Welcome to your Clairification Dashboard and Monthly Tip!

You’ll find something new here each month — paralleling what you’re likely thinking about during this time period. This month I’m giving you multiple tips because, heck, it’s a very critical month for fundraisers!

Did you know nonprofits receive 50% of their annual contributions from October to December? In the U.S., roughly 30% of all donations happen in the month of December alone. 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of the year. As much as a full third (33%) of December gifts occur on the 31st of the month!

PERSONAL NOTE: Before we begin with the tips, please indulge me a moment to tell you how very special Clairification School students are to me. It gives me a warm glow to know there are so many folks like you endeavoring to make our world a better and more caring place, and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to share my experience and wisdom with you.

If I can help you succeed, I’m happy. Thank you for joining me on the pathway to passionate philanthropy!

TIP 1: Plan Your Year-End E-Appeal Series

Your year-end online strategy is not only important, it’s critical.

40% of online gifts are made in December. Even a majority of donors age 60+ give online. You don’t want to blow this year-end chance!

You need to email more than once.

Email has a shelf life of about 24 hours, so there’s a high likelihood your donor will miss it.  Unless you send it again. And again. It’s quite different from direct mail, which tends to sit around the house.

According to M&R’s report, nonprofits sent 7 fundraising emails per subscriber in December. That may be too few or too many for you, but I’m giving you a benchmark. The late, great online fundraising guru John Haydon suggests asking three times between 12-27 and 12-31. I concur.

Here are a few ‘oldie-but-goody’ articles I’ve collected you may find of interest:

TIP 2: Take a Hard Look at your Home Page and Donation Landing Page

  • Do they mirror your campaign? 
  • Tell a story?
  • Inspire? 
  • What would a donor think, feel and/or want to do when she lands on it right now? 
  • Do you make it easy and straightforward to give online?

Make a donation to your cause and see what your experience is. 

Better yet, ask a friend to do so.

  • Is it intuitive to use?

  • Does the donor get taken off of your site with links to non-donation pages?

  • Are there too many fields to complete?

  • Too many options from which to choose?

  • Do you offer a gift string that makes the donor’s options clear?

  • Do you clarify what the gift will specifically pay for?

  • Do you offer a recurring giving option?

  • Can your donor make a gift in honor or memory?

  • Do you let folks know how to give offline should they so choose?

  • Do you have a contact email and phone number should they have questions?

What needs to be changed?

Look at some of your competitors to get a better idea of what works/what doesn’t. Decide what you like.

Now’s the time to bring in your IT department, marketing department or an outside vendor to fix what needs fixing.  Then don’t forget to test your new pages before you go live.

Tip 3: Send More Than One Year-End Appeal Offline

Multiple fundraising appeals work offline as well as online.

I can’t believe how many otherwise smart organizations are sending out only one appeal letter. If you think that’s okay as the entirety of your year-end annual campaign, think again.

One appeal letter does not a campaign make! You need a sequence of appeals and, most of all, you need to send follow-ups.

Whether you’ve planned ahead for this or not this year, I want to focus right now on two things you can still do – regardless of your size or how technologically savvy you may be:

1. Send a follow-up appeal letter to everyone who has not yet responded.

According to direct mail guru Mal Warwick, who has written over 22 books on nonprofit direct mail fundraising, the follow-up letter can boost your overall return by 15-25%.

Here’s how to create a great follow-up letter:

— Shorter and briefer than the first appeal – just a quick reminder.

— Cheerful (assumes they intended to give, but just got busy).

— Specific and intentional ask.

— Repeats the theme, look, layout and images in your first appeal.

— Consistency is key – stick with your core message.

Send it to everyone on your mailing list who’s not yet responded.

If you can’t afford this mailing (please budget for this next year), pick a segment of your campaign to whom to send it.  Perhaps it’s lapsed donors over $100, for example.

People are very busy at this time of year.  They absolutely need a reminder!

2. Call lapsed donors most likely to positively impact your bottom line.

You pick the dollar threshold that makes sense for your organization.  It may be folks who give $100+, $250+, $500+ or $1,000+, for example. These are folks you can’t afford to lose.

You pick the donor’s current level of affiliation. Keep in mind that, per the results from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, ongoing donors renew at a much higher rate (63%) than first-time donors (19%). So you may want to target first-timers so that all that effort you put into acquiring them last year doesn’t get wasted. Once they’ve renewed this year, the likelihood of keeping them for the future improves significantly.

You can make calls using staff or volunteers.  Just make sure to train folks regarding what to say, when to call and how to follow up with you so you can quickly send out a donor acknowledgment to the folks who pledge and/or give via credit card.

What to say: “Hi! I’m Claire, and I’m calling on behalf of [your organization] to let you know how much your previous support meant! Because you cared, last year, together, we [what the donor’s gift accomplished, perhaps as described in the story you told in your appeal letter]. Did you recently receive our letter asking for your renewed support this year? [You did? Great! Let me remind you…] [You didn’t? Oh, dear! Let me summarize…].  In the letter we described the story of…. Your support is needed to help her and a waiting list of folks like her. I know you care, and today I’m reminding you that you’ve not yet given this year. I know it’s a busy time, and hopefully I can make it easy by taking your pledge or even your credit card payment over the phone.”

When to call: The best time is when folks are home from work and not yet getting ready for bed – roughly 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. However, you can also make calls during the daytime because many folks will pick up. This is something that depends upon your constituency, so test it for yourself. Try three times. If you still get no one picking up, leave a brief message reminding them of how much you appreciated their support last year and inviting them to give again. Include your contact information so they can get back to you if they wish.  Let them know you’ll follow up with an email or note (depending on whether or not you have an email address). Send a follow-up email with a link to donate online.

What to do when you get a commitment. Ask callers to report back to your gift entry staff member right away so s/he can get this into your database. Send out an immediate thank you letter or email for all pledges. Do the same for gifts given via credit card, even if you’ve not yet had time to process the gift (You’ll follow up with another ‘official’ thank you when the gift is received and/or processed).

Tip 4: It’s the Season… Give Gifts!

I always say: “If you want gifts, you must give them.”

If you haven’t connected much with your donors since you asked last year, waiting until you ask again this year is just plain RUDE.

Don’t just think of this as a nicety.  If you do, you’re likely to push it to the back burner. Understand it’s an essential pre-condition to your “sale.” It’s called ‘pre-suasion’ – leading with a ‘gift’ or ‘favor’ to positively incline people to say “yes.”

1. Shower the people you love with love.

There are lots of ways to show donors the way that you feel towards them. I’m sure you know how to do the standard thank you letter or email, but how about something fun, interactive or just plain unexpected?  For example:

  1. ‘Share your Story’ pages that get supporters to quickly connect with you in a way that’s relevant to them, and prepares them to feel more connected to your work and “ready” to be asked. Check out 4 Inspirational “Share Your Story” Pages That Will Knock Your Socks Off.
  2. ‘Wins’ blog post and/or infographic that shows donors you see them for the heroes they are (e.g, “7 Amazing Things You Made Possible”).
  3. Heart-warming thank you slideshow or video you share via email or on social media. [Suggestion: Make a gift to Charity: water and see what you get in return]
  4. Short quiz to get folks more familiar with your work – and have a little fun in the process.  You can even have a prize drawing for all who participate.
  5. Personal emails to target donors you hope to renew and/or upgrade. Send a link to an article you think they’d be interested in reading, or a helpful “gift” — only you can offer due to your expertise and experience (e.g., “Holiday Crafts for Kids;” “How to Keep Seniors From Feeling Alone During the Holidays;” “Recommended Holiday Reading;” “5 Ways to Save the Environment this Season;” “Quotes to Inspire Your Season,” etc.) Maximize every single day between now and the end of the year by sending out 5 emails/day to thank regular supporters. Begin NOW!

2. Shower your staff and volunteers with love.

This is a season when we’re thankful for our blessings, and who are you most blessed by in your daily work life?  Don’t lose sight of what’s right in front of your face.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Hand-write personal cards and stuff them into your staff inboxes one day before the holidays.
  • Create a video thank you, and send it via email to everyone telling them the thing you’re most grateful for on this holiday is them.
  • Bring in a platter of fresh fruit with bagels or muffins for the staff/volunteer lounge every day for the week preceding the holiday – gingerbread or pumpkin spice if you must!
  • Put a sticky note on staff computer monitors, saying “thanks” and saying why.
  • Ask a local café to provide free coupons staff and volunteers can redeem for a beverage, pastry or ice cream.
  • Throw a lunchtime pizza party or afternoon ice cream social.
  • Leave token gifts like gift cards, movie tickets, or even just a few Hershey’s kisses on employees’ desks with a note that says, “Thanks for all your hard work. I noticed!”
  • Show an afternoon movie, and make popcorn.
  • Let everyone leave early the afternoon prior to the holiday.

Tip 5: Make it Easy for Donors to Give… ‘Til the Bitter End!

Don’t make the mistake of shutting the office early December 31st and not answering the phone. Be sure to have a voicemail message on your main line, as well as one on the personal lines of everyone on your development staff.  Here’s a sample script which can be adapted for either the main line or a personal line. It’s a good idea to assign different staff members to be ‘on call’ on different dates:

You’ve reached [your name]’s voice mail. If you’re calling to make a year-end gift, thank you! You can give securely online at: [your nonprofit’s website or donation page]. If you have any questions about year-end giving, I’m here to help. Leave a message here or try my cell phone at: [your mobile number].

All the best for a happy, safe and healthy holiday and successful fundraising season!

To your success,


P.S.  If you haven’t finalized all of your year-end appeals yet, take a look at this article on the Guidestar Blog.  I really couldn’t have said this any better, so… here you go! Drafting Fundraising Letters: Seven Top Tips.  If it’s too late for this year, use this as a guideline to evaluate last year’s appeals when you get the chance.  I’ll bet you can improve them!