Tips for End-of-Year Campaign Success
End-of-year campaigns are so important for nonprofit organizations because they allow them to capitalize on the uptick in giving that occurs in November and December. Between 35 percent to 42 percent of online giving happens in November and December each year, and the average gift during the final quarter of the year is significantly higher — $84.51, compared to the average of $67.47 for the other three quarters.
This according to Convio, which presented the webinar "Plan Smart: Don't Leave Your End of Year Campaigns to Chance" in July. Presenters Rachel Ahrens, interactive consultant for Convio, and Abby Sandlin, senior consultant for Charity Dynamics, reviewed types of successful end-of-year e-mails and detailed steps organizations can take to help with end-of-year campaigns.
The presenters shared an example of a year-end campaign done by the ALS Association last year. It was the organization's first time doing a coordinated, multiphased year-end online appeal. The majority of the organization's income comes during its special-event season, and it used the year-end appeal to offer an additional window for donations, timed with year-end direct-mail appeals.
The three-part e-mail series consisted of a "holiday support" e-mail sent on Dec. 23, 2008; an e-mail stressing tax-deductible opportunities sent on Dec. 29, 2008; and a final tax-deductible push sent on Dec. 31, 2008.
The campaign resulted in a 47 percent increase in the amount raised online in December 2008 over December 2007, and a 109 percent increase in total income raised year over year. What's more, the presenters said the success primed the organization for a strong January start. It hopes to explore starting the campaign earlier in the month to capture momentum earlier.
Year-end e-mail opportunities organizations can take advantage of in their messaging are:
- Standard holiday donations. Seek additional gifts from current donors and annual gifts from prior-year and non-donors.
- Accomplishments. Recap prior year accomplishments, set the tone for the challenges of the coming year and secure financial support to maintain momentum.
It's also a great time to position your ask in terms of the opportunities that giving affords donors, including:
- Holiday e-cards with a donation. E-card offers are an opportunity for incremental gifts from current donors and offer constituents a service in exchange for their gifts.
- Gift giving. This provides tangible and intangible benefits for holiday giving and the opportunity for add-on gifts from current donors. Gift memberships are great last-minute gifts that can help build a membership file. And you can suggest donors "avoid the malls and shop at home" on your e-commerce site, where they can find mission-focused gifts. It's a way to engage new audiences in your organization's mission.
- Tax deductible. Secure last-minute, year-end donations with tax deadlines.
- Special-giving program. These should be deadline-driven. Matching-gift/challenge programs provide built-in goals with deadlines and tap into year-end deadline momentum.
The presenters also offered these six best practices to gear up your end-of-year campaigns. Some are for much earlier in the year, so save them as a reference for 2010 planning:
1. Plan — August
Identify your year-end campaign messages and schedule, looking at both online and offline. Find out dates of direct-mail drops, and lay out dates of events, etc. Revisit what giving programs you already have, and identify and book components. Where will promotions take place: Facebook or other social-networking site; homepage; e-mail/e-newsletters; and/or events? Be sure to book time in those channels.
2. Cultivate — September
Build an e-mail housefile of individuals committed to your mission early enough to gain loyalty in time for year-end programs. Carry out a stewardship campaign that reminds constituents of the value of your cause and their connection to your mission — use your annual report or quarterly reports, or a message from the board to back this up. Engage donors through surveys and petitions that get constituent attention and capture their commitment prior to the heavy donation series.
Send a cultivation e-mail that reports on successes and thanks constituents for their role in realizing successes. Follow that up by engaging constituents with programs that will carry through to the end of the year, creating "stickiness" through year-end. For pre-holiday engagement, send an initial holiday engagement campaign in November. Use it as a way to tee up support for your holiday campaign.
Build e-mails, forms and related pages that will be a part of your campaign.
3. Lock down — October
Focus on finalizing your production/editorial schedules; approving and proofing copy and design elements and campaign details; confirming giving-program availability (matching gifts, special gift membership benefits); preparing all pieces for fulfillment; getting direct-mail elements to the printer; discussing your internal calendar, i.e., who will be out and when during holidays throughout the month; and reach out to board members about the possibility of a matching-gift program as a part of the campaign.
4. Kick-off — November
- Kick off the campaign — direct mail, e-mails and stewardship pieces with donation asks.
- Schedule and timing. Send out a Thanksgiving feel-good "thank you" message. Be prepared to start asking for gifts after Thanksgiving, maybe as soon as Black Friday, as it's a good e-commerce opportunity.
- Launch. In the week preceding Thanksgiving, post preliminary site promotions, run Google ads and activate donation forms. Activate holiday initiatives the day after Thanksgiving. And Black Friday or Monday after Thanksgiving, drop the first e-mail in the series.
The presenters said that Thanksgiving cultivation e-mails should recap the year's accomplishments and feature a compelling story that resonates emotionally. Remember, you are setting the stage for the December giving campaign. Another strategy is an e-mail that sends holiday wishes and reminds recipients of your organization's mission.
5. Ask — November to December
- Direct mail/e-mail ask series
- Extra latitude for increased e-mail pace; tap into the power of multiple messages
- Opportunity for a variety of messages. Fun, holiday approach; card and gift e-mails; tax-deductible push.
Multiple asks are more powerful than a stand-alone initiative, the presenters said, because messages No. 2 and No. 3 are easier to produce than the first message you send, and it's an opportunity to increase giving.
Types of asks organizations can employ for end-of-year campaigns include:
- Traditional ask: This is a standard e-mail ask
- Alternative giving: Aimed at those doing last-minute giving. Get creative with options. For example, two options World Wildlife Fund offers in its "Last Minute Ways to Say Happy Holidays" e-mail are adopting an animal on someone's behalf online or sending someone a gift adoption card via the mail so they can pick out which animal to adopt. Focus messaging on the service you're providing recipients — easy shopping for nontraditional gifts.
- Deadline: A central component of this type of campaign is urgency. Focus messaging on preparing for challenges for the upcoming year and prepare donors to stay with you for the coming year. Send a "last chance to donate" e-mail on Dec. 31 to capture last-minute gifts.
- Tax focused: Sent in the last couple of days of the year. Online is the best way to remind constituents of this. Still can have some messaging around mission, but the focus is the tax year. The presenters recommended not sending this e-mail until after Dec. 26.
6. Analyze — January
- Communicate: "Don't let radio silence steal your momentum," the presenters said. Look forward to the new year — resolutions and plans. Thank constituents for successes in the prior year and remind them of the need to stay engaged for continued growth. Sum up the year. Communicate with non-givers as well. And send your welcome series to new donors and members.
- Learn: Analyze the end-of-year campaign to improve results and predict growth. What was the e-mail responsiveness? Was there one particular message that was off the charts or a dud? Incorporate those findings into planning for next year, and look at giving trends.
Finally, the presenters said the better prepared you are, the better your results will be. To prepare, understand that year-end campaigns are a culmination of engagement, not one-shot activities. Know that you'll need to ask repeatedly. The holidays are a busy time. Repetition is key to securing your spot in the holiday traffic. And give prospects a variety of opportunities and options to support you. Each donor has a different vision of how they want to give gifts. Offer them options, e.g., ways to support your organization while getting their chores done.
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