Even though it’s the middle of the summer, it’s time to start thinking about your year-end fundraising plan.

Yeah, you read that right. And I know what you’re thinking – it’s WAY too early to bother with fundraising during the holidays.

Actually, it’s not. For three reasons:

  1. You need plenty of time to plan things out. No one does their best work at the last minute.
  2. If you start now, you can love up your donors to deepen the relationship and draw them close before you make those important year-end asks. Most nonprofits do a terrible job of communicating with donors and delivering warm touches, and if you start now, you’ve got time to do it right before you start asking for donations.
  3. Things you do now will bear fruit in 6 months. Strange but true fact of fundraising. Right now, we’re about 6 months away from the holidays. So, a focused effort now on making your donors feel good will pay off in about 6 months, right when you need it.

Fundraising season starts after Labor Day in the US (early September) and goes through December 31. It’s that time of year when people are more charitably-minded and more likely to give.

Your year-end fundraising plan may be defined differently, but for me it’s what happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

Remember that there are several holidays and notable days that fall in the year-end period:

  • Thanksgiving in the U.S. is the 4th Thursday of November
  • Black Friday (when people go crazy with retail shopping) is Friday
  • Cyber Monday (the biggest online shopping day of the year) is Monday
  • Giving Tuesday (designed to encourage giving) is Tuesday
  • Christmas Eve/Day are December 24/25
  • New Year’s Eve is December 31

You definitely want to take advantage of the times that YOUR donors are most responsive and ready to give.

Remember that what works for someone else may not work for your nonprofit.

How do you figure out the best strategy for YOUR nonprofit so that you have the best year-end fundraising ever?

Follow these four steps to create a successful year-end fundraising plan.

Year-End Fundraising Plan

1. Dissect last year’s Year-End Fundraising.

If you haven’t already, take a close look at last year’s year-end fundraising. How’d it go?

Did you have a financial goal? If so, did you reach it? If not, what seemed to go wrong? How did the money you raise benefit those you served? In terms of your marketing, what worked and what didn’t? Did you learn any lessons overall from your year-end fundraising?

Aside from scoping out the income from last year, why don’t you take a moment to check out online giving data, too. How many people visited your website? How many people donated to you online? Was there a specific email or Facebook post that people responded to more than others? How much money did you raise online?

There’s no denying it: online giving continues to increase, and this is something you definitely need to embrace for your year-end fundraising. Consider these highlights from a 2018 Charity Navigator report:

  • Online giving increased 23% in 2017, after 15% growth in 2016.
  • Monthly online giving grew 40% from the previous year.
  • One-time online giving grew 19% from the previous year.
  • 40% of website traffic for nonprofits came from mobile users.

What this all means is that more people than ever before are checking you out online and using the convenience of online giving to make their donations, especially at year-end.

By the way, if this is your first time doing year-end fundraising, no worries! Understanding what to look for NOW will help you better shape your plans for next year.

2. Evaluate Fundraising Numbers So Far THIS Year.

Keep that analysis hat on just a wee bit longer! We need to check out a few more things….but for this year.

With June ending, that means you should have 6 months (or 2 quarters) of your nonprofit’s giving data available at our fingertips! You can learn SO MUCH from it if you carve out a little time to review it and understand what it means.

What’s working? What’s not?

The results of those two simple questions will help you decide what to tweak for the second half of the year and focus you in on the things you should be spending time on.

Look at where your donations are coming from, what strategies have been successful, and what additional resources you might need for this Fall and Winter.

Time spent in evaluation can pay off big later.

Now that you understand what happened in 2017 and what’s been going on since January, it’s time to put your ideas for this year to paper.

3. Choose Your Year-End Strategies.

It’s time to start sketching out your plans to make 2018 year-end fundraising successful: what you’re doing this year, how it will impact those you serve, and who’ll be on your team.

If you need a little push, here are a few tips to get your brain going:

  • Run year-end fundraising like its own campaign, including setting a financial goal.
  • Decide on a theme and a design that catches people’s attention and engages them.
  • Determine which strategic tactics will provide effective exposure for your nonprofit, such as advertising, media outreach, and speaking engagements.
  • Use diverse platforms to deliver your message and to ask for donations, like online giving (social media and your website), an appeal letter, and phone calls.
  • Use consistent messaging with these tactics and platforms.
  • Clearly identify your target audience and use your year-end fundraising campaign to make it hard for them to forget about you.

When you get clear about who you’ll ask, how you’ll ask, and when you’ll ask, it’s easier to create a plan to  execute fundraising well.

4. Create an Action Plan.

Action plans are extremely valuable because they visually show all the tasks involved in a project (or in this case, your year-end fundraising campaign), when the tasks will be completed, and who is responsible for completing each task. Plus, it helps keep members of a team on the same page and minimizes things falling through the cracks.

I like them because they add structure when there are lots of tasks and moving pieces. Also, you can use them if you’re a team of one or a team of many!

The action plan is a ‘living document’ – meaning it will be continually edited and updated. How you do this is up to you. If using Excel or Word, where only one person can make changes to a document at a time, perhaps you make a team member the owner of the work plan. Then, only he/she can update the document. If using collaborative platforms like Smartsheet, where multiple people can make changes to a single document at the same time, each person assigned a task can go in and update his/her assigned tasks himself/herself.

Here’s a sample action plan.

Activity Status Person Responsible Target Date of Completion Notes
Use one row for each activity. Generally, the Status will be one of the following choices:

– Not started

– In progress

– Completed

Name of team member Be sure to pick dates which keep you on track, are feasible, and provide some leeway for unexpected things that can pop up sometimes. You can use this section to keep up with important details that aren’t captured in the other columns, including any helpful tips.

Draft of year-end appeal letter ready for review by Marketing Manager

In progress Sandy 9/30/2018 Be sure to include how a donation supports the mission.

Schedule year-end fundraising team debrief

Not started Leah 1/31/2019 The “captain” of the year-end fundraising campaign should lead this meeting. That’s Susan.

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to include in your year-end fundraising plan,  you’re ready to start hammering out the details in an action plan:

  • Determine tasks to be completed each month.
  • Schedule out milestones and set target dates and deadlines for each task.
  • Assign the responsibility of each task to the appropriate team member.

What if you don’t have a team to partner with? Well, you’ve got time to recruit a person or two to help you raise money.

The bonus of using an action plan this year is that you’ll already have a plan for next year!

An action plan archives what you did so it can be referenced in the future. Imagine how easy it would be next year when all you have to do is pull up this year’s Year-End Fundraising Plan and tweak it based on your results. Talk about a time saver! Change the dates and reset the status of each task to ‘Not Started,’ and you’re good to go!

The Bottom Line

Year-end fundraising brings lots of opportunities for giving, and when you ask for donations while people are in the mood to give, you’ll see better results.

If you start now, you have plenty of time to create a productive, strategic year-end fundraising plan to make the most of your year-end fundraising opportunities and get your donors ready to be asked.