It’s that time of year! Fundraising season is upon us and it’s time to set some big year-end fundraising goals and go after them!
Yep, there’s a marathon of opportunity coming up and you don’t want to miss the chance to raise big bucks for your nonprofit.
You see, the end of the year is when people think about how they can make a difference, especially through causes they love.
For half of nonprofit organizations, the bulk of their annual operating funds come in during October, November, and December.
It’s THAT big!
We call it Fundraising Season and the key to maximizing your revenue potential during this special time of year is to have and execute a plan.
Shooting from the hip does NOT work at any point during the year, but it’s a really bad idea during fundraising season.
Trust me, it pays to be purposeful and have a plan.
Take the time now to be strategic and thoughtful about the next few months. By thinking through your fundraising strategy before October 1, you can collect your stories and integrate your efforts, keeping your messaging and images consistent through mail, email, social media, events, and any other channels you may use.
So, what does an integrated year-end fundraising campaign look like?
To capture all the donations you can, you have to cover all your bases.
You can’t send a random email or two, post something on social media, and expect to see a flood of donations.
You need a well thought-out campaign with consistent messages and images across all platforms. You need stories that show the impact your organization makes in the community. You need an Ask that is compelling and inspires your donors to give. And you need lots of warm touches in between the Asks.
With an integrated campaign, your donors and prospects will connect with your Ask as they see the same message in their inbox, their mailbox, and their social media feed. They’re more likely to give because you are gently and frequently reminding how they can make a difference.
The first step of an integrated campaign is to carve out time to think it through, at least a few weeks before launch. If you pull it together at the last minute or make it up as you go, you won’t raise as much money. Trust me on that.
- Last year’s successes. What can you repeat? What new strategies can you try this year?
- Your donors. What types of opportunities do they respond to? What kind of projects or requests have they given the most to?
- Campaign collateral. What pieces will you need to execute your year-end fundraising campaign? Testimonials? Video of your work in action?
- Funding needed. What do you need money for? How much do you need?
1. Start NOW to create a plan. When will you start your year-end campaign? October 1 or thereabouts is a great time to start!
Lay out a plan that identifies all the Asks, donor communications, warm touches, and marketing activities you plan to do between now and the end of the year. No one raises big money in reactive mode. Your plan will also make it easier to engage volunteers and Board members so you don’t have to shoulder the load alone.
Speaking of Board members, be sure to include them in your plan. Do you have previous donors they can connect with personally to Ask for a donation? Can you assign some Board members to make thank-you calls once a month? Can they share your message and Ask with their personal and social networks? The earlier you create your plan, the more time you have to plug in Board members, other team members, and other advocates.
We have our clients use a calendar so they can color code their Asks, Warm Touches, and Communications to make sure donors aren’t being overasked. Plus it’s so helpful to be able to see everything at a glance!
2. Create a message. What can you say that will warm your donors’ hearts and inspire them to give? Keep it simple, clear, and straight to the point, using as few words as possible. In fact, start with a them or key message for your year-end fundraising campaign. Here are some sample end-of-year fundraising campaign themes:
- Let’s Make Hunger History
- Give Every Teen the Chance to Chase Their Dream
- Every Kitten Deserves a Chance
- Give Families the Gift of a Place to Call Home
- Taking Care of Veterans Today, So They Can Have Brighter Tomorrows
- A Bench is Not a Bed
As you write blog posts, social media posts, appeals, and newsletter articles, keep your message focused on your mission. Do not ask people to help you meet your $10,000 goal. No one cares about your goal. Ask donors to contribute to your food pantry so you can feed 100 new families going through tough times. Or to help you eliminate your waiting list so every homeless person can get medical care.
Use Canva to create an image with this single message to use in your campaign. That consistency will help your supporters remember to give to your organization.
Use the same language over and over throughout all interactions with donors and prospects, including asks, newsletters, and social media posts.
3. Get your website ready. Make sure your website is up-to-date when people visit during this busy season. Many supporters will check out your organization online before making a gift. There is nothing worse than a donor visiting your website and finding information about an “upcoming event” dated 2018.
Make sure your campaign message is front and center on the website. This helps tie things together in the donor’s mind. Be sure your Donate Now button works and that donors receive a warm thank-you receipt via email automatically. Seriously, if you haven’t tested your own Donate Now button lately, do it! You may be surprised at what you find.
4. Stock up on photos and stories of the lives you are changing. You should always be on the lookout for stories from the front lines that you can use to inspire your donors. You will need several strong stories to share throughout your campaign, so try to collect five or six if you can, just for starters then add to the list each month if possible. Get the right photo or illustration to go with the story. Create short videos when possible.
Work with the subjects of your stories to make sure they feel 100% comfortable participating and that they agree with how you are framing their story. Offer to protect people’s confidentiality, if that would make them more comfortable. Change their name or leave out details that would reveal their identities. Discuss how their story will be shared. Have them sign a release form giving you permission to use their story and their photo.
The best story has a photo or video of a program participant talking about how the organization positively impacted their life. But sometimes that story is out of reach. Look for other stories and angles that will showcase your organization’s work, the reason for your sense of urgency, and the happy endings.
Map out how you plan to share your stories via social media, email marketing, your website, and your snail mail appeal so that you get maximum value for each story you tell.
5. Plan your appeals. You should send multiple appeals during your year-end fundraising campaign and that’s ok, even if it feels like a lot of asking. Mid-October is the best time for a snail mail appeal because you’re catching people right as they’re starting to think about the holidays. You can send email appeals anytime, but definitely plan to send an email appeal on December 26. In between your snail-mail appeal and end-of-year appeal, you can do a #GivingTuesday campaign.
In your appeals, tell a story that inspires people to give and use your Core Number to ask for a specific amount. Specifically share your urgent need so donors know exactly where their money will go. Be sure to give donors clear instructions on how to give and make it easy to pay through your website and by check.
6. Plan a #GivingTuesday campaign. #GivingTuesday has morphed into the single biggest giving day of the year. It only makes sense to take advantage of it! The key to a successful #GivingTuesday is planning and starting early.
If you just show up on Tuesday, November 30 and say, “Give now,” you won’t bring in much. But if you plan your campaign with social media posts, emails, and a video leading up to the big day, your donors will be primed and ready to give. We’ve had clients reach their #GivingTuesday goal before the big day even arrived!
Giving Days are a GREAT way to engage major donors by asking them to provide a matching gift. Use this as a way to stretch a current donor into giving a little more or as a way to approach a new major donor prospect. But start early! You’ll need to time to schedule a meeting, make the ask, then work the matching gift into your story.
7. Plan warm touches for your best donors. A thank-you phone call, holiday card, thank-you video, and invitation to a special holiday reception or other event are some ways you can make your donors feel valued. The goal of these efforts is not to ask for money. The goal is to make sure your donors know they are valued … because they are!
If your organization is just getting started, you may be able to thank everyone in a special, personal way. One of our clients used to call every single donor with a personal update during the holidays. If you have a larger pool of donors, look for those who consistently support your organization’s work to personally reach out to. I know it can seem like a lot of work, but a personal phone call is powerful and will make a huge positive impact on each donor you reach.
8. Make your email marketing sing. Make sure the emails you send to donors during fundraising season are short, punchy, and filled with powerful, donor-centric messaging along with the strongest photos you have. This is your opportunity to shine the spotlight on the good work your nonprofit does, not to fill your audience’s inbox with screens and screens of text (no one’s going to read that!).
Remember to keep the emails focused on your donors and not you. Share the stories and program details your donors want to know about, not just what you feel like writing about. It’s a shift in perspective that’s very worthwhile to make!
9. Expand your speaking opportunities. Contact local civic clubs and churches and see if you can get on their program schedule during the holidays. Public speaking is one of the best ways to spread the word about your cause and get in front of prospective donors. Create a power talk to share information about the need your organization addresses, your organization’s role, and a story of a life your organization has changed. Finish with a clear call to action.
Get Board members and key supporters to refer you to community groups that might give you a speaking opportunity. Once you get a few speaking gigs under your belt, you will find speaking opportunities even easier to book and to do without feeling nervous.
10. Pitch a story to your local news. Social media feels like it has taken over our lives, but getting on TV or in the newspaper is still a great way to let people know what your organization is doing. And with a little help from social media, even a story in a hyperlocal publication can take flight.
Think like a reporter, and pitch a story that’s interesting and has wide appeal. Make it easy for them to adapt your press release into a story. I like to make it ‘copy-and-paste’ easy so there’s no reason for them not to run my story!
Spend a little time reviewing the kinds of stories your local media covers so you know what story to pitch them. You will be surprised how easy it is to get coverage once you learn what media outlets are looking for.
11. Get Board members involved. Share your year-end fundraising plan with your Board and invite them to choose a way to get involved. Can they forward your emails to their friends and family members with a personal note about why they support your nonprofit? Can they make the right introduction to get a speaking engagement? Does someone on the Board know someone at the local paper who can get your press release noticed?
Board members often bristle when urged to “help with fundraising,” but if you give them specific tasks that don’t take them out of their comfort zone, they will often rise to the challenge. When you give several choices and ask them to just pick one, you will often get a better result than if you just beg them to get involved. For best results, reach out to each Board member individually, go over the plan, and ask them how they’d like to help. It’s a bit of work, but you’ll get the results you’re looking for.
12. Keep the beat on social media. Show up consistently on Facebook, Instagram, and any other platforms where your supporters are spending time. Social media posts alone don’t necessarily make the money roll it, but these platforms are a giant opportunity to spread the word about your organization’s good work. Sometimes people will respond to your email appeal because they’ve seen you consistently post updates on Facebook and it makes them feel warm and fuzzy about your nonprofit.
Vary your content on social media so it’s not Ask, Ask, Ask. Share success stories, news about your cause, content your donors will be interested in. Use a tool like Buffer to schedule your posts. Take every tiny moment your nonprofit experiences and turn it into a social media post as a way to honor the people you serve, the staff and volunteers on the frontlines, and the donors who make it all possible.
Just for fun, here’s an extra strategy!
13. Get organized for success. Organize your donor tracking software and back-end processes so you can track what’s working and what’s not. Code each Ask and appeal differently so you can easily pull reports that show meaningful results. This will help you determine what to do again next year and what needs improvement.
Also plan out your stewardship and acknowledgement process so you can stay on top of the year-end giving rush by thanking your donors and sharing the impact of their gift while the joy of giving is still fresh on their mind.
As you plan out your year-end fundraising campaign, put it in writing and share your plan so it’s real (not just in your head) and so it’s easily shared with Board members, staff, and volunteers.
Be open to feedback and note which tasks that others are excited to take on. Let your plan evolve as more people get on board with it.
Track what needs to be done, when it will get done, how it will get done, and who is responsible. A campaign—any campaign—has moving parts all working together in support of the main goal.
By taking the time to create a plan this year, you will have a plan to work from next year, too. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year! You can add and subtract based on your needs and goals.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you don’t have a team to help you do all the tasks on your fundraising plan. But I guarantee you that you have people around you right now who will help if you can ask them for help with something specific from your plan.
Look around and see who you can recruit. Ask people to do things they already know how to do. Play to their interests and strengths.
Consider hiring someone to help with high-value tasks, such as video production, photography, or graphic design. You can pay someone an hourly rate or a project fee and get the professional polish you need to power your campaign forward. Then you can spend your time on other tasks.
The end of the year brings bountiful opportunities for fundraising. You are asking people to give during a time when most people are in the mood to give!
By creating a purposeful, strategic year-end fundraising plan, you can make the most of your opportunities. When you share a consistent message across different platforms, you will remind your supporters of the important work your organization does, staying top of mind until they decide to give.
And remember – the more people give, the more lives you can change. And that’s what it’s all about!