The Season to Give is Not a Reason to Give (and other Year-End Fundraising Truth Bombs)

year-end fundraising

Did someone say “donate now?” We’re headed into the busiest, most lucrative time of the year with year-end fundraising. A time when many nonprofits raise 25-50% of their entire budget.

But the season to give is not a reason to give.

Have your ever gotten a year-end fundraising appeal that started with “It’s that time of the year again.”  

Why should I give to you? Why is this gift needed at this time? What will you do with it? It’s up to us to inspire our donors to believe that their gift will truly make a difference. We have to tell them exactly what their money will do. We must make them care and feel something in order to give. It’s going to take emotional storytelling and a sense of urgency to get them to the finish line.      

Those sheep in the road in that photo above are a lot like year-end fundraising communications with our donors. If I only get one email it’s pretty easy to ignore. If I get five emails, I might ignore three of them.  

It will take more than one email to get through.

Don’t believe me? Just log into your email program and look at your open rates. According to Mailchimp the average nonprofit email open rate is 25%. That means 75% of your donors didn’t see your email.

The ask is never a one-day affair.  

You think donors read all your emails. They don’t. Donors will only open emails that have a subject line that interests them. They’ll only give to asks that compel them to take action. One message will not do. Your donors are busy and you need to overcommunicate with them during this busy season.  

It will take a clear, emphasized call to action.

I need to be told exactly what to do to make my gift. Which call to action do you think would work best in an appeal for a fictitious “Save the Penguins” nonprofit?

  1. “Please, make your year-end gift to save the penguins today!”
  2. “Please, stand with penguins today.” 
  3. “Please, stand up for your values today.”

I recently asked this question in a workshop and I was surprised by how many people chose 2 or 3. If you chose one, congratulations! This is not the time to be vague. Tell the donor exactly what to do with a clear call to action. 

Thank the donor for their impact before you send them your year-end fundraising appeal.

Across age and gender, donors consistently complain their biggest pet peeve is when they don’t know how their gift will make a difference. Thanking a donor is only the beginning. Reporting back to them on how their gift made an impact is what motivates them to give again.    

You can accomplish this with a letter, a post card, a phone call or an email. Wondering if this really works? In one study by Jen Shang, donors getting an email stewardship piece before the ask gave $45 more than those who did not, representing a 67% increase in giving!  

Want to save yourself time, delight your donors and boost their retention this end of year?  

Write your report back to donors at the same time you write your end of year appeal.  

Your appeal has nuggets of gold in it that would warm a donor’s heart. It is where you told your donor exactly what their gift would do. How great would it feel if you wrote them back and let them know the good their gift accomplished?  

Here’s an end-of-year pro-tip: write a draft of your report back when you are writing your appeal. Yes, I’m really asking you to write them simultaneously! You’ll send it later but write it while you are writing your appeal. You’ll save time and delight your donor tenfold.  

Here’s some tips on reporting back to donors from Steven Screen:

Thank the donor for responding quickly. Reflect on what a kind and compassionate person the donor is to give. Describe the need that was facing your beneficiaries or cause, and how your donor’s gift perfectly met the need. Include a photo, caption and short story about how the need was met if you can (and yes, this can be a photo from your appeal). Tell the donor they are an important part of your organization and reflect again on what a generous person she/he is. 

Consistently, reporting back is where I see most charities dropping the ball. This isn’t you bragging about your organization. It isn’t a program update or a letter from your board chair. It’s a story of triumph, a heartfelt piece of communication that tells the donor what good happened because of their help.  

People underestimate the power of this but according to fundraising researcher Adrian Sargent, the thank you is the single most important piece of communication that your donors get. They have a higher recall of it than the appeal the generated the gift.  

Want a start-to-finish year-end fundraising checklist to make sure you’ve written a winning appeal before you send it out the door? Download Rachel’s end of year appeal checklist

Need more help with end of year? Grab a seat to Rachel’s Last Minute Tips to Boost End of Year Gifts workshop and you’ll get a done-for-you guide to writing appeals and a year-end fundraising plan template!  

Rachel Muir

Rachel Muir, CFRE transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.

Rachel Muir
Rachel Muir
Rachel Muir

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