While the annual year-end giving season is still a few months away, savvy nonprofits are thinking about what they can do now to prepare for an epic end of the year. The summer months are an opportune time to solidify your goals, reflect on your most effective methods of engagement, and think about crafting an effective year-end appeal.
Clients are often asking us for tips. Sometimes they want to know how to leverage our software for different avenues of contact, but most often, they just want some recommendations on what we’ve seen work over the past 14 years of working closely with nonprofits.
This article promises to walk you through the steps to crafting an irresistible year-end appeal. After reading our tried-and-true tips, you’ll be ready to put pen to paper (or keyboard to monitor, or voice memo to your iPhone) and start formulating your best year-end appeal ever.
Why do year-end appeals help you raise money?
It’s been widely reported that half of all nonprofit organizations receive the largest percentage of their donations in the last three months of the year. Why? There are a few reasons, some of them just plain practical.
- Particularly given the collective trauma of the past few years, those who can are more willing than ever to lend a hand (or a dollar) to those who need it.
- The holiday season tends to bring out the philanthropy in many of us. During a season in which we’re reminded to count our blessings, many of us realize we have room to give time and money back. And society rewards giving, whether it’s publicly donating to a cause on Facebook or seeing your name in the donor scroll on a nonprofit’s website.
- And the truth remains that charitable giving skyrockets on the last three days of the year, because we all know the benefits of tax-deductible donations. The bigger the donation, the bigger the deduction, and someone’s tax break can mean dollars coming your way.
Remember that getting donations is the primary focus of most year-end appeals, but stewardship is a secondary benefit. A donor might not be able to give this year, but the way you communicate and the messages you send (now and throughout the year) should strengthen your bond with your constituents and engendering feelings of loyalty.
The bottom line: Most nonprofits rely heavily on year-end campaigns to meet their fundraising goals and keep their donors engaged.
When do you start your year-end appeal communications?
Thinking about the psychology of giving, you want your nonprofit’s cause to be top-of-mind when someone gets ready to write a check. You might be waiting for an end-of-year bonus, a holiday check from in-laws, or just for the mood to strike.
The point is simply that you can start your communication early—say, after Labor Day—and nurture your donors so that you’re at the top of the list when the time is right. It’s important to note that a year-end appeal is not one email or one postcard. It’s a multichannel nurture campaign that will allow you to engage with the largest number of supporters.
The year-end giving season traditionally kicks off with Giving Tuesday right after Thanksgiving, but you can be priming your donors for a few months before that.
The bottom line: start thinking of slowly launching a campaign in late September or October, then slowly ramp it up with a big push after Giving Tuesday.
How do you make year-end appeals?
This is when we counsel clients to think of a multi-channel campaign, taking advantage of many different fundraising tools. Your CRM features likely include our dozen favorite fundraising tools, but even nonprofits not relying on technology can implement many of our ideas on the list.
While we love our list, we urge clients to take a deep dive into your unique record books. How do your donors like to be contacted? Which methods—direct mail letters or postcards, automated emails, phone calls, videos, social media, text campaigns—resonate the most and give you the best results? You don’t need 12 different methods of communication, but a multichannel campaign should include at least three channels.
Looking at last year’s campaign, important metrics to track include:
- How many people received a year-end appeal from you?
- What is the total amount of donations you received in the last quarter of the year?
- Which channels did you use?
- Which were most effective?
- Which didn’t you try but might want to include this year?
The bottom line: look at what works with your donors, and don’t be afraid to try new methods of outreach.
Who is on your list?
Well, everyone. And their mother.
But segmenting your list isn’t a bad idea. Your CRM will be able to break an enormous database (or a smaller database) into chunks. If, for example, you segmented your list by age, you could choose different channels for each age group or even change the order in which you send communications. Your millennials might respond first to a text with a link to give, and a different generation might like a postcard or even a phone call.
Or segments might include:
- Current donors
- Past donors
- Supporters, such as those who have been the plus-one of a donor at an event
The bottom line: Determine the metrics that influence giving behavior, then use your CRM to segment your audiences and personalize your communications.
Analyze Your Donors and Your Message
You can also segment by age, as we discussed, or you can segment by average gift size. We love the idea of an RFM calculator that calculates your donors' recency, frequency, and monetary value. You can segment by where people live, their political party, or any metric you collect when you add people to your database.
And we recommend a broad reach when it comes to year-end campaigns, which means broadcasting your campaign to no one in particular. This can look like social media, television or radio ads, partnerships with local shops, or events that invite the general public’s participation.
Will you have different content for each campaign? Start with one central message that can be used in any channel, and as your end-of-year campaigns get more sophisticated (and your database grows), you can see if it makes sense to use different messages for different groups.
The bottom line: Match your donors and the messages that will resonate with each group.
So if you’re following along, you know when you want to start your year-end giving campaign and how you will reach your donors and prospects. You also have an idea of who you’re going to target. So now it’s time to talk about crafting your message.
8 Steps to Crafting the Perfect Year-End Appeal
Follow these easy steps to draft your appeal. We will start with the workhorse of channels and talk about how to write an appeal letter for direct mail, and then we will discuss how to apply that work to other campaigns. (Depending on your age, the TL;DR or the Cliff Notes: you need a graphic, a headline, a story, and a CTA leading to a mobile-optimized donation form. But read it anyway to get the details.)
- Most communications will drive people to your website's landing page with a donation form. Start creating your donation forms and ensure they’re integrated with your website. You always want to make it easy for donors to give, which means your form should be branded, simple, easy to find, and secure.
- Test your form on your laptop, desktop, phone, and tablet.
- Include giving levels on your form. Have them map to your campaign goals, and use your CRM to keep the suggested amounts in line with what the donor’s average gift is. For example, if you want to provide school supplies to 10,000 children in need, $25 might fill a backpack, or $50 could by a basic laptop. No one loves donating into a black hole, so tell people what their money will buy.
- To this point, clearly identify your campaign goals in a way that donors will understand. This means quantifying your mission. You want to protect how many acres of the rainforest, you want to provide job training for how many veterans, you want to rescue and care for how many abandoned animals?
- Think about getting your mail and flipping through all the junk. What graphics or headline would jump out at you? Keep the headline simple and easy to remember. Don’t know what to say? Take a look at your value proposition.
- Tell your story. Why is your mission important? Brag about the difference you’ve been able to make, or let someone affected explain how your nonprofit has helped. Tug on some heartstrings and explain, in a heartfelt way, why donors should support you.
- Make your ask specific and manageable. You can repeat your giving levels so donors can formulate a thoughtful response.
- Include a link to your online form, and make sure the URL is relevant and memorable.
You now have a headline, graphics (or photographs, infographics, illustrations), a story to tell, and an ask that leads to a donation form. While these work for direct mail, you can combine pieces of them for any other campaign.
Just remember the basics of a year-end appeal:
- Stand out from the competition, regardless of the channel, with attention-getting colors, graphics, and headlines.
- Send everyone to an optimized donation form integrated with your CRM to capture donor insights.
- Segment your lists and make your appeals personal.
- Tell your story and offer giving levels.
- Keep every communication short and sweet.
- Make your call-to-action clear.
- Make giving easy: can donors reach your landing page from the main navigation on your website?
- Use multiple channels.
The bottom line: Craft the important elements (a headline, graphics, a story, and an ask) and use them across channels for consistency.
Test and Tweak
Create an email using these elements and send it to a small group of donors. If it’s not as successful as you hoped, tweak your donation amounts. Or conduct an A/B test, in which you send the same email to two groups with one small change: a different graphic, headline, subject line, or call-to-action.
Emails are the perfect channel on which to test your content because it’s free, responses tend to be immediate, and you can be nimble in making changes.
Once you’ve hit on the perfect appeal, let ‘er rip. And start planning the next segment of your campaign using the effective elements you’ve assembled.
The bottom line: Don’t sleep on even informal A/B testing. It’s the most objective, valuable feedback you can get.
A Few Tasks to Set You Up for Future Fundraising Success
Ring in the end of your campaign and the start of a new year with champagne and confetti or Netflix and your comforter, but then think about how you can leverage the past few months to help you in the coming year.
- Measure the heck out of everything you did. “I think that worked” shouldn’t be uttered….it reached a measurable goal or it didn’t, and you can prove it with data. Let the data do the talking and use it to trump "opinions," whether it's internal staff or pesky board members.
- Say thank you constantly. Thank every single person who engages. Put thank-you messages on social media to reinforce your visibility and success.
- Sketch out the next six months. Do you have a strong fundraising strategy? Create it or hone it, but ensure there's a map you can follow.
The bottom line: Measure, record, and plan strategically while this end-of-year push is fresh in your mind.
Finally, pat yourself on the back. We love working with nonprofits (and if you’re looking for a partner, we’d love to work with you) because your mission makes the world a better place, and we tip our hats to nonprofits everywhere.