Making the most of your year-end fundraising campaigns

AMC_YE2013-Lbox3-Calendar_FINALIt’s September, and the Year-End season still seems a long way away. Even if you aren’t quite ready to start your holiday shopping for family and friends, you should start planning your organization’s Year-End fundraising strategy today.  Nearly 30% of ALL charitable giving occurs during the last month of the year, and most of that comes within the last few days of December. So make sure you are primed and prepared to make the most of it! Many clients ask us “when is the best time to send our Year-End fundraising appeals in the mail and online? Is October too early? Is December too late?” The short answer is that there is no cut-and-dry timetable—but it seems that organizations are starting to send their Year-End appeals earlier and earlier. Just recently, one of my colleagues received what appeared to be a holiday fundraising appeal in her mail, complete with pictures of Santa Claus and snowflakes on the outer envelope. August is probably too early for your Year-End fundraising to hit households. Once you’ve looked at your organization-wide mailing schedule for the last 2-3 months of the year and decided on the best timing for your Year-End appeal and follow-up (yes, we recommend a follow-up!), then think about the fundraising goals you want to accomplish during this Year-End season and how you will achieve them. Are you aiming to increase your income by a certain percentage over last year? Or is it more important to increase the average gift or upgrade a specific number of donors? Likely it’s a combination! Once you know your goals, you will need to think of tactics that will help you reach them – such as incorporating a matching gift offer or including a premium. Next, take a look at the testing you’ve conducted throughout the year in the mail and online. Any test that successfully boosted your response rate or your average gift is probably worth rolling out in Year-End to maximize your response. Like many organizations, your main goal is probably to get as much money as possible in the door before December 31. In that case, skip the hard press for monthly sustainer sign-ups and focus on one-time gifts.  But, if recruiting new sustainers is a top priority for your organization right now and you don’t mind sacrificing some Year-End revenue for the sake of long-term income, then sustainer recruitment promotions on your website could be some of your best tools at Year-End. Your Year-End appeals are a great opportunity to upgrade your current donors to higher levels of giving, since many are generous during the season of giving. Think about which donor segments you can target for upgrade asks to your mid-level giving group. Add an aspirational gift amount on the reply ask string. Or, consider offering a back-end premium for donors when they increase their commitment to your organization. Don’t let your Year-End mailing get out the door without careful consideration for a coordinated online fundraising strategy. Your fundraising emails can mirror the message in your direct mail piece to create a cohesive campaign. For online donors who were also sent a direct mail piece, it’s a good idea to add a message at the top of the email with a note saying “we wanted to follow-up with you” or “did you get our appeal in the mail.”  Put special consideration into how you select your email audience so you can target donors with email addresses on file that recently got your appeal in the mail. For your website, there are some very simple and effective ways to drive more visitors to your donation page. Adding a Lightbox to your homepage for the month of December is a proven technique to raise money online at Year-End. On December 31 and the days leading up to it, consider redirecting all your homepage traffic to your donation page so that any visitor to the website automatically lands on your donation page. This tactic may seem a bit extreme, but if your leadership is serious about raising as much money as possible during the last days of the calendar year, then it’s worth trying, if even for just one day. A lot of our clients ask us these days about #GivingTuesday, and whether or not it’s worth participating in as part of a Year-End strategy. 2014 will mark the third annual #GivingTuesday online event to raise awareness about charitable giving through social media and online sources. While still a young program, the money raised on #GivingTuesday has steadily increased year-over-year. Compared with your other Year-End efforts, #GivingTuesday likely won’t generate nearly as much income as your direct mail or emails. But if you don’t want to leave any stone unturned, you should consider participating.  Make sure you assemble a strong group of volunteers who will be dedicated to spreading the word about your cause on #GivingTuesday. For further reading, I recommend: Sabrina Sutton Naylor is an Account Manager for Mal Warwick | Donordigital and is based in Washington, DC. She manages mail fundraising projects for Ocean Conservancy, and International Medical Corps.