What Worked In Your Year-End Email Appeals?

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

The data shows that 2019 was a positive fundraising year for nonprofits. We’ll learn the details about that by the end of this first quarter.

Having focused on the last four days of year-end giving online was clearly a smart fundraising move. How were your returns? Please share your experience with us below on the LAPA blog.

In brief, what worked was showing up to email on the last four days, especially 12/31, segmenting your donors ahead of time, following a pre-set calendar, and knowing what to do in January. Here are the details.

Fun Facts

Here are a few fun facts about how 2019 year-end giving…

  • The average online donation on Giving Tuesday was $120.40; but that size gift went mostly to the largest nonprofits with robust social media programs.
  • 12% of annual giving occurred on the last three days of the year. Wow.
  • The most popular month to start year-end giving outreach is November.
  • Online giving peaked on New Year’s Eve 12/31, especially due to tax benefits.
  • Female donors were more likely to make a donation because of social media marketing, while male donors were more likely to give because of email messages.

The Last Four Days Emails – with three Amazing Samples for you to replicate

Email is still a strong source of donation revenue. These three year-end email samples really worked too. Here are three amazing year-end email samples for you to replicate. Notice that they are each signed by different leaders within the organization. Of the hundreds of similar emails that I read I loved these three the most because they conveyed emotion right away by use of a photo, because each had a pithy subject line, they were short and sweet, and because they asked for a gift in a clear way. These were created by the amazing LAPA fundraiser, Andrew Navarette.

Donor Segmentation Really Worked

What really worked in year-end email is donor segmentation. Your email outreach must be sent to pre-selected segmented groups of donors. Do you have your email list in one batch? Well, it’s time to stop doing that. Choose a minimum of four segments that make sense and create individual messages for each one. Our colleagues at Nonprofit Hub shared this helpful chart to guide us:

Image result for donor segmentation cheat sheet

Make your case for urgent giving to each donor segment based on what you know about them: their age is also a big factor, plus their interest in certain areas of your work, and, king-of-the-hill, is their capacity to give which you can only know from having done donor research beforehand.

Generational Difference

Knowing generational differences between donors really worked to raise more revenue and had considerable impact on what message worked best for each one. When you are careful to design the right donor segment and solution you’re showing that you care about your donors as real people, that you empathize with them and understand their preferences.

Knowing your donors generational giving habits will boost your fundraising. Understanding how to secure that information will come from your donor surveys. The information you acquire from those surveys should inform the design and application of generational giving principals into your fundraising strategy. Of particular significance to any fundraising effort are Baby Boomers. With 51 million individuals, Boomers are the largest donor group numerically, contributing 43% percent of total giving. With thanks to Andrew Shoaff, this breakdown is an easy guide to use:

Generation Y

  • Born 1981 – 1995 (age 18-32 as of 2013)
  • Represent 11% of total giving
  • 32.8 million donors in the U.S.
  • 60% give
  • $481 average annual gift
  • 3.3 charities supported

Generation X

  • Born 1965 – 1980 (age 33-48 as of 2013)
  • Represent 20% of total giving
  • 39.5 million donors in the U.S.
  • 59% give
  • $732 average annual gift
  • 3.9 charities supported


  • Born 1946 – 1964 (age 49-67 as of 2013)
  • Represent 43% of total giving
  • 51.0 million donors in the U.S.
  • 72% give
  • $1,212 average annual gift
  • 4.5 charities supported


  • Born 1945 and earlier (age 68+ as of 2013)
  • Represent 26% of total giving
  • 27.1 million donors in the U.S.
  • 88% give
  • $1,367 average annual gift
  • 6.2 charities supported

Segment Out Your Major Donors

What surely DID NOT work was soliciting your major donors by email. YUCK. Your major donors should not be solicited by email. However, they should receive emails from you, but not solicitations. Instead send them your newsletter or an online greeting card, or a link to an article related to your mission or work. You should ask your major donors for their support in person, and you should ask them for increased giving levels, including their commitment to include you in their last will and testament.

Sample Year-End Appeal Calendar

Many of our readers asked for a sample Year-End Appeal Calendar that we used in LAPA’s fundraising work, so here it is. Feel free to replicate it:

October 9th, 2019

Event: Fall Newsletter

Medium: Direct Mail (mail vendor used)

Focus: Capital Campaign public phase, asking for a “stretch” gift above the donor’s annual fund donation

November 18th, 2019

Event: Thanksgiving Text Blast

Medium: We used EZTexting.com

Focus: A short personal note from the Director saying, “Happy Thanksgiving, we are thinking of you!”

November—the Tuesday after Thanksgiving

Event: Giving Tuesday

Medium: Social Media

Focus: Only if your social media is significant enough to justify the effort.

November 21st, 2019

Event: Written Year-End Appeal

Medium: Direct Mail (mail vendor used)

Focus: Year-End Appeal

December 29th, 2019 @ 10:15 AM

Event: Email Blast #1 of 3

Medium: Constant Contact

Focus: Matching Donation before year end

December 30th, 2019 @ 10:15 AM

Event: Email Blast #2 of 3

Medium: Constant Contact

Focus: Matching Donation before year end

December 31st, 2019 @ 2:15 PM

Event: Email Blast #3 of 3

Medium: Constant Contact

Focus: Matching Donation before year end

January 6 through January 20, 2020

Event: Video Phone Call Update & Thank You

Medium: EZTexting.com or Phone calls

Focus: Sharing progress and expressing gratitude

Two Steps to Take Right Now

Make a live video (3 minutes in length) to let your donors know how your year-end drive concluded: share with them how many people responded, what was your average gift, what will your organizations use the funds for.

Your  donors need to hear from you right now!

If video is not your thing, use a text service or phone calls, and let your donors hear your gratitude for their support.

These two steps will boost donor retention across both online and traditional donation methods which should always be a priority.


I saved the best for last. Guess what month is a great month to fundraise? JANUARY. Click here to see why.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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