Have you started working on your annual appeal and year-end fundraising plan?
I worked for 30 years in the trenches, so I know exactly what this time of year feels like.
It feels like you’re at the base of a mountain you’re about to scale.
- Exciting, but also scary.
- Exhilarating, yet also daunting.
- There will be good days, and bad days.
And this particular year, you may feel you’re taking two steps forward and three steps back.
That’s to be expected during times of great uncertainty.
Expected or not, I know you’re still anxious and thinking “What if we don’t reach the top?”
Don’t worry, I’m here to help.
This year you may need the equivalent of a few extra granola bars for energy. And maybe an extra tool or two to help you get a grip.
Right now I want to give you a few specific, timely tips you might not be thinking about.
Here are some strategies I hope will give you a leg up, so to speak.
Ready to Put Your Best Foot Forwards?
Here are 11 tips I’ve learned over the years. Some of them are very basic and common sense. When you read them, you may think “Well, duh, of course.” If you agree with the tip, that’s a terrific place to start!
Now, ask yourself if this is something you’re really doing.
Or if you think you are doing it, could you do it better? Be honest with yourself. Because, frankly, I see way too many nonprofits trying to hike up the year-end fundraising mountain backwards, or in sandals. It’s one way to do it; just not the best way.
Ready to thoughtfully read and absorb?
Okay… here are your 11 year-end fundraising strategic tips:
1. Connect your appeal to today, not yesterday.
Rather than retreading last year’s appeal, or sending something letting folks know “It’s the end of the year, or it’s the holidays, and it’s time to share your blessings,” try to link your apppeal to a problem that may be top of mind for your constituents during these extraordinary times in which we find ourselves. Acknowledge what’s going on, how people may be feeling, and what you’re doing to cope. Even if what you’re doing is some version of continuing to focus on the mission that was important this time last year, it’s still useful to address the elephant in the room. For example: “As people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes now face the dual challenge of living with their condition and living with fear it may cause them to catch a deadly new disease, our efforts to find a cure are more important than ever.” Or “As our theater remains at only partial capacity, our efforts to support artists who create stories that lift us up and bring us together are vital.”
2. Select a story, or series of stories, around which to center your campaign.
Rather than trying to lay out the depth and breadth of what you do or, worse, simply ask folks to support your organization in a general way, send a story about one person, place or thing that needs their help. Now. You can learn more about where and how to collect stories here, and how to tell them here.
3. Focus on one story at a time.
People are more likely to give if they can visualize the problem they’ll be solving and if the solution seems attainable. Ending hunger is not as realistic as feeding one family. There’s been plenty of research on what is known as the “identifiable victim effect.” You want a story with an identifiable protagonist. The story will perhaps break your reader’s heart, yet potentially restore their hope. That will happen, of course, when they swoop in and become the change agent who gives the story you’ve told a happy ending.
4. Select compelling visuals to support your story.
Pictures capture attention, and really are worth 1,000 words. This is important in our digitally revolutionized zeitgeist where folks consume morsels rather than full meals. Visuals whet donor appetites. Generally, sad photos work better for appeals (they tell the story of someone needing help), while happy photos work better for thank you’s (they tell the story of the outcome the donor made possible).
5. Ask donors to fund something specific.
Research shows donors will give more if they can designate their gift. People like to be able to visualize how their money will be used. If you have a multi-program cause, sometimes you can accomplish this by sending a series of appeals. First, pick your top three strategic initiatives. Tell one story about each (September/October, November and December). Use one remit card or donation landing page that gives folks the option to earmark their gift for any of these three programs. Alternatively, highlight different stories in your e-appeal series. Create a different landing page for each appeal that uses the messaging and imagery for each distinct story. This technique works especially well in upgrading mid-level donors because you’re giving them a reason to do something different than just send their habitual unrestricted annual gift. And don’t worry that the gift is technically ‘restricted.’ If you’ve picked your core initiatives your ask is akin to allowing donors to pick which row of your garden they prefer to plant their flowers in. You’re still well within ‘the garden’ of your core mission.
6. Segment your mailing list and send tweaked versions of your appeal and response device to different segments.
There are numerous ways to segment your list (e.g., by amount of donation; first-time vs. renewing vs. lapsed; by donor interest area, by affiliation with you, etc.). When you segment, you show donors you know them and can more specifically tailor your specific ask amount and purpose. This is a super important, too often overlooked strategy. So before you hit “send,” ask yourself:
- What will a major vs. small or mid-level donor think when they receive this?
- What will a loyal vs. first-time donor think when they receive this?
- What will an active volunteer vs. giver of money think when they receive this?
- What will a cat vs. dog lover think when they receive this?
- … and so forth.
7. Make sure you’re using a multi-channel approach.
The mail continues to experience delays. So don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Set up an email campaign. Supplement it with social media posts. Consider text messaging. And if you’re mailing, consider first class postage. Give your mail appeal plenty of time to reach its destination. Give your email appeal several chances to be opened by sending it, or a version of it, more than once. While a mailed appeal may sit on the counter for a week to a month, emails have a very short shelf life.
8. Set up visits with the Top 10 prospects you absolutely want to connect with personally to ask for gifts before the end of the year.
Hopefully you’ve been engaging all year up to this point in “getting to know you” relationship-building visits. Your donors are now expecting to be asked! You can set up virtual visits via Zoom, Skype, Facetime or whatever platform you and your donors may prefer. See more on securing the visit here: Proven Strategies to Get the Major Donor Visit. While perhaps not as ideal as in-person visits, you can still be face-to-face and observe body language. It’s a great alternative, and now that we’ve all become more used to these virtual encounters its a terrific option for organizations whose donors are scattered geographically. In fact, it may just become the new normal.
9. Recruit active volunteers to become peer-to-peer fundraisers.
People respond better to people than they do to organizations. Especially when it’s people they know and trust. So this is a great way to amplify your fundraising power. Make it as easy as possible for your supporters to share your appeals with their networks. Consider investing in P2P software, text messaging, QR codes and anything you can think of that makes sharing a breeze. And be sure to include share buttons on your website, in your e-newsletter or blog, and even in your email signatures.
10. Hold a special board session to inspire volunteers to be active as ambassadors, advocates and askers during the critical year-end months of October – December.
Encourage them to get in touch with their passion by engaging them in why they first supported you, and why they continue to do so. Help them reframe fundraising as storytelling to make them comfortable taking on this responsibility. If nothing else, ask them to make thank you calls to pre-suade donors to be receptive to your year-end solicitation.
11. Approach potential corporate sponsors for your spring special event, be it offline or online.
Whether you’re planning an on-site, virtual or hybrid event, sponsors will be important to your bottom line. Often this is the time of year businesses still have budget from the previous fiscal year that hasn’t yet been allocated. And, if not, they can get you to the top of their list for the new fiscal year. You win either way.
There’s a seasonal aspect to fundraising, just as there is to mountain climbing. The end of the calendar year is when most folks engage in philanthropy. You don’t want to waste it. October, November or December is too late to begin thinking about your strategy.
Give yourself ample time to articulate your objectives, create your strategy, collect visuals to support your most compelling stories, recruit your most effective fundraisers and build a timeline for deploying your campaign offer across multiple channels. Writing, editing, designing, getting approvals, finalizing lay-outs, printing, collating, affixing personal notes… it all takes time!
If you don’t get control of the big picture through early planning, you’ll omit the details down the line. And you know what they say, right? The devil is in the details!
Want More Details to Rock Year-End Fundraising?
Grab one of my E-Guides:
- Anatomy of a Fundraising Appeal Letter plus Sample Template
- Year-End Fundraising Solution Kit – To-Do’s + Checklists
Make sure you’re logged in to your Clairification School dashboard to grab your student discount! Not yet a student? Yyou can get in on the fun here! Please join us!
Keep doing the wonderful work you do, and making our world a better and more caring place!
Photo by Yente Van Eynde on Unsplash