For many of you this is your fiscal year end.  That means making sure you don’t lose any of those donors you took such pains to acquire last year. It also means tying up loose ends to assure you don’t leave money on the table. For those of you on a different fiscal year, skip down to “Cleaning up your Prospect Database” and save this year-end checklist for whenever the time is right for you.

Fiscal Year-End Action Tips

1. Create a list of LYBNTs (gave Last Year But Not This). Sort them according to dollar range, so you can prioritize contacts with the largest donors. You’re going to want to remind these folks of their generous past support (thank them!) and let them know they’ve still got time to renew and make a difference this year.

2. Call your most important lapsed donors. Who you call, and how many you call, will depend upon your own resources and the makeup of your donor base.

  • Begin with those who’ve given the most, as well as those you believe have the greatest potential to renew based on their affiliation with you (e.g., active committee member; direct service volunteer; user of services).
  • I like to call first-time donors who made an above-average first-time gift. Why? Research shows only 19% of new donors give again, but if you can get them to make a second gift they’ll renew at a rate of 61% — that’s triple!
  • Also take a look at those who’ve given consistently over a period of years. These are your most likely future planned giving donors – the ones who might leave you a bequest. You don’t want to lose these folks, so find out why they may not have yet renewed.

TIP: Strapped for resources and folks to make calls? You can organize this as a phonathon and enlist your board and other volunteers to help. If you need help to organize this, grab an Hour of Power.  You can easily make back your investment — and then some — by renewing just one or two lapsed midlevel donors. No band width to organize this mini-event year? Please put it on your calendar for next year as a ‘must do.’ It’s so much more cost-effective to renew an existing donor than to acquire a new one. And, in my experience, a majority of lapsed donors will renew if reminded.

BONUS TIP: If you’re sending a text or email in advance of, or after, making a call, don’t use the word “reminder,” as research has shown people don’t respond well to this.  Instead, try something donor-focused, like “You are missed.” 

3. Send a “we miss you” letter to lapsed donors you can’t call. Also send this letter to donors you called, but were unable to reach. Make it brief, direct, and as personal as you can manage (e.g., if you called and left a message, reference the fact you’re sorry you missed them). Stay upbeat and positive, praise your donor for their past generosity and support of your mission, and generally assume they’ll want to give again if they are able.

TIP:  Assume in the tone and language your donor simply has forgotten/just not got around to it due to the busyness of daily life (based upon my own experience, this is often true; many folks think they already gave and just need a reminder). Tell them you know they intend to give because you know how much they care. I used to send a short note (in an envelope emblazoned with a finger tied with a little red reminder ribbon) that said “Did you forget?”  The executive director added personal handwritten notes to these appeals; they yielded significant high returns — most likely due to the personal connection.

4. Send an email. An exclusively online campaign can be executed much faster than a traditional direct mail campaign. Since this is not the end of the tax year, don’t try any “last chance to give” subject lines. This might be considered donor-centric in December, when donors are thinking about personal tax deductions, but in June that messaging is really all about you and your timeline. Not good.  Your job is to think about how you can make your message about the donor.

TIP: For those who’ve given in the past, how about a simple “Did you forget you made this possible?” This has the subtle psychological benefit of reminding them they already did something. And people are more inclined to keep doing what they’ve already done (In fact, this is one of Robert Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion: consistency and commitment).   Grassroots fundraising guru Kim Klein suggests “Is it all over between us?” Also create a branded donation page that reflects the same message featured in your appeal.

ANOTHER TIP: Make sure your emails are optimized to be read on a phone. Did you know 50% of emails are read on mobile devices? Did you know the average person looks at an email on their phone for 5-10 seconds? If the email isn’t optimized for mobile, 80% will delete and 30% will unsubscribe. Yikes!  It’s super important not to let this happen.  So, before you launch any email campaign, be sure to test it to see how it looks on desktop, tablet and phone. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

5. Call donors who’ve not yet paid their pledges. Don’t worry about appearing pushy. Usually I find folks have simply forgotten, and truly appreciate the gentle nudge.

6. Review the status of all your major donor asks. If you pulled folks from the “normal” cycle of appeals because they were “special” enough to warrant a personalized approach, make sure you haven’t neglected to ask them at all! These all important donors can often slip through the cracks. Confer with every solicitor who was given prospect assignments to confirm that solicitations were made.  If not, give these folks a phone call pronto.

NOTE: Even if you run on a different fiscal year, the summer is still a great time to take stock of where you are with the folks in your major donor portfolio.  How close are they to being ready for an ask? What types ofmovesdo you need to make to get them there?

7. For folks on your ‘house list’ who’ve not yet supported you, get creative. Maybe they’re volunteers, users of services, parents, alumni or otherwise connected to you in some way. They haven’t responded to any of your fundraising appeals thus far, so try a different approach.

TIP: Maybe try a challenge email for a specific project. Make it simple and to the point. Ask for a specific amount, be clear why you’re asking for this amount, and make it an attainable goal. Then make it super easy for folks to click and give. For example, one charity I support sent me a special email letting me know a corporate sponsor had backed out of a project intended to support more than 100 independent artists. I was told, specifically, that if all their members gave $50 they’d be able to extend support to everyone on their list who needed it.  Worked for me!

8. Send year-end reports reminding donors how they helped. Every donor should get something, even if just a brief email with a photo of someone they helped and a quick “You’re our hero!” or “You did it!” Also consider sending a special thank you gift to donors and volunteers who really helped you out a lot during the year. I don’t mean anything expensive (that could backfire). I mean tokens of appreciation that just say “I’m thinking about you.”

TIP: One terrific idea from my colleague Pamela Grow over on SOFII is: “Dear Dave Donor, Are you wondering why I’ve enclosed a packet of gum with this letter? Well, I just wanted to say thanks and I was thinking how ‘sweet’ you were to give a gift earlier this year and giving you something sweet seemed appropriate. Enjoy!” I’ve actually done something similar, sending just a stick of gum with a note saying “Thanks for sticking with us.” It’s so light it doesn’t even increase the mailer’s cost. And it makes the interaction with your donor fun. As a result, your donor will likely see you in a more favorable light when it comes time for your next solicitation.

9. If it’s been awhile since your monthly donors got a real thank you, consider a ‘thankathon’ this month and recruit board members, development committee members and/or other volunteers to help. If you’re a school, ask students to help.

Clean Up Your Prospect Database

1. Get rid of the dead weight. Begin to plan to clean up your database so you’re ready for calendar year end fundraising. I recommend purging any donors who haven’t given for five years and any prospects who haven’t given for three years. You can archive them for historical purposes if you wish, but stop paying to mail to these folks.

2. Run NCOA to correct for bad addresses.  17% of the adult U.S. population moves each year. Not only will NCOA find movers for you, it will also fix addresses such as adding St, Ave, Rd, etc. if missing from your address or changes it if incorrect. It also adds/changes the directional (N, E, S, W, NE, etc.) if necessary, corrects misspellings, adds the +4 to ZIP codes, and formats the address according to USPS standards. Many databases have this built in to the software, and they’ll also have a tool to suppress names of deceased.  So check with your software provider.

3. Do some prospect research for foundation and business funders. Sometimes this gets put on the back burner. That’s a mistake, because you may be missing out on some potentially significant grants. New fiscal years are about to begin for many of them as well. So, get those lists in order so you can get your proposals delivered in a timely manner! Also, securing this type of funding is often a matter of who you know. So, don’t forget to run your list by your board, committee, donors, volunteers and staff to see if anyone has connections with any of these prospects.

TIPS TO MAKE IT EASY for them: Ask your board members to review the list of potential foundation and business supporters you’ve put together. Who do they know that works there? Or who serves as a trustee? How might they be able to help? Do any of the suggestions on the list you prepared inspire them to provide additional suggestions (e.g., another prospective funder in the same industry)?

Whether it’s your fiscal year end, time to get ready for calendar year end, or both, these tips will help assure you don’t leave money on the table!