Studies show one-fifth of all charitable giving happens in December. For some organizations (maybe yours?), it’s as much as one-third. Year-end fundraising is not chopped chicken liver!
While you absolutely should be using multiple fundraising channels to get best results, right now whatever you’ve got planned for offline is pretty much cooked. So your best bet for boosting year-end results is digital.
What do you have planned online between now and December 31st?
Did you know more than 20% of all online giving for the entire year occurs on the last two days of the calendar year? Among digital strategies, email rules. According to M+R’s Benchmarks Study, email was responsible for 15% of all online revenue for nonprofits. For over a decade, the last week of the year – and particularly the last day of the year– have been huge for online fundraising.
To boost your year-end fundraising success, you need to craft an email offer your donor can’t refuse.
How will you best convey your offer?
In a nutshell, you need three things for any fundraising offer:
- Problem you’re addressing — made real and relevant to the prospective donor.
- Solution you’re proposing to address the problem – with your donor’s help.
- Ask showing how the donor can help– the specific purpose and amount of the gift you’re requesting.
It’s really that simple, but let’s get a little more into the weeds so you’ve a better idea how to execute these three offer components.
1. How to describe the problem.
This should be something the would-be donor can visualize happening, or not happening. It should grab their attention, which something broad and generic like “support our cause” simply won’t achieve. If you’ve had success in the past with a generic appeal, I understand. That can work, especially with folks who already ‘get it,” but it limits your reach and appeal. To expand beyond folks who already love you requires greater specificity. And, to be frank, when you’re more specific you’ll secure larger gifts. So stop leaving money on the table; describe a specific wrong that must be righted!. And make it as relevant to what is most top-of-mind for your constituents as you possibly can.
ACTION TIP: Consider showing a compelling photo of the problem. You don’t have a lot of words above the scroll in your email, and a picture showing need (not a happy, smiling photo; save those for thank you’s and reports) is worth a thousand words. What a great way to save space and capture attention!
ACTION TIP: If you let me know 50% of men and 30% of women will receive a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives, you’ll catch my attention. Whereas otherwise I may not have thought cancer research was relevant to my life, now I know this is a disease that has a good chance of touching me and people I love.
ACTION TIP: If you know it costs $20/month to feed a senior, I’d like to know that. In fact, in deciding how much I should give, I need to know that! It might cause me to give $240 to feed a senior for a year. If you just ask me to “support our senior nutrition program with a gift of any amount,” I may just give you $25.
2. How to describe the solution.
While the problem grabs attention, the solution is what prompts people to take action. Your proposed solution should be something capable of being easily grasped by your audience. Not all the underlying complexities. Your fundraising offer is not a place to educate your donors. Or try to explain them into giving. Don’t feel compelled to expound on every nuance of what you do. Or every piece of the puzzle. Get right to the most important part. The demonstrated outcome that will happen with their support.
ACTION TIP: Donors simply want to show you they care. They want to make the happy ending come true. They want to see themselves as heroes. Giving becomes a reflection in the mirror of who they are: compassionate, generous, values-based people. Donors will give when they’re persuaded that doing so is an excellent expression of who they are. If you want to tell the rest of the story (and you should), do it after the fact. In your thank you letters, emails and year-round communications. By the time next year rolls around, they’ll have a whole story bank in their minds and hearts, and will likely give even more passionately.
ACTION TIP: Make the solution something a donor can realistically tackle. Solving world hunger is too big. It’s not meaningful to address the problem this way. Too much like peeing in the ocean to raise its level. People will hit “delete.” But suggesting they can buy food to feed a family for a month will make them feel good. It’s something they can achieve, and may actually want to do.
3. How to tell people specifically how they can help.
For a fundraising offer to be one the donor can’t refuse you must include a specific call to action – one with a precise cost to achieve what you propose and an articulated fundraising goal.
Your ask doesn’t just come at the end of your appeal. Ask early and often. Think about the single, most important thing you need to communicate; then tie your opening to your reason for writing as quickly as possible. It may be the only thing your prospect will read before deciding whether or not to continue reading, or simply toss you into the trash receptacle.
ACTION TIP: Make your call to action explicit. Spell it out in black and white. Force a decision with an introduction that triggers an “I’ll help/I won’t help” decision.
ACTION TIP: Make it easy for the donor to do this now. Assure your donate button is visible and your donation landing page is user-friendly. Don’t ask for too much information; just ask for what you need. Otherwise you’ll run into abandon-cart-syndrome. And make sure the case for support on your website is as compelling as it is in your appeal. “Give to support our food pantry” is not as compelling as “Give so kids in our community go to bed tonight with full bellies.“
4. When to tell people they should help.
One thing you can count on is many donors will wait until the last minute. So… show up!
Steven Screen of Work Less, Raise More, suggests sending your year-end email volleys at 10:00 a.m. The experts at NextAfter, who test this stuff all the time, suggest you tailor your send time to when most of your constituents tend to open their emails from you; they even offer an explanation of how to analyze this using Google Analytics and an export to Excel. Don’t worry about this too much however. It’s most important just to make sure you send something each of these final three days of the calendar year.
- Email #1 – Send on Dec. 29th
- Email #2 – Send on Dec. 30th
- Email #3 – Send on Dec. 31st
ACTION TIP: Remember to segment your email lists so donors who have already given don’t receive those reminders. If you can’t do this, include a line in the email thanking those who may have given already. Simply state “If our communications have crossed in the mail…” or “If you’ve already made your gift…“
How will you best structure your narrative?
People give based on emotion. When their hearts are touched. Or when they become frightened. Or angry. Usually this emotional response comes from ONE compelling story. Often it comes from a photo that depicts this story, accompanied by a compelling caption. A zingy, succinct opening line can help as well.
In a nutshell, here are five ways to take people on an emotional journey:
1. Wrap your appeal into a story of impact.
The only difference between an appeal and a thank you or report is the appeal express the impact that can happen – but only if the donor jumps into the story and plays a role. Ideally, a BIG role. In fact, the role of the hero who gives the story a happy ending.
Such a role doesn’t mean the donor has to make what your organization considers a ‘major gift.’ But the gift should be meaningful enough the donor can envision the impact they’re making.
2. Convey a specific, attainable goal.
When you put a price tag on something, people understand what it will take to buy it. In other words, if they’re shopping from the L.L. Bean catalog and they want to own that parka, they’ll need to part with $84. That’s the right amount for them to spend. In fact, it’s the perfect amount – as it totally gets the job done.
When you ask for a philanthropic gift, similar rules apply. Let your donor know how much it costs for you to provide meals, and they’ll know $10 is the perfect amount to buy 20 meals. Let them know $100 will buy a counseling session, and they’ll know this is the perfect amount to help an at-risk teen.
The donor feels much better giving what they know is the perfect amount than if they have to guess.
- They know they helped.
- They know they solved the problem they wanted to solve.
- They know they didn’t give too little or too much.
- They weren’t made to wonder if “any amount will help” resulted in them making a ‘drop in the bucket’ token donation.
- They feel really good – which makes them want to give again.
3. Convey urgency.
What’s a bit different about your year-end appeal is the need to convey urgency.
Everyone and their dog is asking right now, so why should a donor give to you and not someone else? And why now?
You need an ask with a deadline. Here are some suggestions to convey urgency:
- Inform folks this is a special “crisis” or “emergency” appeal. Only do this if this is true for your nonprofit – which this year may well be the case.
- Inform folks this is a “special year-end appeal.” People understand endings lead to beginnings, so it makes sense as you close up this year you’ll be planning ahead to do even more in the coming months. Telling people you need their support now so you’ll be able to assure you won’t have to let anyone down in the new year adds some sense this is pressing and prompts people to act.
- Remind folks why this may be an especially difficult period for those who rely on you to fulfill your mission. You might mention how difficult it is to be isolated due to the pandemic… alone during the holidays… on the street during the cold weather… needing to stand in line for food… having to home school kids… find a way to maintain mental health… missing creative, nourishing stimulus from the arts and museums… and whatever else makes sense for your cause.
- Consider a matching challenge grant. Donors love to leverage their money and, in my experience, knowing their gift will be doubled has powerful persuasive impact. You still have time to ask your board, or a major donor, if they’d be willing to fund such a challenge.
- Remind folks there are tax benefits to giving before December 31 in the U.S. This is by no means the number one giving motivator, but for folks who itemize it can be a giving now incentive.
4. Grab attention with a compelling email subject line.
If you’re like most nonprofit fundraisers and marketers, you likely spend a lot of time crafting the perfect email body copy, selecting images and figuring out just the right design that will entice someone to respond to your call to action. Then, at the last minute, you’re ready to send it and hastily come up with a subject line. Don’t do that. Instead, read this article: You Deserve to Rock Nonprofit Email Subject Lines!
5. Repeat your ask using a P.S.
The P.S. is your most valuable piece of real estate. Many readers will skip right to the end, so put your most compelling message there.
What will you do to assure people give today and in the future?
Don’t forget to plan ahead for gratitude. Seriously, this is super important and too often overlooked. How and when you say thank you matters as much as how and when you ask. Maybe even more!
Thank donors for past and future support in your appeal; immediately after they donate send a prompt, personal thank you. The extraordinary power of thank you cannot be denied. So plan ahead – right now – for how you’ll thank your supporters.
- After they donate, be sure they’re sent to a branded thank you page (also called a ‘redirect’ or ‘confirmation’ page).
- Follow this up with a personalized thank you email. Many thank you emails are impersonal, too formal or filled with ego-centric language. Just dreadful.
- Consider following the email up with a thank you call or video. Though you may not have the bandwidth to do this for all donors, find at least a subset you can reach out to personally this way. And record the fact you did this in your database so at the end of the year you can track whether these folks renewed at a higher rate than other donors.
- Follow up the email thank you with a mailed thank you. Letters tend to be perceived as more personal than email, plus you can add a little handwritten note to show the donor you really appreciate them. Since receiving thank you letters is rare these days, you’ll stand out in a very good way. Don’t worry you’re thanking too much. There’s no such thing!
Want More Appeal Tips?
There are all sorts of critical elements to consider, and I cover them all in my Anatomy of a Fundraising Appeal Letter e-Guide. It will help you with messaging for both offline and online appeals.
If you want more timely help for right now, grab my Year-End Fundraising Solution Kit – To-Do’s and Checklists. It’s a step-by-step comprehensive road map to effective year-end fundraising. After working 30+ years in the trenches, I can vouch for this stuff. It’s tried and true!
Also, if you want help developing a plan to channel the extraordinary power of gratitude, grab my Cultivate An Attitude Of Gratitude And Keep Your Donors e-Guide. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned about sustaining donor relationships over the years and tucked it into one handy no-nonsense guide with practical ways to shower your donors with love.
All Clairification products come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. If you’re not happy, I’m not happy. I mean it.
Image courtesy of Kelly Sikema on Unsplash.