Ready or Not, Year-End Is Coming
In about a month, we'll be hearing "Auld Lang Syne" and hanging up new calendars from our favorite charities. If we did our jobs all year long, our donations-processing team will be working overtime to process the last-minute donations people sent via the mail, clicked online to give or even dropped off in person.
If you haven't gotten your year-end fundraising plans finalized yet, all hope is not lost. Yes, you are behind. And yes, you need to make some serious changes for 2012 (we'll get to that later).
But the time it took you to read those last two sentences is all you are allowed right now to lecture yourself on dropping the ball. It's time for action. Network for Good reports that almost 20 percent of the gifts it processes occur in the last 48 hours of the year.
You've got about 35 days to make things happen. So let's get going!
Write and send four e-mails to your electronic donor file
These need to go out tomorrow (I'll give you today off as a break), the first full week of December, Dec. 19 or 20, and Dec. 29. There's nothing magic about the number "4." It's just a realistic quantity that you should be able to manage by year-end.
Make your subject lines short and interesting. Limit your copy to 20 to 30 lines, but fill them with results, need and requests. Be sure your "Donate Now" button is at the top and that there are hyperlinks and other donate buttons throughout the e-mail. Worry less about the perfect design and more about the message that is going to compel donors to give to you before year-end.
Update your homepage and donation landing page to have a clear request for a gift before Dec. 31
Make sure you have photos that are compelling — eye contact, smiling faces, bright colors or great scenes that show the results of your work. One strong photo is worth far more than five mediocre ones.
Give reasons for giving before Dec. 31 — start 2012 strong, launch a new program in the New Year and yes, the tax deduction. Donors say it doesn't matter — but then they give en masse on Dec. 30 and 31 (see above). In this case, actions speak much louder than words.
Check out your donation page. Is it easy to use with no broken links? Don't risk losing income on Dec. 31, when you are home celebrating the soon-to-be-here new year and your donation page is malfunctioning.
Send a letter to your donors 'most likely to give'
You probably can't get a letter out to your entire file before Dec. 15 (Dec. 7 if you're using bulk rate). But you can probably enlist all your staff, your family and close friends, and some volunteers to get a short, warm, personal letter out to your best donors by mid-December.
Focus on thanking them, but remind them that the job is not yet done. You still need their support. A gift before Dec. 31 will help you launch into 2012 able to feed more hungry people, plant more trees, rescue more animals or whatever good work it is you do. Keep your language conversational and your letter brief.
If possible, use monarch or executive stationery, a closed-face envelope, a reply envelope and a reply sheet that is fairly simple: "Here's my year-end gift of $_____" is fine. Mail it First Class; you want to be sure it gets in-home in time. Trust me — year-end letters that arrive Jan. 2 fail.
Call donors who gave significantly in 2010 but not in 2011
Pick up the phone. Get your colleagues to help you. Call everyone you can who gave a significant amount in 2010 but hasn't yet given in 2011.
Thank them for their past support. Mention a few things that you've accomplished in 2011 because of their 2010 partnership. And ask them to give before Dec. 31 so you can have more success in 2012.
Be ready to take credit card donations over the phone, direct them to your website or offer to mail them an envelope to use to mail in their year-end gifts. Remember: The postmark from the U.S. Postal Service determines the date of contribution. However, if a donor uses an alternate delivery service like UPS or FedEx, the IRS considers the date of the gift the date it is put in your hands. Sending a donation on Dec. 31 via FedEx is, by law, a 2012 donation because you won't physically take possession of it until Jan. 2.
OK, enough reading! Get going and write an e-mail, pick up the phone, mail a letter — and make year-end 2011 your best ever.
And remember — January is the best time to start planning for year-end 2012. Keep reading Today in Fundraising, and I'll give you some ideas on that right after the New Year.
Pamela Barden is the creative juice and the copywriting machine behind PJBarden Inc. You can follow Pamela on Twitter @pjbarden.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.