Year-End Fundraising Season: Top Tips to Prepare Your Nonprofit

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It’s that time of year again: summer. The season for sneaking in a quick vacation, enjoying the sunshine, and preparing for your year-end fundraising season.

Even though the end of the year is months away, planning your end-of-year strategy is an important process that requires time — so get started now.

After all, your nonprofit will likely be too busy making resolutions for the new year to build an effective strategy in the midst of this vital fundraising period.

That’s why preparation, months in advance, is important in helping your nonprofit capitalize on year-end giving.

Donations tend to snowball at the end of the year. 31% of donations, in fact, occur in December, according to this NeonCRM resource.

To take you through preparing your year-end fundraising, follow these three top tips:

  1. Establish your campaign.
  2. Prepare a communication strategy.
  3. Optimize the online donation process.

Let’s break it down, step by step, to crystalize your year-end fundraising preparations well before the snow starts to fall.

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1. Establish your campaign.

Treating year end fundraising like a campaign will help you stay focused and consistent with your fundraising efforts.

Establishing your campaign will take some planning, but following these steps can aid the process:

A. Learn from the past.
B. Strategize with targeted goals.
C. Engage with empathy.

Let’s take a look at each step in depth.

A. Learn from the past.

Learning from your past successes and mistakes can help your nonprofit grow each year.

One of the best, most objective ways to evaluate your nonprofit’s success is by tracking performance indicators and metrics.

For example, check your online engagement from last year’s Giving Tuesday. Look at your donation page conversion rate and online giving percentage. Of course, numbers can only do part of the work.

You’ll need to meet with your team to discuss the why of your performance metrics. If your conversion rate is low, is your donation page too complicated? How can you engage donors better on Giving Tuesday to increase your online giving percentage?

Likewise, try to pinpoint the causes behind your success. Did your matching gifts program exceed expectations with an increased average gift size? Perhaps it was because of your 8 a.m. – 9 a.m. social media posts that put giving in the minds of your supporters as they entered the workplace.

If you’re stuck, try researching other nonprofits to see what strategies have worked best and worst across the philanthropic board.

B. Strategize with targeted goals.

Entering your year-end fundraising season without a goal is a lot like throwing darts at a target — blindfolded.

A goal will help you direct your time and resources effectively during your year-end fundraising.

To determine your goal, begin by asking your team these questions:

  • Who are you targeting? Year-end campaigns usually thrive off of your current donor base. But depending on your overall goal, you’ll want to prioritize your time and energy toward your most promising donors.
  • What kinds of donations are you most trying to receive? Is it most important that your organization receives recurring gifts or pledges? Do you have an average gift size that you’re trying to increase across all donors? Knowing what you want will help you prioritize your efforts.
  • How will you communicate with your donors? You may want to use all of your communication channels equally or focus more on the channels that you’re trying to advance. A brand new email newsletter, for example, may be the perfect place to emphasize your fundraiser.

Once you have a general idea of your main goal(s), narrow down your focus to a specific amount or percentage.

For example, you may want to raise $50,000 or increase recurring donations by 70%.

Then, use your numbers to measure your progress and adjust your strategy. If you’ve only raised $25,000 by December 15th, for example, you can celebrate the halfway point with your donors before encouraging them to make up the difference in the final days of the campaign.

Remember, you won’t hit a bullseye without aiming your dart.

C. Engage with empathy.

Your fundraising campaign will need to be focused and heartfelt to attract donors.

Personalize your year-end asks by zeroing in on a tangible aspect of your mission. Put a name and face to the cause that your year-end fundraising will support.

Be as specific as possible. Who is being helped, and how?

As you prepare your campaign materials, follow these tips to produce a powerful ask that will sway your donors.

  • Tell a story. Pick a person or community that your nonprofit has directly helped and let them tell their story. Focus on the recipient of your nonprofit’s services, rather than your nonprofit. Your supporters want to hear about real people and how they were helped, so be sure to use your recipient’s name in all materials and provide direct quotes.
  • Choose a high-quality photo. You’ll need a high-quality, clear photo to match your story. Powerful photos focus on a single subject and show how the subject is being helped. Eye contact with the camera will connect the donor to the subject in the frame.

Now that you know what your campaign will look like, it’s time to spread it far and wide to reach your donors.

2. Prepare a communication strategy.

Determining how and when you will contact your donors is part science, part art.

You’ll need to build off of your current donor relationships to develop the best strategy and use what you already know about your donors to reach them effectively.

To break down this tip, we’ll take a look at the two most important steps in the process:

A. Segment your donor database.
B. Outline your communications calendar.

These steps build upon each other, so spend time on each one.

A. Segment your donor database.

Segmenting your donor database for your year-end fundraising will help you craft targeted asks based upon your donors’ responsiveness and engagement with your organization.

You can use your donors’ RFM scores to guide your segmentation:

  • Recency: When did your donor last give?
  • Frequency: How often has your donor given?
  • Monetary: How much does your donor give?

Segmenting by RFM score can help you organize your donor database and identify the donors that you’d like to target. For example, you can use RFM score to help you identify potential major donors based upon their past behavior.

Furthermore, you can use RFM score to communicate with donors you already have. After all, you wouldn’t want to bombard a recent major donor with another ask right off the bat.

Though you can use RFM score to guide your segmentation, you can further segment your donors by other means.

For example, you can group your donors by:

  • Preferred communication channel. Different donors will respond to different communications. Some may be more receptive to print materials, while others may respond better to e-mails.
  • Giving patterns. Some donors may already be inclined to give toward the end of the year, while others may need more explanation for why donating at the end of the year is a good idea.

Now that you know who exactly you’re targeting, you’ll need to determine when and how you’ll be reaching out.

Use the information that you learned in this step to formulate your marketing funnel plan (i.e. the process by which you convert a person who is aware of your nonprofit into 1. a donor, and 2. a donor who actively shares your cause with others).

B. Outline your communications calendar.

To outline your communications calendar, you’ll need to:

  • #1. Plan in-person contact and phone calls.

Your major donors will need personalized contact if you’re seeking major year-end gifts.

Plan ahead so that you’ll have enough time to make your ask naturally, introducing your year-end fundraising over the phone and following up with in-person meetings.

  • #2. Determine mailing schedule.

Keep postage costs in mind when building your mailing schedule; you’ll want to promote quality over quantity and send your mailings at key points in the fundraising (such as the beginning and end).

Additionally, consider colored envelopes and personalized subject lines (i.e. avoid “To Whom it May Concern at all costs) to give your letters a thoughtful, personalized feel.

  • #3. Craft an online strategy.

Spamming donors’ inboxes and social media feeds will likely frustrate them. Spread out your online communications, and keep the content relevant and informative.

You may need to increase communications near the final days of the year, but do so sparingly (i.e. avoid sending more than one email per day, unless it’s Giving Tuesday). Take advantage of the season and incorporate holiday greetings and themes into your emails and posts.

Once you have a schedule in place, follow these tips to keep your communications on track:

  • Keep materials donor-centric. Shift your language toward what the donor can accomplish with their donation. To quickly check your communications, count how many times the word “you” appears in your materials. “You” should appear at least twice as often as the words “we” and “our.”
  • Use donor segmentation to customize communications. Your communications should always feel personal to your donor base. But you can take personalization a step further by using donor segmentation to guide your communications. Specifically, thank major donors for their past contributions and impact on your nonprofit, or begin your letters to attrited donors with a heart-felt “We miss you!”
  • Do not include an ask in initial communications. Start your early communications by introducing your year-end fundraising plans, not asking for donations. An early introduction can help donors prepare for their year-end giving, but even more so, it will establish a conversation with your donors, rather than a demand for money.
  • Vary content. Remember the heartwarming story you chose in Tip #1? As beautiful as it is, you don’t want to post it verbatim on every material you send out. You can and should center your communications around your best content, however. For example, post the story in full in mailed materials or on a year-end fundraising page, but tease the story in social media posts and emails instead.

Now that you’re prepared to communicate with your donors, it’s time to prepare your organization for receiving year-end donations.

3. Optimize online donation process.

When it comes time to make your ask, you’ll need to be ready to accept online donations en mass, so prepare your digital components well in advance.

You want online giving to be as easy as possible for your donors so that they have a positive, seamless giving experience.

To do so, follow these tips:

  • #1. Keep your page mobile friendly.

Mobile giving is a convenient way for donors to access your nonprofit’s donation page. Donors may reach your mobile page by following links that you’ve provided in social media or emails, or they may have pulled up your website on their phones after reading your persuasive prints.

Either way, ensure that your page is mobile responsive such that:

  • Text is large and clear enough to be read on a mobile device.
  • All text and images line up properly on a mobile device.
  • Your donation buttons are big and responsive to a mobile user. In fact, your donation button should be the only button on the page.

Essentially, your mobile giving page must be incredibly direct and easy to use.

  • #2. Incorporate QR codes and text-to-give.

Depending on your strategy and your donors’ preferred communications, you may want to consider integrating these mobile fundraising strategies into your year-end fundraiser.

  • QR codes, or quick response codes, are codes that can be scanned by mobile devices. The code will then take a user to your mobile giving page, for example. QR codes are usually printed on letters or posters.
  • Text-to-give fundraising allows donors to text a donation amount to a certain number. The donor will then receive a text message with a link that will take them to a page. On this page, the donor can fill out their billing information. Text-to-give instructions can be included with print materials or emails.

The end of the year is a busy time for everyone. Convenience is key.

Aligning your print materials with mobile devices can create more opportunities for your donors to give online, while still allowing your donors who prefer print communications to give in their preferred channel.

  • #3. Prepare a donor-friendly donation page.

Some donors will prefer their online giving to take place on a traditional computer.

Your online donation page needs to be simple, clear, and straightforward.

Donors should be able to easily find the buttons they need to click to make a donation, and they shouldn’t have to go through a complicated process, such as building an account with your website or entering extra info (tip: any information that isn’t necessary to making the donation itself is extraneous).

Check out the best nonprofit websites of this year to get ideas and measure your own page against these successful strategies.

Ultimately, optimizing your online component now will help ease the giving process for your donors come December.


Are you ready to tackle your year-end fundraising season? These three tips should help you orient your preparations toward success.

Once December rolls around, and the donations start pouring in, you can thank yourself for taking the time to plan ahead.

Preparation is key. And what’s behind the lock? ⅓ of the donations that your nonprofit will receive, and ⅓ of the funds that will further your mission..

 

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About author

Amy DeVita

Amy DeVita is managing partner at Top Nonprofits. A publisher, entrepreneur, mother, wife, social media enthusiast and fan and avid supporter of the do-gooders in the nonprofit/ for-impact sector. She has written for Top Nonprofits and Third Sector Today; she has been quoted on pieces about social media and social impact on The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. She was named to the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in NJ Monthly and she is a member of Social Media for Nonprofits' Leadership Council. In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, yoga, hiking, traveling, and playing Scrabble. Amy lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and three dogs. In 1984 she earned the "Most Improved Average" honor on her bowling league.

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