It’s the end of summer and, for fundraisers, it’s a magical time of year. While the rest of the country is taking last minute vacations, back-to-school planning, and avoiding the heat that never seems to break, development teams are in the thick of planning for the end of the year. Over the last 10 years, 31% of giving transpired during the month of December and 12% of annual giving occurred during the last three days of the year. With stakes that high, nonprofits can’t afford to sit out, regardless of their fiscal year calendar.
To gather data on ways nonprofits prepare for the end of the year, several CCS clients were surveyed for this article including a foundation, monastery, and national museum in Washington, DC; a food bank in South Carolina; a cancer related nonprofit in Florida; and an independent lower and middle school in Texas. These organizations represent four different philanthropic sectors (arts and culture, human services, religion, and education), have budgets that range from $1.5 million to $61 million, and have annual fundraising goals that account for 5% – 100% of their operating budgets. All but one experienced increases in year-end giving totals last year compared to previous years.
In all aspects of fundraising, timing is everything. The first step of any good year-end strategy is creating a timeline and starting early. Each previously mentioned institution start their planning ahead of time, some as early as May. Based on outcomes from the data CCS has available, August is the optimal time to plan for year-end appeals. From there, end of the year benchmarks can be set to drive fundraising activity.
The Essential Tools for Appeals
- In Person Meetings – while time consuming, there’s simply no replacement for asking face-to-face. Meeting in person typically returns the greatest gifts. Bonus: These conversations are a great opportunity to invite donor advice and feedback on new projects.
- Recurring Gifts – lock in consistent, automatic giving that has a low monthly impact on donors’ budgets. Bonus: Recurring gifts are automatic and do not need to be renewed annually.
- Phone-a-thons – direct, entertaining, and very effective. Bonus: One organization said they assign high-level prospects in need of follow-up to board members for high impact phone calls. Consider using other highly engaged volunteers/existing donors to make appropriately relationship-based calls.
- Direct Mail and E-mail appeals – easy, affordable, simple to plan. Bonus: Segment appeals so different constituencies receive different messages.
- #GivingTuesday – created in 2012 and falling on the Tuesday after the Thanksgiving holiday, this day of giving has significant popularity and brand-name recognition. Because so many organizations participate, all can benefit from the attention. Bonus: Several of the institutions surveyed secure matching gifts in advance of #GivingTuesday to create incentives and rewards throughout the day.
End-of-Year Giving Timeline
To begin preparing for successful year-end fundraising, consider the following key tasks:
- Budget time on the calendar for the final 3 – 4 months for year-end giving tasks
- Recruit volunteers (before they realize how busy they’ll be in December)
- Pull and segment lists of prospects
- Set drop dates and work backwards to set deadlines for drafts
- Update any websites with this year’s information.
During this month, focus on organizational preparedness for the calendar’s final appeal.
- Make a plan for #GivingTuesday
- Draft appeal letters and e-mails for the next few months
- Layout and order any stationery, designed pieces, or extra collateral for the next few months.
- Orient volunteers and assign prospects
- Draft gift acknowledgement letters
While not officially the end of the year, October is still an important month for giving. Nonprofits that wait to start their year-end appeal in November leave money on the table that might have otherwise been given.
- Mail out your first direct appeal
- Send digital appeal
- Secure matching gifts for Giving Tuesday
- Hold volunteers accountable with check-ins
- Schedule phone-a-thons
National Philanthropy Day is November 15. You should consider using this day as:
- A way to engage volunteers in a community project and celebrate the donors that have already given.
- An opportunity to share a story of how these supporters made the mission possible.
#GivingTuesday 2017 is November 28. This is such a busy month that it’s easy for time to get away. Don’t let it. Here are some things to consider:
- Since Thanksgiving lands on November 24, ensure that all #GivingTuesday communications are queued and ready well in advance of November 28
- Some of the organizations surveyed communicate as many as three times throughout #GivingTuesday to secure the maximum number of gifts—stay in step with these trends!
- Volunteers will be essential to boosting communications and reaching an even broader audience. Some people check communications during the holiday, some do not. It is best to stagger multiple communications on different days and times ahead of #GivingTuesday.
It’s the final countdown! December is the busiest month for philanthropy thanks to the holidays and the final opportunity for tax-deductible gifts for the current year.
- Host a phone-a-thon
- Mail a follow-up appeal
- Send 2 – 3 digital appeals, particularly in the last few days of the year
- Consider whether or not you need staff in place to process gifts the final days of the year
- Thank your donors and provide them a tease of early results
The best fundraising plans start with strategy, proceed with flexible tactics and a compelling case, and end with heartfelt gratitude. It’s not too late to get started, but time is running out on 2017. Have ideas on how to plan the best year-end appeal ever? Join the conversation by sharing thoughts below.
If you missed it, our Elevating End-of-Year Giving: #GivingTuesday and Other Strategies for Success webinar is now available on demand!
About the Authors
Kyle Amey is an Executive Director with CCS. Kyle has assisted a broad range of organizations in the healthcare and education sectors including the United States Naval Academy Foundation. Prior to joining CCS, Kyle managed a team at Network for Good and provided online fundraising expertise to more than 300 clients across all nonprofit sectors.
Meg O’Halloran is an Executive Director with CCS. Meg has significant experience in capital campaigns, major gift solicitation, grant writing, volunteer, and prospect management. While with CCS, she has worked in the environmental, education, and religion sectors. Meg is a volunteer author for Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy, co-writing both the Public Society Benefit and Donor-Advised Fund chapters in Giving USA 2017, and the Public Society Benefit chapter in Giving USA 2016. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.