Navigating the complexities of year-end fundraising for nonprofits can often feel like threading through a maze of challenges. As the final weeks of the year approach, distractions pull focus, the quest for a unique value proposition intensifies amidst a sea of similar messages, and standing out in a crowded field becomes daunting. But fret not – this is where our guide comes in. In the following blog post, we will delve into practical strategies to help your nonprofit maximize its efforts during the crucial calendar year-end period. Stay tuned to discover actionable insights that can truly make a difference.
It goes without saying, but calendar year-end is a critical time for many nonprofit organizations. On average, most nonprofits raise up to 30 percent of their annual budget in December, including upwards of 31 percent of online revenue in the last four weeks alone. But a recent Giving USA report showed a 13.4 percent decline in giving by individuals (with overall giving down by about 10.5 percent after inflation adjustments) for calendar year-end giving in 2022. Just as the previous year was a complex year for nonprofits, it was also a complicated one for individual donors.
If you’re ready to find out how your nonprofit can buck trends and create a winning year-end campaign, this blog post is for you. Your nonprofit can have your best year-end campaign by incorporating data-driven planning, tapping into overlooked segments, crafting impactful storytelling strategies, maximizing digital fundraising channels, and cultivating donor fundraising and stewardship throughout the year.
Keep reading to find out more!
#1 Use Data to Drive Your Strategy
In episode 1 of “Year-End in July,” guests Rebecca Gregory Segovia, Matthew Mielcarek, and Joe McLaughlin illustrate how data-driven planning can result in year-end success.
Understand the Power of Data
Leveraging data to understand your donors is critical because it allows your nonprofit to drive the strategies that connect your cause to your donors’ passions. Before anything else, conduct a comprehensive analysis of your donors' demographics and psychographics.
Look to Past Campaigns for a Fuller Picture
It’s also helpful to analyze past year-end campaigns for insights. We recommend analyzing the profile of people who gave to the previous year-end campaign to see if it’s somewhat or even dramatically different from an overall donor profile. Similar questions can be asked of pandemic ”crisis donors” and monthly donors. The more you can understand who’s supported your organization in the past, the more you can understand who is likely to support you in the future.
Be Realistic When it Comes to Goal-Setting
Setting clear and realistic fundraising goals can also give nonprofits a strong predictor of upcoming campaigns. Want to know how a year-end campaign will fare? Look at the previous year’s performance alongside today’s philanthropic landscape and overall market trends. By having clear processes in place to know where revenue comes from, nonprofits can develop a deeper understanding of future campaign performance. Whether revenue comes from a previous campaign, a particular audience, or a giving package, leverage clean data so you can know where you’re going and eliminate potential problems.
Use Data to Divvy Donors Up
When it comes to identifying valuable donor prospects, segmenting donors based on giving data is also key! Combining traditionally-used RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) first-party data points with third-party data points boosts the power of your data. Our team recommends employing appends such as age demographics, number of children in the household, interests, and hobbies, and communication channel preferences for maximization. Personalization alongside a donor’s individual case for support can entirely change conversations around year-end giving.
Use Tools at Your Disposal
Creating a customized year-end fundraising plan shouldn’t feel impossible! With the right tools and strategies in place, your development team can start working backward from an end goal of December 31st now. By understanding the importance of stewardship and donor engagement in the year-end giving experience, you can start guiding donors through the process as early as July. Using tools such as GivingDNA helps your organization gain a fuller picture of who people are and what they care about – and this alone can ultimately help nonprofits better drive year-end giving campaigns.
Tips for Success
Looking for help to utilize your data to drive your year-end strategy, get in touch. We’d love to help!
#2 The Strength of Email Segmentation
In episode 2 of “Year-End in July,” guests Ryan Carpenter and Colleen Patel talk about the benefits of identifying overlooked segments in your nonprofit’s year-end giving campaign.
Don’t Overlook Inconspicuous Donors
Identifying under-tapped donor segments is necessary when it comes to meeting the needs of different types of donors. For instance, donors who regularly give to your organization will often make an additional gift in December if they’re asked. We recommend extending a personal invitation to sustainers, inviting them to give an additional gift. Mid-level donors are also often overlooked when it comes to year-end giving. Our team suggests a different approach to those who generally makeup 5 percent of your overall giving population and oftentimes provide a quarter of your revenue. Practice radical stewardship! A heartfelt thank you over the phone can often lead to greater giving.
Make it a Priority to Engage Lapsed Donors
Additional strategies exist to help you engage with lapsed donors. Because the cost to re-engage is usually less than the cost to acquire, from a cost-benefit perspective, it makes sense to engage with those who are already in your donor base. Our team recommends putting an offer in front of LYBUNT donors (those who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This) you know will resonate. Identify what you know about them personally and find out what campaigns they’ve been drawn to and supported in the past. By digging into various facets of segmentation, you can use personalization to increase their engagement.
Always Extend Invitations to Give
Nonprofits can also employ specific strategies to ask donors to upgrade, especially when it comes to year-end giving. Indeed, one of the most popular strategies is to offer a match to nondonors. The infrequency of match offerings is an exciting way to entice new donors; plus, it often yields the highest response rate of any type of giving! Additionally, although it may feel counterintuitive, another strategy is to appeal to downgraded givers. Sending a targeted appeal to those who have recently downgraded their giving can often prompt another gift at the end of the year.
Tips for Success
#3 Tell Stories that Make You Stand Out from the Crowd
In episode 3 of “Year-End in July,” guests Dom Spinosa, Alyssa Boger, and copywriting expert Cathe Hoerth discuss the power of storytelling in fundraising. Year-end giving campaigns can oftentimes feel like a battle against obscurity: the stakes are high, and you must differentiate how your organization is unique amidst a crowded field of similar organizations. Creative storytelling practices can help your nonprofit rise above the rest, especially when you can go beyond merely telling donors about what you do and how you do it and instead graciously invite your supporters to become a part of your organization’s impact. Creating connections with donors through compelling stories and images is integral to year-end fundraising strategies.
Hone in on the One Thing You Do That No One Else Does
First, identify your unique value proposition. In the crowded landscape of December giving, it’s all too common for nonprofits to blend in and struggle to stand out in a sea of sameness. Identifying your organization’s unique value proposition is key to structuring your year-end campaign narrative. Consider the following questions: What do you do that no one else does? What are your donors saying to you? What matters to them, and what are they responding to in terms of asks? Identify your most popular topics, then remember that people give to people, not to organizations. By honing in on outcome language – what you alone can do because of the unique impact you make in this world – donors will naturally gravitate toward giving.
Look and Listen for the Stories Around You
Second, collect compelling impact stories within your organization. While many nonprofits struggle with this, it isn’t impossible – you just have to know where to look! If you’re feeling stuck, our team recommends practicing open dialogue with your team and with donors; not only does this allow for ample communication, but it also provides the chance to get stories. You can also create a culture of storytelling by inviting everyone to identify potential stories. It’s easy to center work on one or two departments, but giving every department the opportunity to identify potential can make a world of difference. Beyond staff, pose a question in a newsletter and ask folks to send in a picture and an answer. Stories can also be found while scrolling through social media: gather stories from clients, staff, and supporters when they post about your organization!
Show a Little Emotion Along the Way
Third, don’t be afraid to utilize emotional appeals to connect with donors. When it comes to images, we’ve all heard the adage, “A photo is worth a thousand words.” Imagery is a powerful component of year-end campaigns because photographs tell a story. Images become live conversations when the sender and the receiver are both looking at the exact same thing; in that way, ensure photographs always direct a viewer back to where you want them to read. Capture their attention! Our creative team also leans into the wisdom of, “show, don’t tell.” When donors are posed with two different narratives – one a story, the other a collection of facts – feelings always win out in the end. Make an emotional connection with donors so they can remember and engage with a story only you alone can tell.
Let Social Media Do What it Does Best
On the creative side of things, integrating storytelling across communication channels can really set you apart. Let each channel show off what it’s best at doing through multiple touchpoints. Additionally, if you’ve gotten a head start on year-end strategy planning, consider employing new strategies, such as inviting influencers or ambassadors to spread the word about your nonprofit organization. The extensive social networks of these individuals can quickly expand your reach and bring new donors in, all because they believe in the good your team uniquely does in the world.
Tips for Success
We’re here to help! Reach out and we’ll help you tell and share your story with your constituents.
#4 Harness Digital for Maximum Visibility
In episode 4 of “Year-End in July,” guests Ashleigh Lambert, Kacey Crawford, and Kim Richardson expand on the growing role of digital fundraising in year-end campaigns. Direct mail is no longer the only game in town when it comes to raising money in December. Instead, nonprofits have the opportunity to harness multiple digital fundraising channels to educate, inform, provide donors with an opportunity to see the people behind the heart of your mission, and hear real stories of change. By leaning into a full-court press that includes email, social media, and your organization’s website, these mediums' flexibility, and pizazz will no doubt expand your reach and help get the message out!
"Secret Shop" Your Website
Building an effective online fundraising strategy starts with walking through your website as if you’re a first-time visitor. Our team recommends thinking like a consumer as you approach everything from navigation ease and donation button prominence to overall color aesthetics, clarity of message, and second chances for re-engagement. If you’re feeling stuck when it comes to making a decision about your website, simple is always better. Simplify the information present and ensure digital forms are extremely easy to fill out. Lead with mobile, so those users who simply want to scroll through a website and click on a donate button can easily do so!
Use Social Media for Storytelling
Leveraging social media platforms for donor engagement is also critical when it comes to successful year-end campaigns because social media happens in tandem with everything else. Let each channel make a specific community-driven ask: extend a CTA toward engagement, awareness, or overall reach, depending on the particular channel. Build in fundraising rhythms throughout the year by providing donors with multiple opportunities to give throughout the year. When you can work with social media’s unique algorithms to get your message – including the call to action to donate – in front of fans, followers, and friends, the wheels will start to click. When a blended message is put in front of people, they’ll naturally see the connective thread between the different modes of communication.
Segment Email Audiences
Don’t forget about optimizing email campaigns for year-end giving. As we often remind clients, the more you can do now to clean up lists and gain integrity around future recipients, the better off you’ll be when the campaign kicks off. When it’s time to write the campaign series, start looking at the puzzle pieces to see if you can find an answer to the question, “Who should get what?” By diversifying your lists, you won’t overwhelm potential donors. Recipients will then have time to rest between email campaigns while you ensure your emails are accessible to every type of giver. In our experience, organizations whose end-of-year campaigns perform well do so because they employ a certain cadence of communications. Their content efforts are coordinated well in advance, and it shows.
Don't Discount the Power of Video
Incorporating video content to enhance digital appeal is also a tool that cannot be understated. Just as interactive graphics can be incorporated into emails, elements like video, which are usually more engaging than static images, can be extremely stimulating and engaging to digital viewers. Video helps bring ideas and messages to life, further engaging the senses – and in the digital space, you have room to leverage even more of these assets! By featuring multiple story threads, including video, individual donors are provided with the necessary tools to impact your organization's life.
Tips for Success
#5 Leverage Stewardship to Inspire Your Most Passionate Donors
In episode 5 of “Year-End in July,” guests Kim Richardson and Debbie Merlino lean into the importance of donor retention and loyalty. The truth is that November cannot be the only time nonprofit organizations thank those who have supported them financially in the previous calendar year. Instead, stewardship is a practice that has to happen throughout the year. When it comes to cultivating donor relationships and stewardship, our team has seen first-hand how thoughtful approaches to relationships will be rewarded and help your organization grow. By employing surprise and delight tactics and seeking to put human interactions at the top of your priority list, your year-end campaign can act as the icing on the cake.
Create Cultures of Appreciation
Numerous strategies exist to show donor appreciation during year-end giving campaigns, but a handwritten thank-you note can go a long way. If you haven’t already, consider inviting volunteers, clients, and other staff members to help with this activity as well. Organizations can also practice fun digital engagement by including a free download, a tip about celebrations, or recipes on your website. For faith-based organizations, this can be particularly significant around religious holidays. Finally, one last idea is to include a voice broadcast thanking donors for their gifts. Hearing a person’s voice directly in your ears can be quite powerful, whether it comes from an executive director, program staff, or the very people you serve.
Build Personalized Communication Plans
When it comes to stewardship and donor relations, nonprofits can also benefit from building personalized donor communication plans. No matter how large or small the budget, high-impact cultivation can quickly happen! A cell phone can often do the trick, capturing the heart of your organization’s mission and vision. Try posting an uncurated video on social media just as you step onto an airplane or walk into a room full of clients. The video may not be as high-quality as an expensive-looking fundraising video, but it certainly comes across as authentic. More than anything, think outside the box when it comes to stewardship and cultivation: this makes donors feel appreciated, which makes them want to give again.
Go the Extra Mile
Hosting donor appreciation events and recognition opportunities can also go far. For clients in the Public Media and Arts & Culture spaces, a “behind the curtain” peek at your organization is a particularly compelling touchpoint. Imagine what it might mean to give folks an inside peek where they’re taking care of animals or putting on a performance. When people get to see what’s really happening at an organization, they start to understand what it’s like to be in your organization. Additionally, throwing an in-person appreciation party, especially if you’re local to those you serve, is the perfect compliment to the months of the year marked by thankfulness, generosity, and festivity.
Remember, Clarity is Key!
Just as a little celebration can go a long way, ensuring transparency and accountability in stewardship can go a long way too. In addition to thanking donors often, sincerely, and profusely, don’t shy away from reporting the impact. Be specific with what their dollars have accomplished; this offers you another opportunity to thank them and allows for further clarity in spending. Accountability also means owning and correcting any mistakes and issues on behalf of your organization. By resolving individual complaints and apologizing when necessary, you create goodwill, making it much easier for people to support your organization down the road!
Tips for Success
Putting It All Together: Crafting Your Year-End Fundraising Plan
Crafting your year-end fundraising campaign really can be as easy as 1, 2, 3! Put it all together by incorporating insights from data-driven planning into a strategy that starts on Giving Tuesday and ends on December 31st. Using tools and software such as GivingDNA to enhance your fundraising efforts, you can easily target and reach overlooked donor segments by weaving impactful storytelling into your campaign. By leveraging digital fundraising channels and prioritizing donor relationships and stewardship throughout the year, we know you can give your donors their best year-end experience!
Tips for a Smooth Year-End Fundraising Campaign Execution
Still feeling stuck when it comes to pulling the trigger on a smooth year-end campaign? The following tips can help:
While it sometimes feels impossible to whittle down the key takeaways from the podcast series to just a few suggestions, we’ll say this: incorporating data-driven strategies into your nonprofit’s year-end campaign really can help you raise the money you hope to bring in come December. Don’t be afraid to employ creative storytelling practices while also continuing to leverage digital fundraising channels to your advantage. Above all, cultivate donor relationships and practice radical stewardship throughout the year. By seeing donors for the humans they are, your nonprofit organization can really come out on top.
We encourage you to start planning your year-end campaign early for your own sanity and the benefit of potential donors you hope to draw in during this critical time of year. Just as the impact of your fundraising efforts directly affects your mission, our team at Pursuant and Allegiance Group doesn’t want you to be left in the dust when future generosity forecasts remain rocky at best and unknown at worst.
More than anything, continue to err on the side of gratefulness: thank supporters and donors for their ongoing commitment. Blow them away with gratitude only you alone can give. Make them feel appreciated by pointing out the impact of their generosity. Give them a reason to keep you in mind when December rolls around once again.
If you’re still struggling to define and execute your year-end strategy, get in touch. We’d love to help!
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