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8 year-end fundraising tips

Just in case the end of 2016 is arriving before you are quite ready, here are 8 great year-end fundraising tips from Chronicle of Philanthropy authors Heather Joslyn and Eden Stiffman.

by Heather Joslyn and Eden Stiffman

Many charities start planning their fundraising appeals months ahead of the all-important year-end season. But now that it’s down to the wire, with just a couple of weeks left in the year, The Chronicle asked consultants and fundraisers to weigh in with their last-minute tips and advice.

“This is the not the time to be shy or reticent,” says Steve Daigneault, senior vice president of M+R, online fundraising and marketing consultants. “Don’t listen to naysayers in your organization. You need to go pedal to the metal right now.”

Here are tips from the experts:

1. Make it easy on the donor. A donor visiting your nonprofit’s home page should be able to make a gift quickly and simply. “If there’s any prominent space on your home page, put up a lightbox,” says Mr. Daigneault. That kind of a pop-up that asks a donor to give should appear every time someone visits the website during the last couple of days of the year.

2. Keep the emails steady. “Be careful not to overdo it, because too many organizations can turn prospective donors and existing donors away,” says Don Fellows, president and chief executive of consulting group Marts & Lundy. “Being strategic and specific and ideally as personalized as possible is the best way to get people to give.”

He recommends keeping emails short and focusing on the organization’s mission. “This time of the year it should mostly be about thanking people,” he says. “Even just thanking them is enough to prompt some people to give again.” And even if they don’t, file it under the category of smart long-term investment.

Mr. Daigneault, by contrast, says not to be overly concerned with email volume. “Send a TON of email,” he says. “Do not worry about sending two, three, four emails in the last couple of days of the year. Everybody else will be sending that much … I’ve never seen heavy volume streams show any immediate downside.”

3. Keep up with social media. “Make sure you’re monitoring the conversation and are active in conversations where anyone is badmouthing your charity,” Mr. Daigneault says. “You want to make sure that your side of the story is clear, because people are reading it and making decisions.”

As with your email messaging, make sure you’re also using social media channels to thank donors. And make sure you’re not just asking for donations on social media but also showing impact through human interest stories, statistics, and infographics showing results. “It could be about meals delivered or certain laws passed this year,” he says. “You are reminding people that you are effective.”

4. Capitalize on year-end urgency. As it gets closer to the final days of the year, your messaging may shift in tone. Make sure those emails are ready to send, says Kim Klein, co-founder of Klein & Roth Consulting in Oakland, Calif.

The first should say “This is your last chance to give.” The second, for people who have not yet given, should say “We’d really love to have a year-end gift from you.” And on December 31, your note should say something along the lines of, "This is your last chance, we’d really really love to hear from you.”

Though many charities will stress the importance of giving before the end of the year, they should avoid begging, says Mr. Fellows. “It shouldn’t come across as pressuring people because it's the end of the year.” However, those last few days are great time to provide incentive to give by offering a matching gift, especially if your match dollars are limited.

5. Invest in passive messaging. Charities should be prepared to spend more on branded search and targeted advertisements this time of year to help ensure they’re top of mind for prospective donors. Mr. Daigneault suggests starting with Google, strategically spending money on keywords that will make an ad for your organization come up first on a search.

“You don’t want to lose out on that kind of [return on investment] by not having enough money to invest in search at the end of the month,” he says. In that last week of December, the return on investment could be $10 for every $1 spent.

Targeted advertisements are also a smart way to invest in fundraising this time of year. Charities can put their advertisements in front of people who have visited their donation form or home page but who haven’t yet given.

Scott Justvig, executive director of development and communications for the Salvation Army’s Chicago Metropolitan Region, says the organization will be stepping up this kind of “passive messaging” on Google and Facebook, as the last two weeks of the year represent a significant percentage of the organization’s online giving.

6. Call your donors. “Go through all the donors, from the biggest donor on down, and see who hasn’t given yet,” says Ms. Klein. “Get on the phone and call them and ask them to give.”

For this to be viable, charities must make sure they’re well staffed in these final weeks.

“Usually staff is taking vacations, and we tend to just leave the data entry people, who need to be there to enter the checks,” says Karen Osborne, a New York fundraising consultant. “Think about who’s going to be in the office between Christmas and New Year’s. Make sure everyone who’s there who’s answering the phones knows how to tell people how to transfer stock.”

Mr. Fellows recommends that his clients’ staff, board members, and volunteers get on the phone with their largest donors just to thank them, not to ask for another gift. “Frequently that will result in another gift because it reminds people about your organization,” he says.

7. Lay the groundwork to acknowledge gifts. Charities must have a plan to quickly acknowledge gifts made at the end of the year, understanding that there will likely be a big uptick in the number of gifts during December.

“For starters, you absolutely need an auto-response that gives a receipt for tax purposes,” says Mr. Daigneault. “Beyond that, any thank-you needs to go out in the first week of January.”

As for the content of the acknowledgments, organizations should try to keep it short. If your organization has been trying to reach a campaign goal, let your donors know what happened. “Tell people exactly what happened: how many people gave; how much money was raised. Be as concrete as you can,” he says. “Close the loop.”

8. Prepare for next year. Keep track of what went well and what goes less well during this busy season.

“Get ready for next year,” says Ms. Klein. “Hit the ground running so you get ahead of yourself, and you’re not so jammed up in December.”

Ms. Osborne says charities should think about what data they’ll need to collect in December so that they can make course corrections in January if necessary.

“It can’t just be dollars in and donors in,” she says. “Are we looking at ‘yes’ rates? Are we looking at retention rates? You want to be able to look at your data and make good decisions in January, so that 2017 is an even better year.”

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