The Last 4 Days: When Online Giving Quintuples
Your year-end giving plan must pay special attention to the last four days of the year online.
The month of December is the most important month for giving overall, and online giving in particular. Approximately one out of every three dollars in annual giving is donated during the month of December. In fact, 28% of nonprofits raise between 26% to 50% of their annual funds from their year-end drive. An additional 36% of nonprofits raise just under 10% of their annual funds from their year-end ask.
For online giving, the figure is even higher with 12% of all annual online giving coming in the last four days.
This year will be different than past years, and I explain how in this post.
The Last 4 Days Online
This powerful time of concentrated giving amplifies the last four days of the year (December 23 through 31) as the biggest giving days online. Further, giving literally quintuples over the course of the last two days! Data analysts have documented that the peak donation period on December 31 is between 12 p.m. through 7 p.m., when 31% of donations come in for the day no matter your time zone.
The holiday giving spirit, coupled with the pressing need for U.S. donors to lock in a tax deduction for the year, fuels this beneficence.
So how will you make the best use of this remarkable time period? Here are a few recommendations.
An Email a Day: A Few Approaches
To begin, send an email or video on December 28 letting donors know to expect an email from you every day for the next four days, and let them know what your approach will be. These emails should also be automatically posted to your social media accounts. That step can be automated if you use a service like Buffer.com.
Here are recommended approaches on how to style those emails and social media posts.
- Donor and volunteer stories: Volunteers are twice as likely to donate than non-volunteers. The stories about why they give and volunteer are less likely to have been heard. Why not tell one story a day, alternating between donor and volunteer? One organization coached its client to video interview one of its donors, and it had the most open rates of any email that year. It lasted only 90 seconds. We prefer 90-second videos be featured as the center point of each email whenever possible.
- Client stories: Another approach is to tell one client story per day that highlights your client’s struggles and your organization’s success in supporting them to succeed over the past year — with a dynamic profile picture or, even better, with a 30-second video of the client speaking about it themselves. One of LAPA’s clients tells four client stories, one per day, in great detail, with a picture of each client, or a representative picture, about how their services made a positive impact. The four clients were from each of their four core services.
- Surprising facts: The next approach is to share an aspect of your program’s impact that may be little known or frequently overlooked. We did one “Last 4 Days” drive that shared four surprising facts about a nonprofit’s innovative approach, one per day. Each day’s email repeated the one from the day before, so that by the fourth day, the viewer saw all four facts grouped as one.
- Community connections: Another option is to describe your partnerships and community connections. A LAPA client, a social service provider for youth, told the story of its partnership with a local community college. College students would volunteer at the nonprofit, helping youth with homework and engaging them in recreational activities, culminating in two weekend camping trips. Its year-end drive emails contained photos from the trips, as well as portraits of younger and older kids together in a heartwarming mentorship setting.
Pithy and Emotional Content
You must write pithy emotional content. You see, most people scan an email before committing to read it carefully. In that scan, they must be emotionally engaged by the picture and the subheadings. You must create a high level of intrigue that makes them want to read it.
It’s always an option to find a graphic designer to help create your e-appeal, but most email programs are fairly user-friendly for dropping in a photo; and there’s really no excuse not to, especially during such a critical fundraising time. If your graphic designer happens to be away on holiday vacation, you should be able to do this work yourself. Further, in current email systems, you can even preset messages to send while you’re out of the office. Vibrant, clear, portrait photographs (no group shots) that illustrate the story and show emotion will help immeasurably. Your own storytelling will, of course, vary, but your donors will be glad for this concentrated period of cultivation and outreach.
Your “Donate Now” button should appear three times in the body of the email, at the start, middle and end of each one, so that your donors may click at any time they are ready to give.
I Fibbed: There’s a Fifth Day
January 1 — Send an email on New Years’ Day thanking donors for participating in your year-end campaign and telling them about the impact of their donations. You can include a message for those who did not give that says something like, “Didn’t give yet? You can still support us by giving today.” As noted, make sure to offer the ability to give on a monthly basis. You can repeat this email twice more in January to nonresponders only, once in the second week of January and a final time in the third week. You can see a full plan for fundraising in January here.
- Ask for automated recurring gifts: Do all you can in your emails to shift your focus to recurring donations. By focusing on recurring donations for year-end giving, you will raise more revenue each year. Yes, you can just send an email to each of your past supporters and ask again — but is that really effective? Most research says it is not. In fact, not giving a recurring giving option is a leading cause of losing new donors. As online giving grows, people are warming up to online monthly recurring donation options — evidenced by its year-over-year growth. The recurring option does not apply to major donors, though. Segmenting your donor audience will ensure the right donors are receiving the right message. For major donors the message may simply be: “Thank you!” Ultimately, your approach with major donors should be much more personal and focused on securing multi-year pledges.
- Survey your donors: Including a link for the donor to take a brief donor survey is a smart move, but some argue against this because they want to keep the communication focused on securing a gift. New technology is allowing us to put donor feedback options on key pages of our website.
- Branded donation forms: Did you know that branded donation forms can help you raise up to seven times more? Be sure your online forms look their best to maximize the final days of year-end donations.
- Send times: When December 31 hits, we recommend sending out your email at 11:00 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. These times have been determined to be the ideal time; however, if you have reason to know your donor’s behavior, then go with what time you have seen works best. One science center we worked with had documents that its donors opened its email the most in the early morning, so it sent its email at 6 a.m. The point is that you need to think about what time is best to send them.
- Unopened email: Send a follow-up email to those who have not opened your email yet. Email programs, such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp, allow you to see when your recipients have actually read your emails, so you can send a second email around 3 p.m. that day to those who haven’t yet opened their morning email. I mentioned prior that you have to segment your audience. If you don’t have a good way to do this within your email system, simply write a short note at the beginning of your email saying something like, “Please disregard this message if you’ve already contributed to our year-end campaign. If you would share it with a friend and let them know you believe in, and donate to, our mission that would be much appreciated.”
- Subject line on December 31: Be sure you mention the December 31 fundraising deadline in the subject line: “Today's deadline to receive your 2020 tax deduction.” Also, remind your donors who are using the postal mail that if their donation envelope is postmarked by December 31, their gift qualifies as a tax-deductible contribution for that year, even if it is received after that date.
- Postal mail: It is a best practice to integrate your emails with postal mail. Do not skip this step. When you mail your appeal letter by direct U.S. mail, write “Time Sensitive” on the outer envelope, and we recommend using a First-Class stamp, at least for your major donors. We also recommend affixing a First-Class stamp on your reply envelopes, at least for the major donors.
What strategies do you currently use to advance giving the last four days of the year?
Laurence is author of "The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution," the first book on fundraising ever published by the American Management Association. He is chairman of LAPA Fundraising serving nonprofits throughout the U.S. and Europe.