I know you’re working on calendar year-end fundraising right now.
And if you’re not, start immediately!
Per Mobile Cause:
- 30% of annual donations occur in December
- 12% of annual giving happens on the last three days of the calendar year
- 53% of nonprofits start planning their year-end appeal in October
Before it’s too late, I want to share with you four almost magic strategies that have worked well for me for decades!
Yes, there are ways to tweak these strategies to conform to the current zeitgeist and recognize we live in a digitally revolutionized world. This can be super helpful, and I highly recommend you pay attention to the ways fundraising and nonprofit marketing are evolving. It means new skills are needed, more money must be invested to yield your most positive returns, and you’re no longer going to be able to rest on your laurels.
That being said, I don’t want you to get so caught up in bells and whistles you neglect the fundamentals. Nor do I want you to throw up your hands in despair, culminating in a decision that you just can’t compete or do a better job because… (fill in the blank).
The magic strategies below have worked for me, and countless nonprofits, over generations. They’ll work for you too.
Truly, I promise if you do these things you’ll raise more money this year.
Ready to get started?
1. Segment your database before sending an appeal.
40% of the success of your appeal depends on your mailing list. You need the right people, the right amount of people, and a recognition of why these people might care about investing in your vision, mission and values.
Before you send a fundraising appeal this year, vet your mailing lists. Are all your potential donor prospects in your donor database? Do some of them reside in other databases (e.g., subscription, client or customer list; volunteer list; event attendee list; membership list; staff list; social media follower — think as broadly as possible.) Now sit down with other members on your team and brainstorm how you might reach out to people on these lists with your fundraising offer.
People on your mailing lists identify with you differently. While you may not be able to drill down into every single way they identify with you if you’re small to medium in size, you can definitely tweak your messaging based on criteria that make sense for you. And if you’re a large charity, you’ll be amazed at how granular you can get using outsourced services specializing in digital and direct marketing (e.g., M+R, DonorVoice and Merkel — just to name a few),
- Donors want you to show them you know them. If you send an appeal about rescuing dogs to people who’ve always given to rescue cats, you won’t connect on an emotional level. And you’ll appear disinterested.
- Donors want you to say thank you for past support. If you send them a new donor acquisition appeal, you appear clueless and ungrateful.
- Major donors want to be approached personally. If you send them a general monthly appeeal asking them to give $50 or $100 a month, when they’ve already pledged $5,000, they’re going to be confused and ticked off. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask them to make an additional monthly commitment for a specific project; you just have to make this crystal clear in your messaging.
- Board members and volunteers want you to treat them as special members of your family. The same holds true for former board and volunteers. If you send a generic appeal that doesn’t recognize “you understand better than most how important this is,” you’ll appear lazy and thoughtless.
- Users of services want you to know they’re connected to you. If you send them a generic acquisition appeal, you appear disconnected. I recently spoke with an arts patron who bought more performance tickets than any other single person (she consistently brought groups of friends to the theater), but donated at the $150 level. She also asked these friends to make donations. Yet because of the level of her personal gift, she felt she was treated like chopped liver.
- Staff and forrmer staff want you to know who they are, and that their past service is appreciated. Failure to recognize this will make them think “Well, I guess you’ve forgotten me; time for me to move on as well.” This has, sadly, happened to me more than once. I tell myself I should be the “bigger person,” but… human nature takes over. And it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of other causes to which I could give my charitable dolllars.
BOTTOM LINE — and this is important:
Sending an appeal asking folks to give to your broad-based mission tells would-be donors you don’t know much about them. Nor do you care what they think is most important; you just want to tell them what to do: “Give money.” This is neither an inspiring nor emotionally compelling message. It gives people no control over the impact they’d like to make. They won’t end up feeling like effective philanthropists because they’ve had no input into the purpose of their gift. If this is the way you fundraise, you’ll leave a lot of money on the table. Personally, I think that’s fundraising malpractice. If your mission matters, why raise a little when you can raise a lot.
2. Hand address envelopes and hand write notes to your current (last 12 months) donors.
Before sending your appeal into the mail, give it some personal love and attention. People are starved for personal connection these days, so a little bit of extra time and effort will pay huge dividends.
- Handwriting addresses will get the envelope opened. They look like personal invitations and letters from friends, making them irresistible.
- Handwriting the name of the volunteer who writes the personal note over a pre-printed return address,works even better to get the envelope opened. I have to know why Gayle sent me a letter!
- Handwriting a note on the body of the appeal, or adding a handwritten sticky note, makes the donor feel you’ve paid them special, personal attention and they’ll be more likely to read your appeal.
3. If you have cell phone numbers, consider texting those who’ve not yet given by December.
Text has the highest open rate of any communication channel today. On average, 90% of texts get opened, vs. 20% for email. Last year 51% of donations came from mobile (iPhone or Android). I still suggest saving this strategy for towards the end of the year, for those who haven’t responded to you any other way. It’s a strategy that works best when peoople have opted in to hear from you via text. Your best strategy is to put in place a bunch of tactics — now! — to get this permission as soon as you can (even if you decide to reserve this tactic for next year). For example:
- Before an event, ask people to opt in to receive texts with timely updates
- At en event, on-site or online, ask people to opt in to receive texts when certain things are happening (e.g., they’ve been outbid; program is about to begin; dessert being served in foyer; chat box open to communicate with others).
- At a volunteer activity, ask participants to opt in to be the first to learn about popular upcoming activities that fill up quickly.
- During an advocacy campaign, ask people to opt in to receive breaking news about outcomes or next steps so they can be “in the know” and on the cutting edge.
4. Put in a place a written donor thank you call plan.
You want to be ready to hit the ground running the minute gifts start coming in. You can do the minimum if you wish, and simply send a receipt or formulaic thank you letter. But that won’t help you much when it comes to retaining and upgrading donors over time. By now, I hope you understand fundraising is a numbers game. It’s not about volume of new donors. It’s about volume and value of loyal donors. The first-time value of most donors is zero, or less. In fact, it cost $1.00 – $1.25 to acquire a dollar from a brand new donor. And only 19% of these folks, on average, will stick with you. That’s not sustainable. If you can get donors to give even one more gift, retention increases to 60%. If you do this for a number of years, the lifetime value of these donors becomes something that will make your mission thrive. In fact, if you can increase donor retention by 10% you can double the lifetime value of your donorbase.
Phone calls make a difference both in retention percentage and amount of future gifts!
- Pick your own criteria for who you’ll call, depending on your number of donors and available callers.
- General guideline: Call all major donors within 24 – 48 hours. Your major donor amount may vary from other nonprofits. Many use $1,000+ as a threshold for calls. I recommend considering things from your donor’s perspective. $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 may be hugely significant for the donor, even though your major gift level may not begin until 6-figures. Even if you’re not going to fold these folks into your major donor cultivation portfolio right now, they still deserve a phone call. And you may be hugely rewarded, who knows?
- General guideline: Call all new donors above a pre-determined threshold. I like $100+ for small to medium-size charities, and maybe $500 for larger charities. First time donors are testing you. If you act as if the gift is “no big deal” to you, that’s likely how they’ll end up feeling as well. Donors need to feel they’re making a meaningful impact. Generally, this requires you taking some notice.
- General guideline: Call all donors who’ve increased their gift by 50% or more. Again, this is a signal the donor really, truly appreciates the work you’re doing. They want you to notice. And there may be more ways they’d like to become involved with you.
- Creative idea: Call donors to thank them on the anniversary of their last gift. This is a lovely way to remind them of their past giving, and embraces one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence and persuasion known as “commitment and consistency.” If people have once decided to take an action, they’re more likely to take the same action again. Reminding them in a way that leads from a place of gratitude works as a terrific decision-making shortcut. Some will respond positively when they subsequently receive an appeal from you. Some will ask if they can renew on the spot (which is why calling is a more effiicient practice than sending a card or text; you can always leave a voice message; then follow up with email, text or mail).
Want More Year-End Fundraising Strategies?
Grab my Year-End Fundraising Solution Kit – To-Do’s + Checklists. Even if you operate on a fiscal year, most of your donors operate on a calendar year. Step into their shoes. Successful fundraising is all about being donor-centered. You can do all these things at the end of your fiscal year as well, but they won’t be nearly as fruitful as they are in December.
Right now is your last chance to take charge of your own destiny.
Don’t just wait for the best and hope to get lucky. This is the time to create your good fortune!
This Solution Kit provides an all-in-one guide for ticking off the things you may be missing or may not quite have finished. It’s a 63 page comprehensive road map to effective year-end fundraising, designed to help you increase your year-end impact, and also get a jump on retaining the donors you acquire this year for many years to come. In this “Solution Kit” you’ll find a ton of practical tips, great examples and useful checklists! And all Clairification products come with my no-questions-asked, 30-day, 100% refund guarantee!
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash