SOS! How to Troubleshoot Your Nonprofit's Year-End Fundraising Campaign

December 5, 2020
5 minutes

Most fundraisers have been there.

  • A direct mail appeal drops. An online campaign goes live. Social posts go out.
  • You wait (impatiently) for donations to start coming in. It’s slow to start.
  • You stay optimistic that it will pick up. But eventually, your optimism wanes and you start to wonder if you're going to be able to meet your goal.

This is a tough place. For some, it’s anxiety-inducing.

The good news about year-end fundraising is that you usually have a full month, 30 days, to fundraise, which is enough time to troubleshoot your year-end fundraising campaign. Doesn't sound like a lot, and it sure won't feel like a lot, but it's more than enough.

Here's your game plan to figure out when you need to start troubleshooting and what you can do to turn your campaign around.  

Defining The Point When You Need to Start Troubleshooting

One of the first things to consider is the point at which you need to be thinking about troubleshooting your year-end campaign. You’re looking for that point between “Should I be worried?” and “OMG?!?! WHAT IS HAPPENING????” That’s a big range, so let’s associate some campaign benchmarks with numbers so you know when to deploy your troubleshooting backup plan.

If you have historical year-end campaign data (hint, check your CRM!), pulling reports is a good place to start. Here are a few milestones to look at in December:

  • Amount of money and number of donations received by the end of Giving Tuesday
  • Amount of money and number of donations received by December 15
  • Amount of money and number of donations received by December 25
  • Amount of money and number of donations received by December 31

Looking at these numbers from the previous year (and years before that) will give you a sense of the overall response rate as December progressed in years past. The important thing here is to compare your current campaign response rate against past years'. Have you sent out a similar volume of asks? Are you on track with the percentage raised of your total goal?

If you’re a real numbers nerd, you might be running these numbers daily in December.

Here’s an important point to remember ...maybe it'll make you feel prepared, empowered, and not freaked-out: Even if you realize on December 26 that you’re not on track to meet your goal, 10% of all annual giving happens during the last 3 days of December. It might feel like a crunch, but there is still time to raise that money! Let’s talk about what you can do to turn things around.

Identify Your Non-responders

Fundraising success is all in the follow-up. If you want to maximize fundraising from your existing donors (or even non-donors), you need to know who on your list has received your asks but has not yet responded. Consider this pool of people your best prospects for giving, especially if they’ve donated in the past.

Inside your CRM, set up a report for 2020 non-responders and refresh daily in December. Ideally, you'll see this segment is shrinking as the month goes on.

Follow Up with Non-responders

How you follow up with non-responders is going to depend on 1) how many people are in your non-responder segment and 2) what contact information you have on file for them. This information will determine what kind of capacity you need for follow up (something very scalable, extra volunteers, etc) and the channel for follow up.

Generally, regarding follow up tactics, your best path to immediate response rates and more money is to pick up the phone.

Yeah, it's not every fundraiser's first choice of activity, but the phone is highly effective, low-cost and very personal. If your donor has already received a direct mail letter or email, this is a low-stakes call that will likely prompt some donors to give while you're on the phone—and others to mail in their donation or donate on your website.

If you feel nervous about dialing out, do a small test during the second week of December. Plan to call 25 to 40 donors who haven't yet made their gift. (A smaller test sample may seem easier to swallow, but you won't get the insight you need without testing with a reasonable segment. Sorry.)

See how many non-responders you get on the phone and how many gifts you can secure. Then, in the days following, look at behavior for donors who didn't make a gift over the phone. If you see an uptick in responses from this segment, either repeat the test the following week or just go for it and start making calls.

In addition to phone follow up, there are other scalable, low-cost follow up tactics for your email list. During key campaign dates like Giving Tuesday or on December 30 or 31, send a kicker email to subscribers who received the morning email but did not open. Don't change the subject line or copy of the email, just send it a second time, later in the day. You may see an additional 5-15% added on the response rate to the morning email.

As your year-end fundraising campaign unfolds in December, keep an eye on donors who have not yet responded and continue to follow up with them. Try a combination of tactics to see what will grab their attention and get a response. As is often the case with fundraising, if you don’t ask, you won’t get the gift, so keep asking!

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