“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
The best fundraisers are authentic friends. They genuinely care about the wellbeing of their donors, understand their needs and what drives them and, when it’s time to “make the ask”, aren’t trying to pitch or sell. Rather, they are giving their donors a gift -- the gift of an opportunity to find meaning, purpose, and connection.
The majority of nonprofits give their donors this opportunity at the end of each year during the infamous “Season of Giving”, just in time to get in last-minute tax deductible donations and relish in the sentimental glow of the holidays.
While nearly a third of all annual giving happens in December, nonprofits need to think much further ahead than even retail stores eager to put out those sparkly tree-toppers. Mid-September to early October, at the very beginning of fall, is the ideal time for organizations to refine their year-end fundraising strategies for the Season of Giving.
How to get started
Whether you’re developing your year-end fundraising strategy from scratch or refreshing your strategy from past years, there are a few critical items to check off your list before launch. Among them:
Have you thanked your donors recently?:As in, within the past few months, at least. Don’t be like that distant uncle who only pops up when he needs a favor. Before you ask your friends and supporters for another gift, make sure you’ve thanked them -- with no other strings attached -- recently. Thanking donors doesn’t have to be expensive. A thoughtful email, handwritten letter, or other acknowledgment can go a long way. One of my favorite ideas in the fundraising sphere is to hold a donor “thank-a-thon” by gathering up your board members, volunteers, and staff to spend the day thanking people -- that’s it. It’s fun, affordable, and will go a long way.
Take their “pulse”:While you’re catching up with your past donors, listen and learn. Get a sense of how they’re feeling and responding to your communications. How have they felt about your organization’s latest projects and impacts? If it’s not clear what their thoughts are, ask them for their feedback! Donors love being included in shaping your organization’s future and being asked for their knowledge and insights. Asking shows you respect their opinions and wish to connect to them for more than just a check.
Know the “competitive” giving landscape:Are there organizations with a similar mission or project to yours who overlap your potential network of supporters? Feelings of competition for those coveted year-end gifts might rear their ugly head, whether justified or not. What about teaming up with your competing nonprofit fundraiser and using your similarities and overlaps to your advantage instead of your detriment? Fundraising collaboration is a hot strategy, with some interesting and promising results. I love this example from my local community, “Share the Pie”, which raises funds during the giving season for two collaborating nonprofits in our area. The campaign’s name has so many layers, and who doesn’t love pie?
Amplify your year-end giving results
There’s always room for improvement, and growth is the goal of every fundraising campaign. Here are a few strategies to try to shake things up during this year’s efforts:
Invite your volunteers to be your fundraising champions:Many nonprofits know the magic of volunteers, and especially savvy nonprofits know that your volunteers are also twice as likely to donate money to your cause than non-volunteers. But have you considered empowering your volunteers to be your fundraisers? Consider creating a campaign that you can put in the hands of your own volunteers in addition to your staff and fundraising freelancers and consultants. As people who see your operations and impact regularly, volunteers are excellently poised to share your amazing cause with their friends to solicit support -- they just need some helpful tools to do so. Provide them with a boilerplate, frequently asked questions, stats about your impact, and information about how funds raised will help your cause, then give them a personal fundraising goal. They might surprise you!
Amp up your impact game:Do you know your organization’s Social Return on Investment (SROI)? SROI is a way of showing how much impact your organization is having on the community compared with what resources you’re requiring to make said impact. It helps donors focus on what you’re accomplishing as a cause rather than what your overhead ratio is; if a cause with what would be considered a “high overhead” uses $100,000 but has an SROI of $500,000, that’s more impactful than a cause with a “low overhead” using $100,000 to create an SROI of $150,000. Knowing and highlighting your organization’s SROI can be a powerful tool to show donors and the public that your impact is huge.
But don’t rely solely on stats:SROI and other impact stats can be compelling, but they don’t stand alone. Human beings thrive on stories to build empathy for your cause and those you serve. If you haven’t done this already in past campaigns, identify a handful of people (or animals!) your cause has impacted and go deep, telling their personal, heartfelt stories as a way of demonstrating how supporting your cause changes lives. This fun infographic from Classy is a great storytelling guide.
Ask when the time is right:With all the year-end giving requests, email and mail boxes are saturated with asks. You’ll want to stand out by sending out your communications at the right time. Many appeals occur right before Thanksgiving, or in the first two weeks of December. Try changing it up -- send one earlier in the year, and follow up a few times throughout the season. And be sure to experiment with different email subject lines, tracking your results with each one.
Bring them back for more:Rather than asking for a one-time gift during giving season, you might consider using the season to kick off a recurring gift campaign (maybe give it a New Year’s resolution twist, encouraging people to incorporate more giving in their plans for the next year!). Recurring gifts are typically smaller month to month, but add up to a larger gift by the end of the year, and it’s income your cause can count on.
Stay on top of the newest strategies and tools:Social media platforms are starting to disrupt the world of donation platforms, and I say the more the merrier. Facebook and Youtube have launched and enhanced their donation tools over the past year, with some promising results. The Facebook Birthdays tool is especially impactful; consider giving your giving seasons appeals a twist by challenging all of your volunteers and supporters with giving season birthdays to champion your cause with a birthday donation campaign on their personal page. The best part? The funds are deposited, transaction-fee-free, into your organization’s bank account. If your network of supporters includes some gamers, livestreaming to raise funds for causes has also become a fun and interesting trend. Keep an eye out on the latest trends and tools and get creative!
Keep an eye on your staff during this busy period
The end of the year can be a stressful time for your team professionally and personally. Make sure to keep an eye on your team during this busy period and that there’s nothing wrong with calling in the cause-calvary and bringing on some extra help. Remember that giving season should be fun! Outsourcing some of that stressful fundraising work to a team with the right expertise, can help your staff breathe a sigh of relief while enabling you all to get a great return.