Make the Ask for Year-End Giving
I was scrolling through my LinkedIn page and noticed a former colleague and brilliant fundraiser posted:
“Words to thrive or die by in fundraising: Philanthropy is big business, so carry yourself accordingly and demand the respect our industry deserves. Ask for capacity!”
She was referring to year-end asks and why it is important for fundraisers to craft a message to make the ask. To my surprise, someone responded to her:
“I’ve never made a year-end ask and neither should you!”
The person elaborated in a detailed explanation on why fundraisers should not make a year-end ask. I gave this some thought. Although some of her points were valid, there is no reason why a fundraiser should not make a year-end ask, especially in today’s climate. Individual funders, particularly, have been holding on to their financial resources during the pandemic, and most have come out of isolation ready to give back and make a difference in the world.
The end-of-the-calendar year can — and should — be a bonanza for nonprofit organizations looking to raise small and medium-sized gifts to round out their fundraising numbers. Most donors work on a calendar year, and will make a significant portion of their yearly donations at the end of the year. Although it may seem like you are competing with every other fundraiser who is making year-end asks, donors have become more intentional and savvier about how and to what causes they give. It’s a simple fact that has been proven time and again in fundraising studies and research: People give to charity at the end of the year.
For individual donors, the end of the year is a time to make up for not giving earlier in the year or to spend the remainder of their charitable budget. For companies working on a calendar year, now is the time to spend down their charitable giving budgets and marketing budgets by purchasing sponsorships for upcoming fundraising events. Typically, they have to spend it or lose it to the clean slate of a new budgetary year.
According to Wealth Engine, nearly one third of annual giving occurs in December, with 12% happening in the last three days of the year. The key to year-end fundraising is strategy and knowing your donors and prospects. It’s very simple: If you aren’t making year-end fundraising appeals, you are missing out on a potentially large pool of fundraising revenue. Every nonprofit, no matter how small or large, should reach out at year-end. Generally, these appeals should target current donors who are familiar with your mission, asking them to up their gift or to give again one last time before the year is out. While some organizations have found success with prospecting at the end of the year, most donors may not give to a nonprofit organization they are not familiar with right now. Donors want to keep giving where they always have, at least through the holidays.
Your goal should be to make an ask to every single current donor as you never know who has money left over at the end of the year. Make sure that every donor gets at least one fundraising communication as part of your year-end fundraising strategy. Leverage the multiple ways to contact your donors and diversify your year-end appeals. Do not hesitate to start traditional and mail out a postcard announcing your year-end campaign. Follow up with email solicitation, capturing the same snail mail list and send an announcement email to your entire list of supporters.
A week or so later, send a follow-up email to all those who did not open the first email. Depending on your tolerance for repeat solicitations, make one last pitch in a third email to the entire list. This may seem a little antiquated, but sometimes going old school serves a purpose. Year-end giving can be a huge boost for your annual fund, with many nonprofits reporting that nearly half of their annual funds come from their year-end asks. Next, have the fundraising team, which can include staff and board members, make follow-up calls to donors above a certain giving level. Finally, do not forget to post about your campaign across all the social media platforms you use.
Since this is the hard ask of your campaign, remember to be specific in your call-to-action. Share your revenue goal, specific initiatives the gifts will benefit and your expected impact. These details will reassure donors that their gifts are valued and needed. Also, develop a marketing plan to organize your communications throughout the year-end campaign and remember to push your community directly to your fundraising site. Make it easy and convenient for them to donate immediately.
Also, remember to keep track of the donations received during your year-end giving campaign in order to create an impact report to share with everyone who participated. When donors feel appreciated and see what their gift helped to accomplish, they’ll be more likely to give to your organization in the future. When I reflect back on that LinkedIn post, I can only say that with the right strategy and processes, you can have a successful year-end giving campaign.
Tarsha Whitaker Calloway serves as vice president of philanthropy for Tessitura Network. For almost two decades, Tarsha has helped nonprofits develop fundraising, board governance and fundraising strategies to further their mission. Tarsha has directly led efforts to raise more than $50 million for the nonprofit organizations, including the Woodruff Arts Center, Emory University and the American Cancer Society. She frequently presents locally, regionally and nationally on fundraising; organizational and board development; and diversity and philanthropy.
Outside of work, Tarsha has a monthly column in NonProfit PRO magazine and is actively involved in her community, including board of trustees for Destination Imagination, board of directors' executive committee for Leadership DeKalb, board of directors for National HBCU Hall of Fame and former board chair for Atlanta Shakespeare Theater. Tarsha holds a master's of business administration in international business from Mercer University Stetson School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and theater from Texas Southern University. She also holds certificate in current affairs fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and a certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace from South Florida University.
Tarsha resides in Atlanta with her husband and son.