How to Plan and Run a Successful End-of-Year Fundraising Campaign

08 Aug 2017 Santa in the Summer on the Beach Photo Credit: Snap Assembly

Your nonprofit organization’s end-of-year fundraising campaign depends on the smart moves you make now, in these final weeks of summer, to prepare yourself for success. Before we discuss how to design an end-of-year campaign that delivers, let’s check out the fundraising statistics:

  • One-third of all nonprofit organizations raise less than 10% of their annual funds at the end of the year—a missed opportunity. (source)

  • Only half of nonprofits report using their website in their end-of-year fundraising campaign. (source)

  • Americans donated $390 billion to charities in 2016 (source)—and approximately 30% of those donations are made during a single month, December.

Americans are especially generous at the end of the year, yes, but the competition for charitable donations is fierce. Is your organization doing everything it can to attract that piece of the philanthropic pie?

Your Nonprofit End-of-Year Fundraising Plan

You need a plan. 

But more than that, you need everyone on the same page. Gaining consensus among your stakeholders is even more important than the finer details of your end-of-year fundraising plan.

Get your stakeholders into a room. Agree on your end-of-year goal. Some common goals are:

  • Increase total dollars raised by 10% (over the same period last year)

  • Increase the average gift (per donor) by 10%

  • Grow our database by 5% by going after first-time donors

We recommend picking one goal. No more than two. The more goals you stack on, the more convoluted and resource-draining your plan will become. Easier to knock it out of the park on one goal than come up short on a half-dozen goals.

The struggles of your end-of-year fundraising campaign

Segment Your Audience

You may be tired of hearing about audience segmentation. We totally get it. Sometimes, segmentation uses up more resources than it returns in increased donations. Especially if we have a large, diverse database that can be sliced and diced in a thousand directions. (And, for every new segment you define, you’re creating a whole new set of tasks, designs, emails, analyses, etc.)

But if there’s one time to segment, it’s for your end-of-year campaign.

Remember, you’re not the only charitable organization out there in December. The more personalized and tactically positioned your ask, the bigger your end-of-year return will be. Competition demands you up your game.

Common ways to segment your audience for an end-of-year fundraising campaign are:

  • Average donation size

    • Broken into tiers: $0-100, $100-$250, $250+

  • Who gave in December last year (vs. who didn’t)

  • People in your database who haven’t donated yet

  • Age:

    • Older donors tend to prefer direct mail

    • Younger donors prefer an easy online donation experience

Don’t forget to include digital tactics in your plan. This includes using social media, emails, your website, Google AdWords (which you can use for free if you’re a nonprofit agency), and online advertisements.

Don’t Get Too Experimental

Nothing can guide this year’s plan like last year’s. What worked? What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

Compare last year to the year before that. Did you see a rise in donations via a certain method, or at a certain time of the season (or day)? Why or why not? Spend time with your numbers and let them point you in the right direction this year.

This isn’t the time to get too experimental. Try one or two new things, perhaps. But even then, they should be iterative changes—not wholesale changes. For example, if you’ve never tried raising money through Instagram, don’t toss a bunch of resources into launching an Instagram appeal at the end of the year.

Experimenting with your end-of-year fundraising campaign

Have a Concept

It’s rarely enough just to say, “Please donate money to us.” Your end-of-year campaign has to cut through not only your charitable competitors, but also the thousand other distractions that the holidays bring.

The surest way to stand apart is to craft a concept that drives your campaign. An idea. Something—a message, a tagline, a tone of voice—that is simple, concrete, and thematic. You’ll know you’ve identified a concept when you can see it being presented in countless ways—across email, your website, your personal interactions, your direct mail pieces, etc.

Let your concept evolve over the course of the final 2-3 months of the year. As New Years Eve approaches, your tone will (should) grow more urgent. Urgency works.

Metrics

Remember that goal you identified at the outset? Turn it into a number. What, precisely, will you be tracking during your campaign to keep an eye on its success?

One way to set up effective metrics is to look at last year’s end-of-year milestones. How much had you raised on the last day of November? How much by December 7, or by Christmas Day, or on the day before New Year’s Eve? This way, you can check this year’s campaign on specific days and know if you’re over- or under-performing.

Here's a handy year-by-year Fundraising Campaign Metrics template you can download for free.

Other metrics might include:

  • How many website visits?

  • What percentage of users are “abandoning” the donation process partway through?

    • You need someone to set up some sophisticated Google Analytics goals to be able to see this.

  • How many pages do people visit before donating? Which pages?

Crafting the Right Message

People give to a charity because they believe in its mission; because they want to help achieve some good. And they engage with your nonprofit because of your content. So your end-of-year content should aim to convince prospective donors that your cause is worthy and your approach is making a difference.

But content is about more than the words you choose. It’s about the experience people have when they encounter you online:

  • Is it easy to find you?

  • Is it easy to peruse your website?

  • Are the images real and compelling?

  • Are the pages organized in a way that make sense?

Your end-of-year messages should feel “on brand.” They should be consistent. Don’t swerve from one pitch—one look and feel—to another. Your emails, homepage, donation form, and social media outlets should all feel part of the same family, coming from the same steady, clear-headed organization.

Pro tip: Don’t have too many calls to action. This isn’t the time to put all possible information in front of your constituents. Instead, pick one request per piece of communication. If you’re sending an email, don’t ask them to give, volunteer, and/or attend an event. Ask for one thing–and ask for it boldly and clearly. This will reduce confusion and user fatigue, thus increasing your chances of getting a donation from them.

delivering your end-of-year fundraising campaign

The Delivery

Your end-of-year campaign isn’t the time to be shy.

Ask. Ask. Then ask again.

When you plan your email schedule, don’t overworry about annoying some users to the point of unsubscribing. They were never going to support you much in the first place.

Your audience is expecting to be asked for a donation this time of year. They need to see your name in their inbox (and their social feeds) in order to make that gift happen. When is the best time to send someone an email? TODAY!

Remember, the number one reason someone donates to an organization is because they are asked. Many organizations, starting on Giving Tuesday, will send at least five (5) emails during the month of December. Don’t be afraid to hit that send button several times in the course of the last few weeks of the year, and especially the last few days.

The moment you think you’re over-delivering is the moment your donors are starting to recognize your message as your message.

The New Year: After the Give

Thank your donors. Then thank them again. A follow-up email and/or letter must be sent immediately. Automated thank-you webpages and tax receipts are important, but you need to have a purposeful, content-rich thank you to your donors. Consider hand-written messages to certain segments, video messages, or notes that share what their dollars mean to your organization.

Drag your end-of-year campaign into January with the many ways you display your gratitude to your donors.

Here, the Sierra Club put together a simple video thanking their supporters:

end-of-year fundraising campaign thank you example

After you’ve thanked your donors, keep in touch! Get to know the people who support your organization and cultivate that relationship. Think about it as “dating your donors”—i.e., ensuring their engagement and commitment to your organization is consistent in the coming years by staying in touch and expressing your appreciation.

The time is now to start planning for end-of-year fundraising. Feeling a little panicked after reading this? Let us do the heavy lifting and help set you and your organization up for success.

The holidays are right around the corner, so reach out if you find yourself in a bind.


This is only the beginning to a successful end-of-year campaign. Check out our resource, Successful Steps to an End-of-Year Appeal, for more information on the multi-channel communication mix, measuring results, and more. 

Rachel Clemens

Chief Marketing Officer

Rachel is responsible for sharing TradeMark Media's passion and expertise with the world.

More Articles by Rachel Clemens