It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Year-End
In just over 16 weeks, it will be 2012.
I'm not trying to beat the retail stores with a display of holiday cheer. But it's September, so now is the time to firm up your plans for year-end fundraising.
It's not unusual for nonprofits to get a majority of their income in the last three months of the year. But even if that isn't your pattern, it's still a vital time to raise money. People are thinking more about sharing and getting year-end tax deductions.
Have a plan
It almost goes without saying-you have to have a plan for your year-end fundraising efforts. Now is not the time to be overly cautious. Both online and offline, your donors will be bombarded with fundraising appeals, so your voice needs to rise above the din.
According to the 2011 eNonprofit Benchmark Study, nonprofits send an average of six e-mails in December, compared to three or four a month the rest of the year. Your electronic appeals have to be exceptional to break through the inbox clutter. From the subject line to the offer, think how you can be spectacular.
Postal mail has a lot more competition from other nonprofits. One particularly aggressive nonprofit sent me 10 appeals between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 of last year. It was not unusual to get two appeals in November and three in December from others that I support. These established nonprofits are mailing this much because they know from experience that it pays to be in the mail at year-end.
While you might not want to send out six e-mails and four mail appeals in December, be sure you have a plan to be in front of your donors. Someone else definitely is, and you need to be sure you aren't forgotten in the deluge from other nonprofits.
Have a deadline
Dec. 31 is a natural deadline for any donor thinking about income tax deductions for 2011. However, since fewer than half of Americans itemize deductions, this might not be an important consideration for the majority of your donors.
Your job is to create a deadline that is believable and that you are willing (and able) to follow through on. For example, "With your support, we will increase the hours of our shelter in 2012, meaning 100 more people each week will receive the help we provide."
Whatever you promise must be feasible, and your organization has to stand behind it. You owe it to your donors to report back to them early in 2012, letting them know if you met this goal with their help and telling them about the expanded program they helped make possible.
Have specific offers
One of the great ideas in nonprofit fundraising has been the year-end donation catalog, if only because it forced organizations to think about their fundraising needs as tangible "products." You might not prepare a catalog (and I'm not suggesting you need to), but especially at year-end, you need to think in terms of tangible offers.
How can you package your great work so it's appealing to your donors? What can you ask for that is specific and easy to visualize?
Donors are busy at the end of the year, shopping, cooking, cleaning, partying and sending greetings. Don't make them work to figure out what you will do with their money and why it would be a good investment.
"Your gift of $100 will help us continue our good work" is nice. "Your gift of $100 will mean we can provide holiday food baskets to seven families right here in our community" is so much better.
Year-end comes but once a year
The year-end is a critical opportunity for nonprofits, and it's nearly impossible to re-create at another time the spirit of generosity your donors feel then. Put your plan in place now so you are regularly reminding your donors that you need them, you appreciate them and that there is no better place to invest year-end donations than your organization.
And then, don't forget to say "thank you." A deluge of donations is a poor excuse for taking weeks to receipt and thank a donor. As you're planning your fundraising calendar for year-end, put a plan in place to handle the donations in a timely manner. Your donors will thank you through their ongoing loyalty and support in 2012.
Pamela Barden is the creative juice and the copywriting machine behind PJBarden, Inc., a consulting firm focusing on helping small to mid-sized nonprofits see big results in fundraising. You can follow Pamela on Twitter @pjbarden.