It's Not Too Soon to Plan Year-End Fundraising
There are 142 days left in 2016. That sounds like a lot—and it is, if you start thinking about year-end direct response fundraising now. But if you wait, there’s a good chance you will leave money on the table because of missed opportunities and no time to give it your best effort.
Yes, the large retail stores only have Halloween merchandise out now, but once back-to-school leaves the shelves, we’ll most likely see their early efforts to get us to "plan ahead” when it comes to our holiday shopping. So, for those of you who, like me, want to enjoy the holidays knowing that you’ve done all you can to maximize the income your nonprofit will receive, here are some things to work into your year-end planning.
Yes, this falls on Nov. 24 in the U.S. this year, but it’s also a reminder to make sure your donors know that you are so thankful for their support that helped accomplish some wonderful things in 2016. In addition to just being the right thing to do, this is a great way to excite your donors about doing even more before midnight on Dec. 31. Adding a brief article about your gratitude to them in your e-news or printed newsletter in late October or early November can pay dividends for year-end giving. Include short “thank you” messages from people who benefited in recent months, if possible.
Thanksgiving is earlier this year, so Giving Tuesday will happen in November (Nov. 29). While we can argue all day about whether or not Giving Tuesday is worth it, it’s the one day a year media just might be reminding people about supporting their favorite charities. Why not be in front of your donors then? All it takes is a single email. If you want to stack the deck in your favor a bit, try setting a (realistic) goal for Giving Tuesday income, announcing it to your supporters, and then following up a few days later to report on how great they were to help you achieve it.
A direct mail letter needs to stand out in the mailbox at the holiday season. A standard #10 white window envelope is not going to do that. Make sure you plan in advance so your letter arrives in-home with enough time for someone to actually respond. That means allowing for slower delivery times if you are using nonprofit rates, or using first class postage for your more generous donors. If you do use first class, go to the extra trouble (and small expense if you use an outside mailer) to affix an appropriate commemorative stamp. That will make it stand out even more.
The first thing to note about this inclusion is that I used the plural. Year-end is not the time to send just one email. People are busy. They are worn out. But many are also thinking that they want to do something else to help a cause they believe in (or just to get a tax deduction). Either way, you benefit if you have more than one email arrive in the last week of the year. I’ve seen everything from one (or more) a day to one or two during the week and two more on New Year’s Eve. If you hardly ever talk to your donors, now is not the time to make up for a year of neglect by sending out too many emails. But two during the last week will not raise ire—especially if you keep them short, present a compelling reason to give now (other than just “get a tax deduction”; seven in 10 Americans don’t itemize on tier taxes), and make it easy for them to give online.
If your website is left over from the 20th century, isn’t mobile-optimized or gives donors a headache if they try to give online, you need to fix it now. Every year, a larger percentage of people give online. No, it’s not as big a slice of the pie as those who mail in gifts, but 10 percent to 15 percent is nothing to ignore. In December, include a bold (but tasteful) reminder on your homepage about year-end giving. If necessary, improve your auto-responder message to be conversational and warm after a person gives, instead of sounding like it was written by an unfeeling robot.
Yes, you have 142 days, but making each one count is essential if you are going to have the best holiday season possible in terms of donation income. This old dog knows how easy it is to have your time swallowed up by the pressures of being a fundraiser. But carve out time right now to plan your year-end giving strategy, and then review and move forward on your plan every week until Dec. 31.
And then you can start browsing those store aisles for holiday merchandise you can’t live without.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.