A Dozen Year-End Fundraising Ideas
You know how Christmas decorations seem to show up at the local Target earlier and earlier each year? They used to appear after Thanksgiving … then before … then just after Halloween … then before … and now, it seems like the kids are barely back in school when inflatable Santas, giant plastic snowmen and fancy-schmancy LED lights (that don't work half of the time even though you paid twice as much) start filling up the aisles at your local big box store.
Well, the same holds true for year-end fundraising.
Yes — you read that correctly. No time like the present to start your year-end planning. To get you going, our early Christmas gift to you is some new ideas (and a couple of old ones) to make this year even better than last — maybe your best ever!
1. Trying to determine what issue or theme to focus on for this end-of-year campaign? No time (or funds) to do a formal test in the mail? Try a head-to-head message test in e-mail, on your website and potentially on the phones. Keep in mind the audiences across channels are not identical and you won't have the Dec. 31 deadline to drive responses. However, when deciding whether to focus on sea turtles or polar bears, on helping villagers in Somalia or Haiti, the winning issue in the fall is typically the best for rollout across channels at year end. And this is a great way to do a cost-efficient test!
2. The direct-mail marketers among us still have time to use multichannel data for segmentation and targeting for year-end appeals. When making segmentation decisions, consider factors such as presence of e-mail, presence of a phone number, recency of telemarketing pledge, most recent e-mail action, etc. Then use this data to marry messaging (perhaps with an online push) or select deeper lapsed donors who might normally fall out of your strategy. Consider using data from one channel to personalize communications across all channels. For example, thank the donor in the mail for attending an event or taking action online.
3. If you've read past columns, like May when we talked about targeting online activists in the mail or March when we profiled an organization having success converting online activists on the phones, you may have already tested some of these strategies in your own program. Year-end fundraising is ripe for rolling out those successes or tweaking for improved results. One caution: Long-time activists who have never donated are not often good prospects for mail or phone conversion.
4. Of course, in the last few years, online fundraising has played a larger role in driving last-minute gifts. So now is the time to build your activist/e-subscriber file so you have more people to talk to at year end. Paid acquisition sources like Change.org and Care2 serve many nonprofits well (test before investing too much!). Others have found success in appending e-mail addresses to their offline donor files. Utilizing your Google Grant is a great way to acquire names, and carefully targeted Facebook ads work for some, too. And, of course, you should be asking for e-mail in every communication — direct mail, telemarketing (inbound and outbound), on your homepage, etc.
5. Onboarding series (i.e., the first communications someone receives after joining your list) are great both for engaging new online constituents ahead of year end and for driving immediate donations. The first few e-mails (and potentially telemarketing call, mail piece or other contact points) have a higher open/engagement rate than any others you ever send outside of emergencies. The onboarding series might include an e-mail survey (landing on a donation page), an evergreen action online (also landing on a donation page), an e-newsletter (potentially customized based on a person's geography or preferences), direct e-appeals, direct-mail appeals, telemarketing effort, etc.
6. E-mail has certainly evolved as the channel of choice in the last weeks of the year. With e-mail frequency, timing and cadence all evolving, anyone with an e-mail address knows that the last week of the year is popular for sends and resends. 501(c)3s often have a natural urgency — "make a gift by midnight on the 31st and get your 2012 tax deduction." But that doesn't mean others can't take advantage of this natural deadline. Consider starting with a few year-end fundraisers mixed with cultivation e-mails earlier in December before ramping up in the last week. As for integration, how about using a common theme across channels and setting a single fundraising goal for mail, website, e-mail, etc.?
7. What about video? Should you invest a boatload of cash in a slick video to promote in e-mail and online properties? Not so fast … video can be great for online cultivation efforts (and a nice way to hit home your "thank you!" message to donors). E-mails with videos almost always have higher open rates. However, they typically don't generate direct donations — with a few exceptions (think starving children or baby animals). The great thing about videos is they don't have to cost big money. Homegrown videos that make you laugh or cry (or both) are often best. Even if your leadership is camera-shy, voice-overs on images of your work can be effective too.
8. There is fairly limited data and therefore limited reported successes in using mobile in your fundraising strategy, but it shouldn't be overlooked as a year-end fundraising channel. Constituents who provide mobile numbers are more valuable than those who don't. Text-to-give programs are popular (you know these — text SOMEWORD to 12345 and make a $5 donation on your cell phone) — but you're likely to get larger donations by directing your mobile subscribers to a mobile-optimized donation Web page or even to an 800 number to make donations over the phone. The real value here isn't in the direct donations, but rather in reinforcing the message in other channels.
9. Speaking of 800 numbers … by a show of hands, how many organizations are optimizing their inbound donor-services efforts? When a supporter calls to change an address or ask a question, are you inviting him or her to make a donation to your current campaign (or renew his or her membership)? Do you invite the donor calling to give $25 to increase it to $30? Consider whether your call center/donor-services group is staffed during the last week of the year when so many people choose to make year-end gifts. If not, think about changing that now.
10. Of course, we shouldn't forget outbound telemarketing in year-end fundraising campaigns. Data is king here. The most successful telemarketing programs — especially those around year end — include prospects who have made telemarketing gifts in the past or who are new to the organization. As mentioned here and in earlier columns, telemarketing is a great tool for converting new online constituents as part of an onboarding series. This holds true at year end too!
11. As for social media, like mobile, don't expect too much here, but maximize what you can get. Reinforce your fundraising messages through social with your posts and tweets. We've found promoting catalogs and symbolic gift centers often do better than traditional donation asks, so put a little extra effort into these. Have a cool year-end video, contest or other engagement idea? Perfect for a social-media push. Remember, many if not most of your "likers" and followers in social media are also on your e-mail list and frequently donors, too. So don't pass by these opportunities to engage them. Now we don't recommend dedicating too many hours of staff time to this, but if you are updating your own Facebook status, why not do the same for your organization?
12. Bring it home. To your homepage that is. What do potential donors see when they visit your homepage? Will they understand your work and the urgency around their year-end gift? Can they donate easily? Consider embedding a donation form on your homepage with a compelling case for support … use a light box to drive donations during those critical final weeks. Consider doing some homepage optimization testing in advance to maximize both donations and e-mail sign-ups during this critical period.
Lastly, are you concerned messaging and strategies might be affected by the outcome of the looming presidential contest, control of the Senate, etc.? There is still no reason you can't focus on putting the pieces in place for a record-setting end-of-year fundraising campaign! So, what are you waiting for?