The Ultimate Guide to Year-End Giving

Fundraising December 13, 2021

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

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

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ve come to the right place. In this ultimate guide to year-end giving, we’ll outline the exact steps you need to follow to plan and launch an effective year-end campaign. 

Let’s get started! 

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 giving is in part motivated by charitable tax credits. 

The year-end giving effect is so strong that half of all nonprofits receive the majority of their annual donations during the last three months of the year – with 31% of those donations happening in December. 

“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 Appeal?

A year-end appeal is a request for donations sent out near the end of the year. It usually revolves around a single campaign and includes many different channels — this helps organizations take full advantage of the giving season and maximize fundraising results. 

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

A campaign is fundraising that centres 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’s carried forward 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: lots of planning. 

This is 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 campaign. Remember, too, that other nonprofit organizations recognize this, as well, and will be competing with you for your potential donors’ attention. 

Planning your campaign well in advance of the fourth quarter (see our advice on timelines in a later section) will give you plenty of time to craft an effective strategy, as well as iron out the wrinkles in your plan and get ahead of any unforeseen issues that may arise. 

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

As a fundraiser, you know that simply asking people for donations seldom works. You need to give them a compelling reason to give. When crafting your appeal message, be sure to do the following:

  1. Tell a story: Center your ask 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 amount, let them know how much you need from each donor in order to make a difference. 
  3. Show impact: Tell your audience what would happen if you reach your fundraising goal. How would the beneficiaries’ lives change? 

For more details, as well as different ways to ask for donations, be sure to read the article How to Get Donations Online: 22 Ways the Pros Are Doing It.

Year-End Giving Campaigns: Before You Launch

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

Read on to learn everything you need to do 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. Make sure the roles you assign reflect each team member’s strengths and that everyone has the bandwidth to take this on. 

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.”

Here’s a sample timeline: 

January: 

  • Sit down with your team, board of directors and any other relevant stakeholders to compare notes about the year’s campaigns and communications priorities. 

  • Think about your major fundraising needs and whether there’s one you feel would resonate with your community around the holiday period. 

  • Start thinking about the key elements of your year-end campaign and identify what budget is available to you. 

 

May/June: 

  • Confirm your approach. Identify a specific fundraising need to frame your communications around and a story you could leverage to bring that need to life.

  • Start planning out the specific tactics of your year-end campaign and put dates next to them. 

  • Get all of the necessary approvals. 

July/August/September: 

  • 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! Year-end giving campaigns can start as early as October. The exact timing depends on the channels you’ve chosen: if your campaign has a direct mail element, October is the ideal time to start talking about holiday giving. If you’re going fully digital, you can wait until mid-November – at the latest. 

November and December: 

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

  • 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. 

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’ll be able to intentionally repeat things that worked well and improve on things that didn’t. 

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

“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 revenues for the year and figure out how much you’ll need to raise to meet your overall fundraising goals. 

Keep your final number realistic, but make sure your community knows you have real needs that they can help you meet. 

It also helps to tie your campaign to SMART goals: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely will hold you and your team accountable. 

5. Source Partners, Influencers, and Matches

This isn’t a must, but partnerships can be a great way to boost your year-end fundraising efforts. 

Are there any other organizations — a community organization, another nonprofit and/or a corporation — in your area whose mission compliments yours? Or local businesses you could connect with to raise awareness? You could even reach out to social media influencers or micro influencers whose values align with yours and see if they’d be willing to help spread the word about your campaign. 

You may also want to consider identifying a match opportunity to get your community fired up about your year-end 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, essentially doubling the impact of every dollar raised. 

Matches are a great way of encouraging people to donate. 

A study by Yale University and the University of Chicago 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 utilize, 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?

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. 

If you provide only one option, you’ll likely lose potential donors who have different preferences or find the option you gave too much of a hassle. On the other hand, if you provide lots of options for donors to choose from—and most importantly, make these options quick and easy to navigate—they’ll be much more likely to follow through on their intent and actually make a donation. 

The other thing is, donors find some ways to give more meaningful than others. 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 organization and often result 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

Hopefully, your organization has already established a functional and integrated set of software solutions that helps you with fundraising and day-to-day operations. If you’re missing a few key functions, looking to upgrade, or trying a new fundraising tactic that requires a new tool (e.g. crowdfunding or peer-to-peer fundraising), now is the best time to fill these gaps and 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, so you need to do a little bit of work to figure out who they are and what kind of message they need to hear. 

Start by defining your audience. Whom do you want to target with your campaign? Include everyone you can think of — 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, and anyone else you think should see your message. 

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 segment this group even further and send them a customized letter.

Bedlington suggests segmenting based on donor type using the “recency, frequency and monetary” (RFM) model — a tried and true approach that also takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

RFM means thinking about how recently your donors have contributed, how often they contribute and at what level.

“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. Rather, 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 year-end appeal letter:

  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 direct mail and email channels. But what about your other channels like social media, ad placements, your website, and 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. Store them 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 a final meeting with your team to finalize your timeline, important deadlines and go-live dates, and make sure everyone feels good about their roles and responsibilities. 

Launching Your Campaign

Once you’ve established your strategy and laid out your plan, it’s time to execute. 

 

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 who are major figures in your community. 

Put together a compelling press release about your campaign and your cause, and hit send. 

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. 

Once your campaign is live, you can start reaching out to them with the details of your 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 your messaging can reach even further afield. 

Ask your board of directors, staff and volunteers to spread the word about your fundraising campaign. 

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

Ask them to reach out directly to their contacts with links to your campaign materials or share your messages on their own social media platforms. 

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. 

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

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

Make an effort to 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, as well (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 or a series of social media posts that run for the entire duration of the campaign.  

And 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 stay in touch and 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 so that 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. 

That’s because it’s now time to follow up and share your results.

1. Say Thank You

Everyone likes feeling appreciated… including your donors. 

A quick thank-you note, 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 had 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. 

2. Share Your Impact

Whether you met, exceeded, or didn’t quite get to your fundraising 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 demonstrate 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 communication to let them know what they helped make possible. Create a video to send via email or write a story about it for your newsletter. 

Be sure to send a special report to your partners, major gift donors, and your matching donor, to demonstrate impact and, once again, express your gratitude for their support. 

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.

That way, you can improve your tactics for next year’s campaign (which you’ll want to start planning right about now!).

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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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