The Ultimate Guide to Year-End Giving + Campaign Checklists!

Fundraising October 31, 2022

Sonia Urlando

By Sonia Urlando

The holidays are fast approaching, which means ‘tis the season... for nonprofits to launch their year-end giving campaigns!

The winter months are the time when people have donations on their mind. In fact, 28% of nonprofits raise between 26–50% of their annual funds in end of year donations. With the power of a great campaign, you can blast through your goals and enter the new year feeling successful and secure!

In this ultimate guide to year-end giving, we’ll outline the exact steps to plan and launch an effective end of year giving campaign. 

Why Is Year-End Giving So Important?

Something about the holiday season prompts people to give more than at any other time of the year. For one, the holiday spirit inspires gift-giving, selflessness and a sense of community. 

Aside from that, there are simply people who like to make an annual gift to charity. If they haven’t had a chance to do this by the time December comes around, this is their last opportunity in the calendar year. This is especially true for those whose end of year giving is in part motivated by charitable tax credits. 

Here’s what the numbers say about end of year giving:

  • Half of all nonprofits receive the majority of their annual donations during the last three months of the year (with 31% in December!)

  • 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of the year

  • Two thirds of donors do zero research before giving 

“It’s a time of year when people want to give to charity,” says Fiona Bedlington, Senior Development Officer, Annual and Legacy Giving at Centennial College in Toronto. “To leverage this opportunity effectively, organizations need to plan well in advance and deliver an authentic strategy driven by stories and data.” 

What Is a Year-End Giving Campaign?

A year-end giving campaign is a marketing campaign designed to bring in a boost of donations at the end of the year. It begins with an appeal for donations, and is shared through multiple channels to reach as many people as possible. This helps organizations take full advantage of the giving season and maximize fundraising results. 

It’s true that people want to give at this time of year, so it’s essential to take the time to make your organization extra visible. Think of your end of year giving campaign as a shiny introduction for new donors, and a reminder to current donors of the good work you do!

What’s the Difference Between a Campaign, Appeal and Channel?

A campaign is fundraising that centers around a specific cause. It is the reason why you’re asking people to donate. For example, if you’re raising money towards the construction of a new building or the purchase of new equipment, these would be considered fundraising campaigns. 

An appeal is the actual act of asking people for donations. It works with a specific strategy and timeline in mind, and makes use of several different channels. 

Channels are the different ways in which you can ask people to donate. These can be through direct mail, email, social media, or corporate partnerships, to name a few. 

Why Is It Important To Start Planning a Year-End Giving Campaign Early?

The most successful year-end campaigns all have one major thing in common: planning, planning and more planning!

The holidays are a time when donors are most likely to give, so it’s important to put lots of thought, strategy and effort into your year-end giving campaign. And remember—other nonprofit organizations will be competing with you for your potential donors’ attention. All the more reason to give your campaign that extra attention!

Planning your campaign well in advance of the fourth quarter (we have some advice on timelines below!) will give you plenty of time to craft your strategy. This will also help you iron out the wrinkles and get ahead when any unforeseen issues arise. 

How Do I Ask For Donations at the End of the Year?

As a fundraiser, you know that simply asking for donations doesn’t usually get you too far. You need to give people a compelling reason to give.

When crafting your year-end donation appeal message, be sure to do the following:

  1. Tell a story: Center your ask for donations around one beneficiary—tell your audience their story and help them form an emotional connection. 

  2. Be specific: Tell your audience exactly what the beneficiary and others like them need the most. Rather than asking for donations of any size, let them know how much you need from each donor in order to make a difference. Offer multiple suggested amounts so people feel compelled to give at several levels.

  3. Show impact: Tell your audience what would happen if you reach your fundraising goal. How would the beneficiaries’ lives change? 

Inspiring people to give right here, right now will be sure to give you that end of year donation boost!

Year-End Giving Campaigns: Before You Launch

Successful year-end giving campaigns require a lot of planning, organizing and teamwork. 

Here are 12 key steps to take before the launch of your campaign:

1. Define Your Year-End Giving Team

Like any fundraising campaign, an effective year-end campaign is a team effort! Identify who will be part of this team—staff members and volunteers—and what each of their responsibilities will look like.

Some useful roles include:

  • Project manager: Every good campaign needs a leader! Assign this role to someone who is confident and cool-headed under pressure.

  • Campaign strategist: If you have someone who has run successful campaigns before, pass this role to them stat. Every organization learns best from experience.

  • Content writer: From blogs to emails to social media posts to appeal letters, campaigns take a lot of writing. Give this role to someone who knows your brand voice inside out.

  • Designer: It can’t just sound nice—it also has to look good. If your content writer manages your brand voice, your designer manages your brand’s visuals!

  • Marketer: Marketing is a huge part of getting your campaign out into the world. Be sure to have a teammate who knows the ins and outs of social media and email marketing in particular.

  • Donor relationship manager: Your connection to donors shouldn’t stop after the payment has been processed. Assign someone the role of keeping up with your donors and fostering donor stewardship. Using a membership management software like WildApricot will make this job a breeze!

Make sure the roles you assign reflect each team member’s strengths and that everyone has the bandwidth to take this on. Give everyone space to succeed! 

2. Create a Workback Schedule

“Ideally, you’ll start thinking about year-end giving in January,” says Bedlington. “You don’t want to bump up against other campaigns and priorities so it’s best to plan both your messaging and your tactics as early as possible.”

Looking to build out a 6 or 12-month plan for your year-end giving campaign? We’ve created a checklist for each timeline that you can download here

 

 

For a quick overview, here’s a sample timeline for planning your year-end giving campaign:

Summer: 

  • Develop your communications. Write your content for email, social media or other channels, shoot your videos or start booking your events. 

  • Leave as much time as possible for approvals, because soon it’ll be… 

October: 

  • It’s launch time! Starting your campaign in October gives you extra time to build up energy and make connections. This is especially important if your campaign includes direct mail.

  • Keep a close eye on how people are engaging with your content. This gives you room to troubleshoot nice and early.

November: 

  • You’re in full year-end fundraising mode now! Your campaign should be well underway across your chosen channels.

  • Amp up your end of year donations by setting up a rockstar Giving Tuesday campaign.

December

  • Keep the content coming and don’t stop until the end!

  • Don’t forget about that last-minute push for gifts. December 31 is the tax deadline for making charitable gifts, so schedule a final reminder to go out that very day to catch all those procrastinators. 

The New Year

  • January is the time to review. Sit down with your team, board of directors and any other relevant stakeholders to compare notes on how things went.

  • When May and June hit, start brainstorming your approach. What did you learn from last year? What specific fundraising need do you want to focus on this year?

  • Get all the approvals you need to get your plan going come summer.

3. Evaluate Where You Were Last Year

An effective fundraising plan should build on your past successes or shortcomings. This way, rather than starting from scratch, you can intentionally repeat what worked well and improve on what didn’t. 

Looking at last year’s key performance indicators (KPIs) will also help you set realistic goals for this year’s end of year giving campaign. 

“It’s always important to benchmark yourself against yourself,” says Bedlington. “You need to know what your organization has done to predict what you can do.” 

Here are a few important KPIs you should look at: 

  • Total amount raised

  • Number of gifts received

  • Average gift size

  • Number of new donors

  • Donor retention rate (of all the people who donated, how many of them were returning donors?) 

  • Conversion rate (of all the people who saw your fundraising appeal, how many of them took action?) 

  • Cost per dollar raised (how much did you spend for every $1 you raised?)

  • Return on investment (how much did you raise for every $1 you spent) 

4. Set Your Fundraising Goal

Now that you know where you were last year, you can set specific goals for this year! 

Bedlington recommends looking closely at past campaigns to see what’s worked and what hasn’t, and then setting your fundraising objectives using simple math. 

“It’s always nice to project an increase of at least a couple percent compared to last year,” she says. “If you have a past campaign to benchmark against, estimate how many more people you’ll need to reach based on last year’s average gift to achieve your increased goal.”  

But what if this is the first time you’re launching a year-end campaign? 

In this case, take a look at your revenue for the year. This will help you figure out how much you’ll need to raise to meet your overall fundraising goals.

That final number should be realistic (nothing raises morale like smashing through a goal!) but make sure your community still sees you have real needs that they can help you meet. 

Set your campaign up for success by using SMART Goals.

SMART Goals are:

  • Specific: Choose a single goal to focus on. All of your other big ideas can be worked on later—for now, give one specific goal your all.

  • Measurable: You can’t measure your success if your goal isn’t actually measurable! Choose the standards by which you can determine your progress.

  • Attainable: It’s great to dream big, but make sure your goals are possible with your current reach and resources. Meeting a modest goal is better than missing a super high one.

  • Relevant: Your goal should be relevant to your organization. Think about what a year-end giving campaign represents, and set your goals around it.

  • Timely: Give your goal a start and an end date. This will give your team a framework to plan within and your donors a sense of urgency.

These qualifications will hold you and your team accountable as you carry out your end of the year giving campaign! 

5. Source Partners, Influencers and Matches

This isn’t a must, but partnerships can be a great way to boost your year-end giving efforts. Finding organizations whose mission and values align with yours can help you spread the word about your campaign to a new audience.

There are lots of opportunities to collaborate with:

  • Local community organizations, nonprofits or corporations

  • Local businesses

  • Social media influencers or micro influencers

You may also want to consider identifying a match opportunity to get your community fired up about your end of the year giving campaign. 

A match is when you ask a supporter—this could be a board member or one of your closest, most engaged donors—to commit to “matching” donations up to a certain amount. This essentially doubles the impact of every dollar raised!

A study from Philanthropy Works found that a matching opportunity increases the likelihood that an individual will donate by 22%. 

So how do you go about finding your match?

“We always start talking to major gift officers in the middle of the year about whether any matching opportunities may be possible for year-end giving,” says Bedlington. 

She also offers this advice for a simple way to secure a match: “Simply ask a donor who has already given if they would approve of having their gift positioned as a match.” 

6. Identify Your Channels

As we’ve already discussed, a successful year-end campaign has multiple channels. 

When considering which channels to use, think about how your donors usually like to hear from you.

Do your donors prefer to give by direct mail? Are they a younger crowd that prefer digital outreach? Or is an event usually the best way to get them excited about giving?

Check your stats and reports from previous years to find giving trends!

Bedlington recommends using as many channels as possible for maximum impact.

“Using a combination of direct mail, a series of emails, phone calls, social media, and even an event will help create a consistent message and call to action no matter how your community is interacting with your organization,” she says.

Donors are also more likely to give if they hear about your campaign on two or more occasions through two or more different channels. For example, they receive an email about it first, and then see a letter in the mail three days later.

To help you maximize your results, consider including as many of the below channels as you have available to you: 

  • Direct mail

  • Email

  • Fundraising event

  • Your website

  • Organic social media content

  • Paid social media ads and/or Google ads

  • Paid media placements 

  • Personal outreach to potential donors (for example, phone calls)

  • Partnerships

7. Diversify Ways To Give

So you’ve diversified the ways that donors will hear about your year-end campaign—that’s great! But you also need to diversify the ways that donors can actually make donations.

Providing only one option will likely lose you potential donors who have different preferences or find the option you gave too much of a hassle. If you offer multiple options to choose from (especially quick and easy ones!), donors will be much more likely to follow through on their giving.

Look for ways to make donations especially meaningful to your supporters. For example, tribute gifts are a must-have option around the holidays. They make wonderful holiday gifts to loved ones who care deeply about your mission and often bring in donations from people who wouldn’t have donated otherwise. 

Consider including as many of the below ways to give as you can: 

  • Online donations

  • By phone

  • By mail

  • In-person

  • Text-to-give

  • Recurring donations (monthly, quarterly, etc.)

  • Tribute gifts (in honor or memory of someone)

  • Gifts of securities (e.g. stocks)

  • Pledges (promise now, pay later)

  • In-kind donations (e.g. in the form of equipment or supplies)

  • Legacy gifts (leaving a gift in one’s will) 

8. Set Up Your Fundraising Software

Fundraising software is essential to managing fundraising and day-to-day operations! If your organization doesn’t have it set up, is looking to upgrade or simply wants to try a new fundraising tactic (e.g. crowdfunding or peer-to-peer fundraising), now is the perfect time to invest in new software. 

Here are the most common types of software tools that nonprofits use to help with their fundraising activities: 

  • Event management tools

  • Bookkeeping tools

  • Online payment processing tools

  • Fundraising software and donor management tools

  • Email marketing tools

  • SMS marketing tools

  • Social media tools 

  • Project management and collaboration tools

  • Volunteer management tools

  • Website builders

  • Website analytics tools 

  • All-In-One solutions for nonprofits 

9. Define Your Audience & Segment

The key to a successful year-end campaign is to send the right message to the right people at the right time. But your potential donors aren’t all the same!

Do some work to learn who they are and what kind of message they need to hear. Start by defining your audience—who do you want to target with your campaign?

Some examples you could work with include:

  • Current and lapsed donors in your database

  • Other people whose contact information you have

  • Your social media followers

  • Your website visitors

  • Members of your community

The next step is to segment your audience into groups, then tailor your message based on what you believe will resonate best with each group. 

Let’s take a look at your current and lapsed donors, for example. Instead of sending them the same generic ask letter, you’ll see much better results if you send them a customized letter.

Bedlington suggests segmenting based on donor type using the “recency, frequency and monetary” (RFM) model. This means thinking about how recently your donors have contributed, how often they contribute and at what level.

This tried and true approach takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process!

“I’d recommend segmenting your list into new, monthly, mid-level, active and lapsed donors,” she says. “You can have up to six segments and maybe even more if you have a really diverse donor community. The more personal the message, the better the response.”

But how exactly can you customize your messaging for each group?

“First, however you’re communicating with donors, you should always be specific about how they support your organization,” says Bedlington. “If I’m a monthly donor to an organization and they don’t acknowledge that fact in their communications, it makes me feel like they don’t appreciate my regular donations.”

To keep things simple, don’t write a brand-new letter or email message for every single donor group. Instead, try customizing the opening lines of the same message to reflect each group’s giving type. 

10. Craft Your Appeal

Follow these four best practices for writing the perfect appeal letter to support your end of year giving campaign:

  1. Tell a Story: A touching story about how donations will change lives will help readers form an emotional connection and inspire them to give. 

  2. Use a Clear Call-to-Action: State exactly what you want readers to do—make it easy for them to take action with prompts like “Make a gift today”. 

  3. Focus on the Donor: Change statements like “Our organization needs X, Y, Z” into statements like “You can help make X, Y, Z possible for our beneficiaries”. 

  4. Say Thanks: Express gratitude with every chance you get, especially if you’re reaching out to donors who have given to your organization in the past. 

If you need more help concocting the perfect year-end communications, you’ll find more in-depth tips in the following articles:

11. Create Your Collateral

Your appeal letter will be turned into different versions for your direct mail and email channels. But what about other channels like social media, ad placements, your website and the press?

Be sure to create all the necessary collateral (social media posts, website banners, graphics and videos) well in advance of the start of your campaign. Keep everything in a central location so anyone who needs to access them throughout the campaign can do so quickly and easily!

12. Finalize Your Deadlines

Have one last meeting with your team to finalize your timeline, important deadlines and go-live dates. Before you kick off, make sure everyone feels good about their roles and responsibilities. 

Launching Your Year-End Campaign

Once you’ve established your strategy and laid out your plan, it’s time to blast off!

To increase the impact of your launch, try implementing some of the following best practices.

1. Send Out a Press Release

Just prior to launch, compile a list of reporters, editors and bloggers who work in the same space as your nonprofit or are major figures in your community. Put together a compelling press release about your campaign and your cause, and slam on that send button! 

The media can help you get the word out about your campaign and encourage their followers (who might not already be following you) to learn more and donate. See if there’s a place to share your organization’s cause on holiday segments and specials.

Once your campaign is live, you can start reaching out to them with the details of your year end donation campaign and newsworthy key messages that they’ll want to share with their audiences.

2. Rally Your Community

Your campaign may be well underway across your chosen channels, but you’ll want to think about how to get your messaging even further. 

 

Ask your board of directors, staff and volunteers to spread about your fundraising campaign through things like peer-to-peer fundraising. Encourage them to reach out directly to their contacts with links to your campaign materials—this will cut through the holiday noise and add something personal! They can also share your messages on their own social media platforms. 

Be sure to share as many resources, links, key messages and other campaign assets as possible with these groups so they can easily hit the ground running. 

3. Monitor and Course-correct  

One of the biggest mistakes we see nonprofits making is a loss of momentum over the course of a campaign. 

It’s easy to get complacent: your campaign kicks off, it’s well received, the feedback is great—and it seems like it may raise those dollars without much more effort from your team. Plus, your team’s already busy wrapping up their other end of year projects. Why not relax and let the campaign just play out?

This is a complacency trap. Don’t let it catch you! 

Even though the year-end giving campaign has been launched and everything is running smoothly, there are still things you can do to achieve even better results. 

To keep things moving, your team should:

  • Monitor your results in real-time and constantly ask yourself: “Is there anything we can tweak?” Even though you finalized your strategy long ago, it doesn’t mean you can’t make small changes to it as the campaign progresses. 

  • Take a look at KPIs like the conversion rate for each channel (of the people who saw your call to action through each channel, how many of them donated?). If certain channels aren’t yielding the results you anticipated, what can you do to improve their performance? 

  • Keep an eye on your return on investment for each channel (how much you raise for every $1 spent). If the returns aren’t worth the costs, it may be worth reallocating your money to other, better performing channels.

4. Stay in Touch

People who donate to charities are bombarded with communications and calls to action all throughout December. If your message suddenly disappears from the mix, you’ll be quickly forgotten about and your numbers will start to fall. 

The easiest way to avoid having this happen to you? Build in regular communications at specific points throughout your year-end campaign. 

For example, schedule emails to go out once a week from mid-November until December 31. You can also set up a series of social media posts that run for the entire duration of the campaign.  

Make sure to regularly remind your staff, volunteers and supporters to keep spreading the word, as well. 

5. Share Your Progress

A great way to keep people engaged is to send progress-based communications. For example, let your audience know every time you reach a milestone like 25% or 50% raised towards your goal. 

This will remind people that you still need their help, but won’t come across as yet another ask for donations.

Be sure to also include a fundraising thermometer on your website and share it on social media! That way, your supporters can see the progress, cheer you on and share the campaign with their own networks. 

Wrapping Your Year-End Campaign

Your year-end giving campaign isn’t over once you’ve launched and executed it. Now it’s time to follow up and share your results!

1. Say Thank You

Everyone likes feeling appreciated—including your donors. 

A quick thank-you note, thank-you letter, email or even video goes a long way to building relationships with your supporters and encouraging them to become recurring donors. 

And of course, don’t forget to send everyone tax receipts for their donations—one of the biggest thanks of all!

If you received help from corporate partners, other organizations in the community, influencers or a matching donor, find a special way to show them your gratitude as well. A public thank you is a great way to further build your connection within the community.

2. Share Your Impact

Whether you met, exceeded or didn’t quite reach your end of year giving campaign goal, don’t forget to share the campaign’s results with your followers and donors.

Here are a few quick ideas:

  • Share live results as donations come in via social media 

  • Display a fundraising thermometer on your website to offer a visual of your year-end goal

  • Email your results to everyone who participated in the campaign to celebrate their impact

After a few months, when you’ve had a chance to spend the money you raised, be sure to send everyone a follow-up message to show what they helped make possible. Create a video to send via email or write a story about it in your newsletter. 

Be sure to send a special report to your partners, major gift donors and your matching donors. This will help you demonstrate impact and, once again, express your gratitude!

3. Hold a Post-Mortem Meeting and Measure Final Outcomes

Remember those SMART goals you set when planning your year-end campaign? It’s time to evaluate whether or not they were met. 

Host a meeting with your team to discuss your original objectives, what went exceptionally well, where you fell short and why. 

The most successful nonprofits host this kind of post-mortem because it helps reveal deep insights into what worked and what didn’t! All information is useful information.

This will help you improve your tactics for next year’s campaign (which you’ll want to start planning right about now!).

Monthly giving banner

  

So, What Are You Waiting For? 

Bedlington sums it all up nicely: “Use consistent messaging and powerful stories, use your data, leverage as many channels as possible and never fight against yourself — set realistic goals and use what’s available to you,” she says. 

Now it’s up to you: get out there and start raising those funds! 

We hope this post has left you feeling prepared to create your own successful year-end fundraising campaign.

 

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