Danielle M. Locke
How to Boost Your Year-End Giving
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
A month-by-month guide to raising more and stressing less this season.
Can you feel it?
For nonprofit professionals like us, the chill of a cool fall breeze brings with it the pressure of fundraising goals and year-end giving campaigns.
In this article, I’m going to help you go “from stress to success” with my time-tested month-by-month strategy. Just follow the step-by-step guide below, adjusted for your team, to get a jump on your planning, decrease stress, and raise more than ever before!
Four Months for More Money
The last quarter of the year is notoriously high-stakes for fundraising— it’s time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far, celebrate your impact. You also have to coordinate a compelling final appeal that inspires your donors to deepen their relationship with you. You will also need to find a creative way to help your organization stand out during the hectic season of online giving. And, it’s probably just you doing all those things.
First off, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to do everything at once to have a successful year-end campaign!
Start with the Basics
Before you can implement the monthly plan below, you can do a few things now to make your decisions easier along the way.
During the months of August or September, you’ll set your fundraising goals. In October, you’ll start to prepare your donor relationships for generous year-end giving and start gathering your content, stories, photos, etc.
By using the simple checklist below, you will feel confident that you’re covering all the bases and setting yourself up for success in the months ahead.
Why Start Now?
The end of the year sneaks up on us quickly! Before you know it, we will be cutting the Thanksgiving turkey. You’ll wake up from your turkey and stuffing nap only to realize you don’t have a plan for Giving Tuesday, a holiday fundraising letter, let alone a campaign!
I Promise. This Plan Works.
I know how difficult it is to start thinking about the holidays when kids are just heading back to school, and we’re still enjoying the last glorious moments of summer.
I have been in your shoes. I have been the one trying to catch my breath after summer and fall events, then scrambling to throw a year-end fundraising letter together. Nothing is worse than feeling like you are disappointing your team.
I finally got the jump on my year-end campaign when I was at the Community Foundation. Here is a quick outline of my decisions and our results:
September - sent letters to our network of professional advisors (attorneys, CPAs) reminding them to remind their clients of the tax benefits
October - shared our successes via email and social media
November - skipped Giving Tuesday. Honestly, I feel there is too much competition and too many distractions during this week. This is a soapbox I could stand on, but I will spare you for now.
December - mailed appeal letter the first week of the month. Followed by one email a week until December 29. Then, one email a day on the 29th, 30th, and 31st. (Tax incentives are important to our affluent donors.)
January - in the 2nd week of January we sent a Happy New Year email and greeting card. This was filled with notes of sincere appreciation for last year's support, success, and a glimpse into the next year’s program goals.
The result varied from year to year but overall, we saw our year-end giving double. We generally raised $100K in the 4th quarter of the year.
This Checklist is a Lifeline!
August / September — Do your Homework
Take stock of where you are. Ask yourself these questions:
How much more do we need to raise this year?
How many times have we asked for support so far this year?
When was the last time we asked for support?
How many donors have given this year? How many donors have not?
What does your donor giving usually look like at year-end? Do you get a lot of small gifts, big gifts, or gifts of assets like stocks?
What other events or plans does your team have before the end of the year?
Communicate with purpose.
Remind your audience why your organization is critical. Tell donors what you did with their donations this year. Show them the results of your efforts and their contributions.
Update your website with stories and visuals.
Share a success story via email
Focus your social media posts on this year’s successes. Tell stories. Give facts. Use images and videos.
If you have the time, send handwritten thank-you notes to some donors. This will really impress them and prepare that relationship for an appeal.
Plan and Prepare.
Pull and clean your mailing and email lists. Determine who you will mail/email for the year-end campaign. Note: It’s ok if these lists overlap, they should! Also, make sure your Board, staff, and volunteers are on these campaign lists.
Review this year’s emails, newsletters, social media, etc. What stories got the greatest response? What images, videos, messages could you recycle?
Is your organization participating in Giving Tuesday?
Will you send your year-end appeal at Thanksgiving or early December? Do you have other events that could be a conflict?
Will you do an extra push for the last 3 days of the year for tax-deductible gifts?
October — Create + Creatively Repurpose Content
Pick a story, or two, that represents the impact of your work. Gather some images and/or videos that represent the impact your donors have had or could have by supporting your organization. Note: Give yourself a break. It’s seriously ok to recycle a popular story/image.
Develop a theme for the campaign based on a specific program, a need you are trying to address, a compelling story, etc. E.g. funding for the homeless shelter, or care packages for veterans
Create a corresponding hashtag to be used on social media – this seems unnecessary but trust me, it’s a must for your social media appeals.
Draft your end of year fundraising letter*
Next, abbreviate (seriously cut) that same letter so you can use the text for an email solicitation.
Now, take the copy from the full appeal letter and break it down into bite-size pieces for a series of social media campaign posts. Attach the hashtag to all social media posts.
* You could skip the hard copy mailing in favor of just an email/social media campaign if that’s where your donors are found. A word of caution though, don’t miss your most generous donors for the sake of efficiency. I suggest at least a hard copy mailing to your older donors. They are the fastest-growing demographic as well as the donor group with the most disposable income. These donors might be online but generally, they are more responsive to offline requests.
November / December
Mail, Send, Post.
Have as many of the hard copy letters as possible hand signed by a Board member, program staff, or yourself.
Mail the hard copy letters.
Send email solicitation within the next 3 days. Send email reminders two more times for the duration of your campaign.
Post on social media 2-3x a week for the length of your campaign.
Track your progress. Make sure to report out to your team, leadership, and Board on a weekly basis. This will help maintain the momentum.
Note: you can create and schedule your emails and social media in advance so you don’t have to think about it later.
Set yourself up for future success!
Thank your donors. I have often recruited the Board and staff to make dozens of thank you calls in January.
Make sure every detail about every donor and their donation(s) gets out into your CRM (even if that’s just excel for now!)
Add your donor information to your mailing and email lists. This will ensure you continue to communicate with donors, especially new donors, throughout the next year.
Make sure to invite all those who interacted with your posts on Facebook to like your page.
Give Yourself the Gift of a Less Stressful Year-End Giving Season
Somewhere along the way, I figured out some simple fundraising systems that worked — when followed consistently — for the organizations I led. Now I share those tools with my clients because I truly believe that fundraising can be fun and fulfilling – if you focus on 1) relationships 2) simple steps that work and 3) leave the rest of the noise behind. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year — just adapt this plan based on your needs, timeline, and resources, and then let your campaign do its work.
Fundraising is a skill that can be learned, and I’m more than happy to help you skip the hustle of learning things the hard way!
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