Year-end fundraising is a big 'ol project for most nonprofits. Between Giving Tuesday, end of December asks, and more, fundraisers have their work cut out for them. Of course, creating a game plan for year-end fundraising is absolutely important. You (and your team) need to know what you’re going to do to reach your fundraising goals.
These kinds of plans focus heavily on activities that you’ll execute at the end of November and throughout December. But here’s the thing we don’t talk about enough: your year-end fundraising success isn’t just about what you do in December.
Fundraising is a lot like making an apple pie. Sure, it can seem like the process starts with your trip to the grocery store to gather all the ingredients. But the reality is, there’s no apple pie without first growing the apples. It’s that whole precursory step, which is rarely seen by the layperson, that makes those delicious treats possible.
Year-end fundraising is like this, too. It can seem like our success depends on what we do in the last five to six weeks of the year. But really, our success is the result of what we do year-round leading up to our biggest fundraising campaign of the year.
If you're a nonprofit who waits to the last minute to focus on year-end fundraising (no shame here!), we've got some tips and strategies to lay the solid groundwork for your best year-end campaign yet. These are things you can do to strengthen relationships, optimize your data, and generally get your fundraising house in order. Let’s get to it!
Repeat after us—communicate
If you ask most fundraisers whether they under-communicate or over-communicate with donors, most will tell you they over-communicate. But we want to challenge you on that. Sending out one email every four months is not the best way to build relationships or build the habit of opening and interacting with your nonprofit’s emails. Same with print publications. Because you’re knee-deep in this work, you’re hyper attuned to what’s getting sent. Donors, however, aren’t paying that much attention.
During the Fall months, it can make sense to communicate a little more often with donors to lay the groundwork for year-end asks. The common theme of all these communications should be donor impact.
Send an impact update. Share an inspiring story. Film a 30-second video update about a program. Share a photo album from an event or summer program on Facebook that you can send to donors. Find little opportunities to share meaningful content with donors that keep them connected to your nonprofit.
Fall is a season of gratitude. Hello, Thanksgiving! Everyone is feeling grateful and celebrating what they are grateful for. This is the perfect time to remind donors that you’re extra grateful for them before you ask them for more money. Stewardship is a key part of the fundraising cycle. We want to make sure donors have had a memorable and enjoyable giving experience. Even if they were immediately thanked after their last gift a few months ago, an out-of-the-blue seasonal thank you can give them the warm fuzzies all over again.
In mid-November, you could round up some volunteers and board members for a few hours to make thank you phone calls to donors. Write up a sample script, give them a call sheet and a phone, and they’ll be good to go! If you have some VIP donors, you could send them a handwritten note or plan some gratitude visits.
Need some stewardship inspo? The Donor Relations Guru has a whole vault of amazing examples here.
Give a little extra love to first-time donors
Your organization is most likely to see an influx in first-time donors during December. In fact, you may have had a bunch of first-time donors come in through last year’s year-end campaign. It’s time to pull out your database to see how many of those donors have made their second gift since last December. If you find you have a number of first-time donors who have not yet made their second gift, strategize about what you can do to encourage a second gift this December.
Need a few ideas of what you can do? Try one of these:
- Encourage donors to speak up. Send a short survey or give them a call to find out what they would like from their relationship with your nonprofit. Use this information to inform your cultivation and stewardship strategy.
- Host a stewardship event that’s aimed at your first-time donor segment. You don’t have to say it’s for first-time donors, but that can be the event’s target audience. This could be something as simple as a group tour of your facilities and a special conversation with someone who's a beneficiary of your nonprofit's work.
- Examine first-time donor behavior. If you’ve used digital channels like email, gathering this data can be a little easier. Look at each donors’ record to see what kinds of emails they have opened and clicked on. What seems to be interesting to them? If they haven’t opened anything, what else could you send them to re-engage them?
In addition to coming up with a game plan to keep more of last year’s first-time donors, have a plan to keep this year’s first-time donors.
One of the best things your nonprofit can do is make sure their first giving experience is a great one. Here’s a quick checklist to review your current giving experience:
- Ensure that the online donation process is straightforward and easy to navigate.
- Review the post-gift communications donors receive such as an auto-generated tax receipt and thank you letter.
- Review what happens in the one to two weeks after a first gift is made. How are donors welcomed into the community?
It’s no surprise, fundraiser, that what we’ve suggested here is all about strengthening relationships. Fundraising is relationships. We know that by doing all you can to build momentum in those relationships, you’ll be well poised to make strong year-end asks to your donors.