are motivated by the holiday spirit and because it’s the last opportunity for donors in the U.S. to submit tax-deductible gifts.
50% of nonprofits receive the majority of donations from October through December, so it’s critical that you have a plan in place to maximize your fundraising efforts during this time.
In this guide, we’ll review the importance of year-end giving and the best strategies to use to plan a successful campaign. Here’s what to expect:
The sooner you can get started with your year-end campaign planning, the better. This gives your team time to prepare and align on strategy and timelines.
Year-end giving statistics roundup
It’s crucial to understand just how important year-end fundraising is for your organization. These statistics illustrate why you should prioritize year-end giving within your overall fundraising strategy:
- 1/3 of all annual giving happens in December, and around 11% of total donations arrive within the last three days of the year.
- Most nonprofits begin their year-end fundraising planning in November, but 7.7% start as early as September.
- Most nonprofits generate at least two “touches” with supporters during the year-end fundraising season using a variety of marketing platforms.
- Direct mail is the most popular year-end giving marketing method.
- 31% of offline-only first-time donors are retained for over a year, versus 25% of online-only first-time donors.
These statistics illuminate the importance of starting your year-end fundraising planning early and creating impactful written appeals to resonate with your supporters.
10 steps to plan a successful year-end giving campaign
You might not have experience creating a formal year-end giving strategy, or you may be looking to update your current strategy. Wherever you’re coming from, here are 10 steps to help you make the most of the year-end giving season and reach your goals.
1. Start planning early
Planning early allows you to minimize the negative effects of unexpected circumstances and gives your team members enough time to understand their roles and responsibilities.
As a rule of thumb, nonprofits should start preparing and building their year-end giving teams when students return to school for the fall semester, usually three to four months ahead of the campaign period. This ensures that your team doesn’t feel rushed and gives you enough time to prepare a well-rounded, engaging campaign.
2. Assess past year-end giving results
To move forward successfully, review your past year-end fundraising performance and determine your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement. This will help you strategize for your upcoming campaign and improve year-over-year results.
Assess your previous year-end campaign and ask yourself the following questions:
- Did we reach our campaign goal?
- Was the fundraising total more or less than what we expected?
- Who were our biggest contributors?
- Which marketing platforms received the most engagement?
- What was our average donation size?
- What were the demographics of our year-end donors?
- What aspects of the campaign can we improve this year?
Determine this year’s goals based on past efforts. For instance, set a fundraising goal that’s slightly higher than in previous years. And, develop a plan to tackle other aspects of your year-end fundraising campaign that didn’t reach their full potential.
If you find that your marketing efforts were misaligned with your audience, conduct more audience research to help understand your supporters better. Or, if you fell short of your fundraising goal last year, brainstorm strategies to improve your marketing and stewardship efforts to connect with current and new donors.
3. Craft a compelling case for support
A case for support tells donors why you need their help and what their donations will achieve. It forms the basis of your year-end giving letter.
Build your case for support around individual stories and compelling examples of how your nonprofit is making an impact. This helps put a face to your appeal and generate empathy for your cause.
Follow these steps to tell a complete story:
- Select a protagonist. This could be a long-time volunteer or someone impacted by your mission. Give your audience information that will help them identify with the individual featured in your story.
- Define the problem. Define the main issue you’re trying to solve with your year-end giving campaign. This could be related to your nonprofit’s overall mission or a specific issue you’re tackling with this year’s fundraising campaign.
- Wrap it up with a call to action. Describe how donors’ gifts will enable your nonprofit to help solve the proposed issue. Make the issue as tangible as possible. Show donors how their gift will impact your cause (i.e. meals served, houses built, or animals vaccinated) and how much is needed to reach your goal so they understand the value of supporting your mission.
Your case for support should be accompanied by strong branding (more on this in the next section) and effective design. Also, make sure to follow writing best practices by keeping your paragraphs short and using bolded text strategically to draw attention.
A strong story, partnered with uniform, professional design, leaves a positive impression on recipients. They will see your organization as more credible and trustworthy as a result.
4. Brand your year-end appeal
Your year-end giving campaign and marketing efforts should be held together by a unified brand. Ensure all of your marketing materials reflect your organization’s brand by incorporating your logo, fonts, colors, and tone of voice.
You might even create a unique brand for your year-end fundraising campaign, with a memorable theme and slogan. For instance, you might make your campaign holiday-themed or focus your efforts around Giving Tuesday.
In your brand messaging, emphasize that the campaign is a team effort, the donor and your nonprofit are in unison, and your nonprofit relies on the generosity of its supporters to make a real difference in your cause area.
Creating a memorable brand ensures that your year-end fundraising efforts as a whole are memorable and that they stand out in supporters’ social media feeds, email inboxes, and mailboxes.
5. Segment your donors and personalize messages
You can certainly send one year-end email appeal to your entire supporter base. This helps you save time and focus your efforts on other areas of your marketing campaign.
However, many organizations find greater success when they segment their donors. Segmentation involves grouping supporters based on shared characteristics. For instance, you might group supporters based on their engagement level, recency and frequency of giving, or preferred communication channel.
Segmenting your appeals and emails allows you to send the right message to the right audience. Instead of sending one mass email to everyone, you can create tailored year-end giving appeals for each of your major segments. This allows you to send more personalized messages to donors while still saving time and energy.
Ensure each of your messages is also personalized to the recipient by including their names in your email subject lines, addressing messages with donors’ names and titles, and referencing their past donations or other involvement with your organization.
6. Conduct A/B testing
A/B testing is the process of creating two different versions of your year-end appeal and assessing which version receives the most engagement or inspires the most action from recipients.
You can use A/B testing to assess any element of your year-end appeal, from your email subject lines to your body text, images, and calls to action.
As you conduct these tests, make sure to only change one element of your appeal at a time to understand which changes had the biggest impact. By the end of the process, you should be left with a strong fundraising appeal to send supporters in the crucial final weeks or days of the year-end giving process.
7. Create an outreach cadence
People tend to get busy at the end of the year. They might notice your outreach messages, but forget to give or put off giving until later. Also, your supporters, especially those who support multiple causes, will likely receive many year-end appeals from a variety of organizations. An effective communication cadence will help you stand out and maintain their attention.
Also, you’ll be able to ensure your nonprofit’s team members, including your staff members, board members, and other volunteers, understand their roles and when they need to complete certain outreach responsibilities.
Develop a communications calendar for October, November, and December for each segment of your donors with key dates for each touchpoint. Use these steps as a rough guide:
- Stagger your communication at least every two weeks until mid-December. Maintain a balance between your most effective communication mediums and don’t put too much emphasis on the platforms that don’t receive a lot of interaction. For instance, you might send most of your communications using email and Facebook, while posting only occasionally on your less-popular Twitter account.
- Send weekly communications during the last two weeks of the year. Most donors know they will make a year-end gift, but some may be still undecided about how much to contribute. Continue to share your case for support and make it easy for them to give at the last moment.
- Send daily digital communications during the last four days of the year. Most of the communication at this point will happen online via e-mails, social media, and your website. Consider sending the first of your final emails to everyone in your donor file who hasn’t yet given. For the next round, suppress the names of those who opened the previous last-chance email and resend the email again.
The key to an effective communication cadence is balance. You don’t want to send so many messages that supporters become overwhelmed, but you want to ensure you’re engaging with them to guarantee that everyone who wants to give has a chance to do so.
Supplement your email and direct mail appeals with social media posts and website updates. Share campaign updates, shorter versions of your case for support, and thank-you messages to those who have already donated.
8. Optimize your website for year-end giving
Make it as easy as possible for donors to find your donation page by incorporating a large donate button on your homepage and a variety of call-to-action buttons and links throughout your website pointing visitors to your giving opportunities.
Your online donation form itself should be easy to fill out to facilitate ongoing donations through your website. Design your form with the following strategies to make it user-friendly and convenient:
- Only ask for necessary information, such as donors’ names and payment information.
- Ensure the form is mobile-friendly by reviewing and editing it in the mobile view.
- Embed a matching gift tool so donors can research their matching gift eligibility right from your form, potentially doubling their donation.
- Offer suggested giving amounts to give donors an idea of what types of donations you’re looking for and help them decide on their donation amount.
- Offer donors the option to turn their one-time gift into a recurring monthly donation. Highlight any benefits of your monthly donation program, such as merchandise discounts or VIP access to events.
When your website and online donation form are optimized to support your year-end giving campaign, you can incorporate website links into your other outreach channels, such as your social media posts and emails. Also, you can offer a valuable resource for both existing and new supporters to get to know your organization on a deeper level and understand the full impact of their donations. They can view your online donation page to get all the information they need to make a decision about whether and how much to give.
9. Show gratitude
Expressing appreciation for year-end giving donors helps you turn these supporters into ongoing proponents of your organization. A strong appreciation strategy starts building the groundwork for building stronger relationships with these individuals, giving your nonprofit access to year-round support.
Follow these steps to build an effective appreciation strategy:
- Ensure your online donation thank-you page or automated donation confirmation includes a thank-you message and provides opportunities for donors to share their donations on social media.
- Send a longer follow-up thank-you message within 48 hours of each donor’s gift. Reiterate how their contributions will help you achieve the goals you highlighted in your initial appeal, whether that’s collecting funds to support your ongoing programs or supporting a specific project.
- Personalize your thank-you messages by addressing them with donors’ names and referencing their specific donation amount.
- Follow up again when your campaign concludes by sharing your year-end giving results and inviting donors to engage with your organization in other ways. For example, you might invite them to an educational event or volunteer opportunity.
Consider hosting an event to wrap up the year-end giving season and thank supporters in person. Events are a great way to reinforce a sense of community within your organization. Year-end giving events can be anything from a gala, grand raffle, auction, seasonal concert, or a play. You can also livestream your event to create a hybrid experience, connecting with both in-person and virtual attendees.
10. Analyze your success
After the year-end giving season ends, assess relevant metrics to determine how well your strategy played out. This lets you know what you should improve or maintain for next year.
Round up metrics such as your:
- Fundraising total. Did you reach your goal? Assess whether you exceeded or fell short of your expectations and the possible reasons why.
- Average and median donation sizes. What types of donations were most popular during your giving campaign? These metrics can help you determine which level of donors (smaller, mid-sized, or larger) were most engaged and your suggested giving amounts for next year’s campaign.
- Direct mail response rate. How many donations came through the mail? Your direct mail response rate will help you determine whether you need to adjust your mailing strategy for next year and conduct more A/B testing.
- Online donation total. How many donors used your online donation form, and what was the total donation amount from this platform?
- The number of new donors. How many new donors did you connect with during your campaign? This lets you know the effectiveness of your new donor outreach and marketing strategies.
- The number of repeat donors. How many donors who gave to your most recent year-end fundraising campaign also gave the previous year? This metric will illustrate how effective your donor stewardship strategies are.
Compare these numbers to metrics from previous years to identify trends. This information will let you know the areas you should focus on improving for next year’s campaign.
The year-end giving season isn’t just a time to reach out to supporters and gather last-minute donations. It’s also a time to reflect on the progress made throughout the entire year and celebrate your organization’s achievements.
By planning early, creating a strong case for support, and personalizing your donor outreach efforts, you can reach your year-end giving goals and lay the foundation for better supporter relationships next year.
Looking for more information on nonprofit strategic planning and how to improve your fundraising campaigns? Start with these additional resources:
- Nonprofit Strategic Planning: The Ultimate Guide + Examples. Your year-end giving strategy is one component of your overall nonprofit strategic plan. Use this guide to approach strategic planning more effectively.
- Top Fundraising Software Solutions for Nonprofits. You’ll need the support of powerful software solutions, such as a donor management system and an online giving platform, to make your year-end fundraising successful. This guide reviews the top solutions on the market.
- Donor Stewardship: Expert Tips To Build Strong Relationships. Effective donor stewardship is required for every fundraising campaign, including your year-end giving campaign. Use the tips in this guide to improve your stewardship approach.