Your year-end fundraising strategy must pay special attention to the last four days of the year.
December is the most lucrative giving month of the year, and especially so for online giving. Approximately one out of every three dollars in annual giving is donated in December. In fact, 28% of nonprofits raise between 26% and 50% of their annual funds from their year-end drive. An additional 36% of nonprofits raise nearly 10% of their annual funds from their year-end ask.
For online giving, the figure is even higher, with 12% of all annual online giving coming in the last four days. (Statistics provided by NeonOne.com.)
The Last Four Days Online
This powerful month of concentrated giving is amplified during the last four days of the year (December 28, 29, 30, and 31). Those are the biggest giving days online. Further, giving literally quintuples over the course of the last two days of the year!
As data analysts have documented, the peak donation period is between noon through 7 p.m. on December 31st, when 31% of donations come in for the day, no matter your time zone.
The holiday giving spirit, coupled with the pressing need for U.S. donors to lock in a tax deduction for the year, fuels this beneficence.
So, how will you make the best use of these four remarkable days? Here are a few recommendations.
An E-Mail A Day: A Few Approaches
To begin, send an email or short video on December 28th alerting donors to expect an email from you every day for the next four days, and let them know what your approach will be (see below). These emails should also be automatically posted to your social media. That step can be automated if you use a service like Buffer.com.
Here are recommended approaches on how to craft your email and social media posts. Choose one approach that best fits your nonprofit.
DONORS & VOLUNTEERS STORIES: Their stories—why they give, why they volunteer—are hardly ever heard. You can remedy that by telling one story a day, alternating between a donor and volunteer. One nonprofit coached one of its clients to video interview one of its donors, and WOW. The conversation was real, intimate, and fresh. It had the highest open rates of any email that year. The video lasted only 90 seconds. We prefer 90-second videos as the central point of each email whenever possible. Remember too that volunteers are twice as likely to donate as non-volunteers.
CLIENT STORIES: Another approach is to tell one client story per day that highlights their struggles and your organization’s success over the past year in supporting clients and helping them succeed. You can pair each story with a dynamic profile picture, or, even better, a 30-second video of the client speaking from the heart. One of LAPA’s clients tells four client stories, one per day, in great detail, with a picture of each client, or a representative image, to illustrate how its services made a positive impact. The four clients personify each of the organization’s four core service areas.
SURPRISING FACTS: The next approach is to share an aspect of your program’s impact that may be little known or frequently overlooked. We did a “Last Four Days” drive that shared one surprising fact each day about a nonprofit’s innovative approach. Each day’s email repeated the fact highlighted the day before, so that by the fourth day the viewer saw the big picture at a glance.
COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Another option is to describe your partnerships and community connections. A social service provider for youth related the story of its partnership with a local community college. College students would volunteer at the nonprofit, helping youth with homework and engaging them in recreational activities, culminating in two weekend camping trips. Their year-end drive emails contained photos from the trips, as well as portraits of younger and older kids together in a heartwarming depiction of mentorship and camaraderie.
Pithy and Emotional Content
You must write pithy emotional content. You see, most people scan an email before committing to read it carefully. In that scan, they must be emotionally engaged by the picture and the subheadings. You must arouse a high level of interest and fellow feeling that makes them want to read it.
It’s wise to find a graphic designer to create your e-appeal, but most email programs are fairly user-friendly for inserting a photo, and there’s really no excuse not to, especially during such a critical fundraising time. If your graphic designer happens to be away, you should be able to do this work yourself. Further, in current email systems, you can even preset the messages to be sent while you’re out of the office. Vibrant, clear, portrait photographs (no group shots) that illustrate the story and show emotion will help immeasurably. Your own storytelling will, of course, vary, but your donors will be glad for this concentrated period of cultivation and outreach.
Your “Donate Now” button should appear three times in the body of the email — at the start, middle, and end of each one — so that your donors can click at any time they’re ready to give.
I Fibbed: There’s a Fifth Day
January 1 — Send an email on New Year’s Day thanking donors for participating in your year-end campaign and informing them about the impact of their donations. You can include a message for those who did not give. Something like, “Didn’t give yet? You can still support us by giving today.” As noted in the next section, be sure to suggest giving on a recurring basis. You can repeat this email twice more in January to non-responders only, once in the second week of January and a final time in the third week. You can see a full plan for fundraising in January here.
Guidance for Top Performance
Set your Year-end goals: Goal setting is a significant part of any nonprofit fundraising campaign, but it can be especially critical for a year-end drive because there are so many variables. As you plan your year-end campaign, have your team answer these questions:
- Where did our year-end revenue come from the previous year?
- How much growth is expected year-over-year?
- What goals do we have for existing donor gifts?
- What goals do we have for new donor gifts?
- What are our goals for matching gifts?
Having these goals in mind – and deciding on them early – will help structure your year-end campaigns down the road and set your team up for success.
ASK FOR AUTOMATED RECURRING GIFTS: Do all you can in your emails to shift your focus to recurring donations. By focusing on recurring donations for year-end giving, you will raise more revenue each year. Yes, you can at intervals just send an email to each of your past supporters and ask again — but is that really effective? Most research says it is not. In fact, failing to offer a recurring giving option is a leading cause of losing new donors! As online giving grows, people are warming up to online monthly recurring donation options — evidenced by its year-over-year growth. The recurring option does not apply to major donors, though. Segmenting your donor list will ensure that the right donors are receiving the right message. For major donors, the message could simply be, “Thank You!” Ultimately, your approach with major donors should be much more personal and focused on securing multi-year pledges.
SURVEY YOUR DONORS: Including a link for the donor to take a brief donor survey is a smart move, but some argue against this because they want to keep the communication focused on securing a gift. New technology is allowing us to put donor feedback options on key pages of our website. For more information about this technology, contact LAPA’s Alyssa Greengrass.
BRANDED DONATION FORMS: Did you know that putting your organizational brand or logo on your donation forms can help you raise up to seven times more? That’s because your brand is recognizable to the donor and they trust it, or at least should trust it. Be sure your online forms look their best to maximize the final days of year-end giving.
SEND TIMES: On December 31 send your email at 11:00 a.m. or 11:30 a.m., times that have been determined by research to be ideal. However, if your donors’ habitual giving times differ from the ideal, go with the former. For example, one science center LAPA Fundraising worked with determined that their donors most often opened their email in the early morning. So the science center sent the appeals at 6 a.m. and had terrific open rates. The point is that you need to think about what time is best.
UNOPENED EMAIL: Send a follow-up message to those who have not yet opened your email. Email programs such as Constant Contact and Mail Chimp allow you to see when your recipients have actually read your messages, so you can send a second email around 3 p.m. that day to those who haven’t checked their email in the morning, or overlooked yours. I mentioned before that you have to segment your audience. If you don’t have a good way to do this within your email system, simply write a short note at the beginning of your email saying something like, “Please disregard this message if you’ve already contributed to our year-end campaign. If you would share it with a friend and let them know you believe in, and donate to, our mission, that would be much appreciated.”
SUBJECT LINE ON December 31: Be sure to mention the December 31 fundraising deadline in the subject line: “Today’s the deadline to receive your 2021 tax deduction.” Also, remind your donors who use postal mail that if their donation envelope is postmarked by December 31, their gift qualifies as a tax-deductible contribution for that year, even if it is received after that date.
POSTAL MAIL: It’s still a best practice to integrate your email with postal mail. Do not skip this step. You can read more about it here. When you post your appeal letter by direct U.S. mail, write “Time Sensitive” on the outer envelope, and we recommend using a first-class stamp, at least for your major donors. We also recommend affixing a first-class stamp on your reply envelopes, at least for the major donors.
What strategies do you currently use to advance giving during the last four days of the year? Please leave your comments at the blog. And please forward this post to a colleague who may appreciate it.