What Your Nonprofit Needs to Do Now to Prepare for End-of-Year Fundraising Success

It’s that time of year again! If you have anything to do with fundraising at your nonprofit, you probably don’t get as much sleep as you should during the last quarter of the calendar year. There’s nothing quite like last-minute appeal letter revisions, mail house deadlines and donor retention anxiety to keep you up at night, and for most organizations, the end of the year is when the fundraising frenzy reaches a fever pitch. More than 50 percent of nonprofits receive a majority of their annual donations in the last three months of the year (October, November, December) and 31 percent of all annual charitable giving occurs in December.

And, while 2020 has brought with it so many unknowns, there is some good news when it comes to fundraising. Fifty-eight percent of donors say they plan to give the same amount to nonprofits this year and 13% said they plan to give more, despite the pandemic. So if you were considering letting up on your fundraising efforts this year, think again. There’s still time to get to work on your campaign and make it as impactful (and stress-free) as possible. 

When should I start planning and preparing for my end-of-year fundraising campaign?

This study from NeonCRM found that the majority of nonprofits start planning their end-of-year fundraising in October, so you’re right on time. While ideally you have some of the building blocks for a successful campaign already in place, it’s understandable if there was a wrench thrown into some of your best laid plans this year. If you’re feeling like you’re already behind, don’t despair. Here’s what you need to do between now and the end of the year to ensure your end-of-year fundraising campaign is as successful as possible.

ASAP: Evaluate Past Performance, Develop a Plan, and Assemble Your Campaign Team

Begin your end-of-year campaign planning as soon as you can by gathering all the metrics you have access to from last year’s campaign into one spot, and then analyzing them for key insights. Did you see a move toward more giving from mobile devices last year? Did a couple of key days in December outperform the rest of the year? Did some of the stories you shared in support of your campaign on social media generate more engagement than others? All these datapoints will be useful to inform your strategy for this year’s campaign. 

Once you’ve conducted a thorough analysis, use your insights about what worked well and what can be improved to build an optimized plan for the upcoming year. While year-end fundraising plans can vary greatly in content, length and complexity, we recommend including the following elements, at minimum:

  • Campaign theme: the central “big idea” that will be woven through all your campaign touchpoints. It’s important to revisit this theme every year to keep your communications to donors and prospective donors fresh.
  • Key messages: the main points you need your donors and prospective donors to hear, understand and act upon in your year-end campaign. These key messages will likely align with your organization’s overall key messages, and unlike the campaign theme, they don’t need to be overhauled every year.
  • Campaign tactics: the channels and tools you’ll use to reach donors and prospective donors. Direct mail, email, social media and events are old standbys for a reason: they work. However, other tactics — such as digital advertising on channels like Facebook, Instagram and Google — are quickly gaining popularity among fundraisers.
  • Campaign timeline: the key dates when elements of your campaign need to be delivered for review, production and ultimately, to your donors and prospective donors. Ideally, this timeline should ensure you’re coordinating messaging, imagery and calls-to-action across all your campaign’s various touchpoints and channels.
  • Campaign targeting and segmentation: an approach for getting your campaign touchpoints in front of the right donors and prospective donors, and for differentiating messaging for different groups.
  • Campaign responsibilities: designated roles for everyone on your team who is involved in bringing your year-end campaign to life.
  • Campaign goals and metrics: a set of benchmarks you’re going to aim to achieve in your year-end campaign and metrics for measuring against them.
  • Campaign budget: an estimation of campaign costs, ideally based on the return on investment you expect them to produce.

This time period is also when you should focus on assembling your campaign team. Make sure you have the right people in the right seats to make your campaign a success. Also make sure that your team is clear about what they’re owning based on the responsibilities section of your campaign plan.

Gather Stories and Develop Your First Touchpoints

Stories of the individuals and communities your organization works with are likely to be a centerpiece of your campaign. Start gathering them as soon as you’ve determined your campaign theme and key messages. Remember to adopt a strength-based approach to your story gathering and storytelling. While you want to build a strong case for supporting your organization, especially during such a crowded fundraising time, you also don’t want to unintentionally disempower those you exist to serve.

With your stories in hand, you can move on to develop your first campaign touchpoints. We always suggest a “soft launch” for year-end campaigns starting now, in October, where you can introduce your campaign theme and stories from the year, remind donors of the impact of last year’s contributions, and start to tease what’s to come in November and December. 

October: Build Your Metrics Dashboard and Launch Your Campaign

Before you release your first campaign touchpoints into the world, ensure you’ve gotten clear on the metrics you’re going to track and that you have developed an easy-to-use dashboard for keeping an eye on them. As soon as donors start seeing and reacting to your collateral, you’ll get back valuable data that you can act upon to improve the rest of your campaign. Don’t squander an opportunity by failing to properly track how your efforts are performing.

Then, launch your campaign by releasing your first direct mail piece, email and other initial campaign touchpoints. October can also be a great time to start advertising programs that focus on your organization generally or your campaign specifically and target both past donors and prospective ones. By beginning to get in front of them early and often, you’ll increase your chances of being top-of-mind as the end of the year draws nearer. You can even use Facebook advertising to acquire new donor leads during this time period. Learn how we did just that (and acquired 1,100+ new donor leads) for the McCormick Foundation here.

November: Make Your First Direct Ask 

October is all about building a narrative and nurturing donors toward a better understanding of why they should give. November, then, should be all about activating donors. Plan to get your first direct ask in front of donors and prospective donors early in the month, before the Thanksgiving holiday and Giving Tuesday create distractions and clutter.

November is also a key time to make adjustments to your campaign based on the real-time results you’re collecting in your metrics dashboard. Did one sort of email subject line draw far more opens than any other? Adjust the rest of your campaign emails to use a similar format. Are you seeing more shares and clicks on one story video on Facebook than all the rest? Ensure that story is front-and-center on one of your December direct mail pieces.

December: Reinforce Your Ask and Leverage Giving Tuesday 

While some folks in the sector believe Giving Tuesday is a passing fad, the data doesn’t lie. Charitable giving on Giving Tuesday grew over 27.75% from 2018 to 2019, totaling $511 million. Since it falls on December 1 this year, this is a great time to really kick your end of year effort into high gear. The trick is finding a way to stand out in the Giving Tuesday crowd. This post might provide some ideas, and you can learn how we helped the McCormick Foundation grow its Giving Tuesday earnings by over 300% in one year here.

On Giving Tuesday and during the weeks following, amp up your asks by making them timely (emphasizing tax benefits and annual budgetary needs) and saving your most compelling stories for last. Then, ensure you’re retargeting the people most likely to give. Using tools like Facebook and Google, you can collect data on people who visit your donate page but do not make a donation and retarget them with ads that remind them to give before the new year.

The tendency to coast through the last weeks of the year might be tempting, but it can be disastrous. The majority of December giving happens in the last 10 days of the month, just as the allure of Lifetime holiday movie marathons and the chaos of family gatherings begins to peak. Make sure you’re prepared well ahead of time by scheduling all your December campaign touchpoints early in the month, and then sit back and watch your hard work pay off. 

2020 is a year for the record books, let that include a successful year-end fundraising campaign for your nonprofit.