How To Maximize Your End-of-Year Fundraising

With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, it’s time to make sure your end-of-year fundraising strategy and campaigns are running at full throttle.
End of year fundraising

It’s no secret that your end-of-year fundraising has a significant impact on whether or not your organization meets its yearly donation goals. A Charity Navigator survey of over 100 charities found that, on average, charities receive 41% of their annual donations in the last few weeks of the year. #GivingTuesday has reached hashtag activism status as a counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the spirit of giving seems to be in the air as the seasons slip from fall to winter.

But a successful year end fundraising campaign requires far more thought than a simple donate button at the bottom of your newsletter, a direct mail appeal letter signed by your Executive Director, or even a slick crowdfunding campaign. In fact, your fundraising success in Q4 is determined in part by your work in Q1-Q3. And how much you fundraise is largely influenced by how smart you fundraise.

In this article we discuss a few core insights we’ve developed through working with our nonprofit and foundation clients. These tips will help you maximize your end-of-year funding by providing a framework for preparing for success throughout the year. And if you’re just spinning up your end of year campaigns, you’ll learn crucial last-minute modifications to help stoke the giving fire.

Priming, Brand Awareness, and Building Trust

Though many organizations focus considerable time and effort towards their end of year fundraising campaigns, few consider that their odds of success are largely determined before their first end-of-year planning meeting.

Every potential donor, volunteer, or ambassador is limited in their ability to give time, money, or attention to your cause. And during the end of year, more than ever, they are bombarded with asks from organizations large and small. When combined with broader issues of trust around the nonprofit sector and misconceptions of overhead and overspending, people default to supporting organizations that they trust most. And they are more likely to trust organizations that they recognize and have consistently demonstrated proof of impact and success.

With all of this in mind, you should prime your major year-end giving ask with smaller asks, campaigns, and stories of success and impact throughout Q1 - Q3. When your audience then sees your end-of-year campaign, your brand recognition and trust will be high because they will remember what you’ve accomplished.

Even if you haven’t been preparing for the end-of-year giving cycle, all is not lost. There are still many tactics you can employ that should help reduce giving pain points and maximize the year’s end efforts you have planned.

The number one reason donors don’t renew memberships or become repeat funders is because they don’t have a clear sense of the impact of their previous donation. Mitigate these fears by educating your audience about your many successes—small and large—and show them that their donation matters.

Establish Goals and Success Metrics

The first place to start when planning your year-end fundraising strategy is to establish goals (what are you trying to accomplish?) and success metrics (how will you know if you have?).

Your goals should be more than just a final dollar amount. Use your end-of-year fundraising as an opportunity to educate, engage, and empower your community. Inspiring your audience to act in ways beyond giving can be just as critical to your organization’s success.

Think about your goals with the full spectrum of positive actions or impact in mind, not just donations or major gifts. Volunteer opportunities, website traffic, social media engagement, on-the-ground advocacy, and earned media are all meaningful goals to consider in your larger strategy.

Once your goals are set and prioritized, it’s critical to define success metrics that can be clearly and objectively measured. “Increase Awareness” isn’t a measurable goal. Raising site visitations by 10% or adding 1,000 people to your newsletter list are targets that you can set and gauge your progress. Of course you will want to measure the total funds raised and compare that with your primary goal, but be sure to break down your successes and failures with a bit more granularity.

Set targets for funds raised from each marketing channel, major gifts versus small gifts, local donations versus national donations, repeat donors versus new donors, and any other meaningful breakdowns of funding source.

With modern digital analytics platforms, it’s possible to segment your data into objective measurements of success such as funds raised, and digital engagement across your website and social media channels. Be sure to set these analytics tools up from the beginning of your campaign. Ideally, start at the beginning of the calendar year, so that you can recognize trends and performance benchmarks throughout the year.

Although it’s important to set realistic goals, don’t be afraid to shoot for a stretch goal or two. This is a great opportunity to challenge your organization to grow in areas that may be lagging behind. With some creative planning, this approach can even become a component of your campaign strategy.

Develop Your Campaign Strategy

Once your goals and success metrics are established decide how to frame your end-of-year fundraising. Start by establishing a clear angle or framing for your campaign. Center your campaign around a critical, mission-aligned issue that is tangible, timely, and resonates with your community. Communicate your target amount, and show how and why that amount is necessary for your goals. For example, “By achieving our goal, we will add another room and an additional teacher to the school, creating room for 50 additional girls to learn to read.”

Find a philanthropist or corporate partner who will match any donations up to a specified amount. This can create additional incentives for potential donors who will feel their buying power amplified. These partnerships also create an opportunity for you to expand your audience.

Recently, Save our Shores celebrated their 40th anniversary with a Toast to the Coast gala at The Monterey Bay Aquarium. They primed the audience by screening a well-produced video demonstrating their past and current successes and tied it into current-day obstacles they ar solving. They set a clear mission for raising $50k to spearhead an educational program for local schools to provide hands-on education around the importance of ocean conservation.

Their $50k goal was raised in a matter of minutes in a single night, because they had primed their audience, established trust, set clear goals, and communicated tangible plans for positive impact with the funding raised.

Once you’ve developed an angle and concept for your campaign, determine which marketing channels you will leverage to connect with your audience. Most campaigns today are primarily digital, or at least have a major digital component, so be sure that your website is set up to support your campaign with a landing page or microsite and a clear CTA to donate. Your other online and offline marketing channels should aim to drive traffic to your website, which should serve as a central hub for information, updates, and progress for your campaign.

Provide Options

Not all donors fit into a single profile, and the way they want to or are able to give money or time will vary across your audience. Rather than trying to force donors down a single path, embrace the different ways your audience can engage and provide options for supporting your campaign.

When it comes to financial support, be sure your donation form includes multiple levels of giving, with the ability to provide a one-time donation or ongoing support. Allow your donors to support specific programs, or provide general support for your organization.

But financial support is only one way your supporters can engage with your campaign. Encourage your supporters to spread the word through digital channels. Ask donors to provide a testimonial or quote about why they support your organization that you can use in your marketing campaigns.

If your main campaign strategy is focused on major gifts, launch a small gifts supporting campaign. If you’re raising funds primarily through small donations, leverage your successes here to encourage larger donations through a supporting major gifts campaign.

As long as your options support your overall campaign strategy and your larger mission, a synergistic relationship with your supporters will develop by offering different ways to contribute to your campaign.

Make Giving Frictionless

A critical and often overlooked component of a successful campaign is the ease of the giving experience. Ensure that whether you ask for donations on or offline that once your donor decides to give the process and experience is as easy and intuitive as possible. Any friction in the giving process leads to abandonment along the way, and ultimately less donations overall. Giving can be a compulsive act of generosity, and the lifespan of that generosity may be short lived.

Determine where you can most reliably reach each segment of your audience and be sure you have marketing efforts in place there. If your major gift donors respond best to direct mail, then don’t force them into a digital donation flow. Similarly, you won’t get far asking for younger donors to cut you a check. This is basic fundraising best practices, but it can be easily overlooked during the end-of-year frenzy.

If you launch an email campaign, have a strong CTA (call to action) at the top and bottom of the email. When a user lands on a donation form, ensure the form is clean, clear, optimized for mobile, and as short as possible. If you are asking with a direct mail letter, include postage (return address pre-filled) and provide clear instructions for how to donate online if preferred.

The online donation experience is critical to get right. We recommend integrating with best-in-class donation platforms such as EveryAction, Classy, who’ve done extensive A/B testing and optimization of the donation experience for you.

Integrate your donation flow with Apple Pay, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, and PayPal to allow mobile users to have a seamless donation experience. Pulling out a credit card and typing it on your phone is just enough friction to cause a potential donor to bail on the process.

A frictionless donation experience is an effective donation experience. Be sure to nail this critical component of the process to ensure your campaign delivers its true potential.

Market the Results

Following a successful campaign, it’s critical to market your results and thank your supporters. Donors should be the first to know that their contributions were integral in your organization reaching its fundraising goals. Even if you didn’t reach your goals, a thank you to donors is still valid and will communicate a dedication to transparency that will go a long way. But the marketing opportunity only starts there.

Your end-of-year campaign is a natural springboard for future marketing efforts focused on impact. Consider launching an automated campaign where supporters and donors can learn how their efforts have created positive results towards your shared mission.

This impact-focused approach will reward your supporters with an emotional return on their investment and communicate that their support is well worth it. This continues to build deeper trust with your brand, and in turn, sets you up for success for future fundraising efforts.

Reflect. Asses. Iterate.

Although it may feel like the work is done once your end-of-year campaign has come to an end, you’d miss the most important step in the process if you wrapped up and moved on to the next thing without a proper review.

Compare your goals and success metrics with actual performance. Make note of any deltas (positive or negative) and develop hypothesis or explanations for why your predictions were off-track. Remember, coming in under your goals is not a failure if you learn from your shortcomings, iterate, and plan for better outcomes for your next campaign.

Also note which marketing channels, strategies, and creative assets drove the most engagement. These valuable insights will help your organization understand which methods and channels work best for your audience. Double down on what works and focus less effort on what doesn’t.

The cyclical nature of fundraising allows for experimentation and fine tuning in order to maximize the return on your efforts. Make sure you acquire actionable information along the way as you continue to meet your goals, and set yourself up to learn from campaigns that fall short of projections.

Set goals and metrics, plan your campaigns, embrace technology, and get ready for the donation season.

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