For most people, the end of the year is filled with holiday excitement, long weekends, and family time, but for nonprofits, it’s giving season, which means time for year-end fundraising.
Between deciding which channels to use, how to segment donors, and creating fundraising materials, executing a strong year-end fundraising campaign can get complex.
But we’re here to make it easier!
In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to make the most of your year-end appeal. Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is a Year-end Fundraising Campaign And Should You Have One?
End of year fundraising campaigns are your last chance to appeal to donors before the close of the year. Nonprofits usually begin their campaigns around Thanksgiving (starting with #GivingTuesday), and run them until December 31.
Should you have one? Absolutely. Year-end campaigns are a great time to ramp up your fundraising. Nonprofits can raise as much as 25-50% of their annual funds from year-end fundraising alone!
People feel generous during the holidays and often look for ways to do good in the community. Others might want to support organizations and capitalize on tax benefits before the close of the year.
So if you don’t want to miss one of the biggest fundraising seasons of the year, you’ll want to run a year-end campaign.
10 Strategies to Create a Strong Year-end Fundraising Campaign
1. Plan Ahead
The earlier you begin planning for your end of year fundraising campaign the better. Larger nonprofits often start planning in January!
You may not need to plan this far ahead though. Look at the size and budget of your end of year fundraising campaign and start accordingly. If you plan to include a lot of in-person events or partnerships, you’ll want to start early. August or September is a good time to start.
Here’s a quick timeline to help you plan:
- August: Identify a fundraising need and a story to bring this to life. Plan your fundraising and marketing strategy around this. Note important calendar days.
- September: Begin developing communications and a detailed calendar of events. Write content for email, social media and other channels, shoot videos and start booking event venues.
- October: Launch time! If you’re using channels like direct mail or need to send out event invites, October is a good time to launch year-end fundraising. Otherwise focus on getting approvals and tweaking your marketing materials.
- November: If you’re going fully digital, now’s the time to begin your end of year fundraising campaigns.
- December: Your campaign is in full swing. Don’t forget to include a last-minute appeal for gifts – 12% of all giving happens in the last three days of the year.
- January: Thank donors and volunteers, and share results.
A general rule with planning fundraising campaigns is the earlier you start the better. An early start will give you time to plug in board members, volunteers, and cultivate partnerships. Board members especially will need to be informed early on to effectively leverage their contact database.
But if you’re pressed for time and couldn’t plan ahead, start today. Here’s a great example of a year-end appeal from Welcome Hall Mission that went out in October.
2. Review Your Last Year-End Giving Campaign
Before you begin a new fundraising strategy, look back. Take some time to review the data and impact of your previous campaigns. This will help inform your strategy for the current year.
Sit down with your team and compile a list of questions that would be helpful to have answered as you plan your upcoming year-end fundraising campaign. You can then use these questions to guide your analysis.
Questions could include:
- Which weeks or days were the most successful for soliciting donations?
- Which digital outlets (social media, email, your website, etc.) see the highest donor engagement and conversions?
- What was the average donation amount?
- Which donor segments made the most donations?
- Which segment made the biggest donations?
- What is your donor retention rate?
- What was the cost per dollar for your last year-end fundraising campaign?
Keep in mind that data from the Covid years (2020-2021) might look a lot different from the years before and make allowances for these differences.
3. Set Goals
Once you’ve got a sense of the previous years’ performance, it’s time to set goals. Since end of year fundraising campaigns give nonprofits the chance to pull in last-minute donations, take the opportunity to identify how your campaign will fit into your overall annual goal. You might even want to fundraise for a specific project instead of the organization in general.
Set SMART goals, as they give you the best possible chance of meeting your objectives. Here’s how to create a SMART goal:
- Specific: Be specific about what you want to achieve
- Measurable: Make sure your goal can be measured – use numbers!
- Attainable: Be realistic about what you can achieve
- Relevant: Keep your cause in mind
- Time-based: Set a clear date or time for when you should meet this goal
Once you have your goal set, communicate this clearly to the rest of the team. You can even create charts and posters to make sure everyone knows what they’re working towards. Read more about SMART goal-setting here.
One of the best end of year fundraising emails we’ve seen is this one by Oxfam. It clearly highlights their overall goal, uses emotional language, and gives people an easy way to donate. Note how they’ve included options to donate directly, shop, or learn more (if they didn’t want to contribute just yet)
4. Define Your Target Audience
The key to successful year-end fundraising campaigns is sending the right message at the right time. In order to do this, you’ll need to understand your donors.
Start by looking at who already donates to your organization and develop a detailed understanding of who they are. Record key demographics and the types of people that donate. You can then begin segmenting donors by age group, profession, donation amount and other factors you find significant. This will help tailor your message to what resonates best with each group.
For example, you might want to engage younger donors via email, but send postcards to your older supporters. (Good donation or membership management software can help you easily manage and segment supporters)
Once you have segmented your donors, select a primary target for your campaign. Will you be focusing on retention and gaining more monthly donors? Or would you like to target large donations from philanthropists? Defining a target audience will focus your fundraising efforts and help you use the most effective channels to engage your audience.
Note: Choosing a primary audience group for your campaign doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also engage other types of donors. It just helps direct the most effort towards the most significant group. You can also select a few key groups to target.
5. Decide On Theme and Messaging
Once you have a target group, it’s time to decide on your campaign theme and messaging. A cohesive look and feel for your year-end fundraising campaigns can help tie your efforts together into a robust campaign.
Here are a few tips to follow to make sure your end of year fundraising campaign stands out:
- Create a name for your campaign that conveys your intent and the need for fundraising.
- Build content around this theme – making sure everything has a consistent tone, uses vivid imagery, and is driven by powerful storytelling.
- Collect stories, pictures and videos related to your theme – you could even create a unique slogan or tagline for your campaign
- Use an integrated editorial calendar to help you track messaging across different audiences and channels – this will help you keep things consistent!
- Keep your ask simple, clear, and straight to the point
- Plan for online events – if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s the power of engaging people online. While you should definitely have in-person events if possible – try and include live streams or Zoom events to engage people across the world!
Here’s some great messaging from Charity Water that capitalizes on the holiday giving spirit and what matters most to people.
6. Prep Your Tech for Year-End Fundraising
Technology plays a major role in ensuring your fundraising efforts are effective and seamlessly executed. To make sure there aren’t any major issues during your end of year fundraising, test and review all tech before your campaign begins.
Here are a few things you’ll want to do:
- Clean up your CRM: Ensure your main database is free from errors, duplicates, and otherwise nonstandard data, update your nonprofit CRM with any new contacts
- Improve your digital presence: Make sure your website, social media profiles, and email marketing program is up-to-date and you have cohesive content for all your digital marketing channels prepared
- Check your donation platform: Make sure your donation software is up to date and can handle any new requirements you might need – recurring giving, integration with your CRM, donation webpages, customized thank you emails, and transaction receipts (see #7 for more on this!)
- Invest in marketing tools: Look at programs that can improve operational efficiency like email automation, social media management software and others
With the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits have increasingly had to rely on good nonprofit software to deliver campaigns effectively. A good tech stack will save you time and effort whether you’re planning events online or not, so make sure your tech is working for you.
7. Make It Easy To Give
The worst possible thing is having donors who want to give to your cause, but find it too difficult to donate. The easier it is to give, the more donations you’ll receive.
To maximize donations, remove all barriers to giving, put donate buttons front and center, and make sure you use donation channels that appeal to your key donor segments.
Consider allowing donor to give:
- On your website
- By phone
- By mail
- Recurring donations (monthly, quarterly, etc.)
- Tribute gifts (in honor or memory of someone)
- Gifts of securities (e.g. stocks)
- In-kind donations (e.g. in the form of equipment or supplies)
- Planned giving or Legacy gifts (leaving a gift in one’s will)
Whatever donation channels you use, make sure you test them thoroughly and repeatedly to ensure they’re easy to use and error free.
If you don’t yet have a donation page that makes it easy for people to give on your website and automatically sends email receipts, check out Sumac donation management software.
8. Say Your Thank Yous
Year-end giving planning doesn’t stop on December 31. You’ll need to thank everyone after it’s over. Appreciating your donors is one of the key ways you acknowledge their support, make them feel like a valued part of your mission, and ensure they continue supporting your nonprofit in the future.
Follow these steps to build an effective appreciation strategy:
- Make sure donors are thanked immediately after they donate. You can create a thank-you page on your nonprofit website for online donations and make sure your automated donation confirmation includes a thank-you message
- Send a longer thank-you message within 48 hours of each donor’s gift. This is the time to reiterate how their contribution will help you achieve your goals and further your mission
- Personalize thank-you messages by using donors’ names and referencing their donation amount
- You might want to host an event to wrap up your end of year fundraising and thank supporters in person. This is also a great opportunity for a final fundraising push!
- Follow up once your year-end fundraising campaigns conclude by sharing results and an impact report. It’s also a good time to invite donors to engage with your organization in other ways
9. Share Results and Impact
Whether you met, exceeded, or didn’t quite get to your fundraising goal, don’t forget to share campaign results with supporters and donors. It’s critical to let donors know where their contributions have gone, and how it will be used as it helps with donor retention and makes them part of your mission.
Besides emailing everyone who participated, you can also share live results on your website and social media during the campaign and display a fundraising thermometer for a visual representation of your year-end goal.
Whatever the medium, make sure you keep everyone well-informed of your progress! Check out this example of an impact email from Food Banks of Saskatchewan that highlights how much they raised and the impact it had.
10. Measure and Analyze Results
Just because your fundraise is over, doesn’t mean the work is! After your campaign, host a team meeting to discuss original objectives, what went exceptionally well, where you fell short, and why.
Successful fundraising teams always host such post-mortems as it helps gain important insights into what worked and what didn’t, which will help improve next year’s approach and strategy.
Analyze metrics such as:
- Total funds raised. Did you meet your goal? Why or why not?
- Average donation sizes. What types of donations were most popular? What channels were used to donate? This helps determine donors that were most engaged (small, mid-sized, or large)
- Online vs. Direct mail response rates. Determining how many donors responded via both these channels will help inform future strategy.
- New donors. How many new donors did you connect with during your campaign?
- Repeat donors. How many donors also gave the previous year?
Year-End Fundraising Examples & Ideas to Inspire
Here’s a roundup of some of the best year end fundraising ideas to help you get started with your own.
A big part of Christmas is the presents we buy for friends and family. Many Hopes, an organization in Kenya working to end poverty, decided to capitalize on this tradition and created a holiday catalog where donors could buy ‘impact gifts’ for their loved ones.
These included educating a child or buying furniture for the homes Many Hopes builds. The nonprofit created a page on their website where donors could easily shop for gifts and pay online. Many Hopes would then send the ‘impact gift’ to the person of their choice.
End of Year Fundraising Letter
End of year fundraising letters are one of the best ways to encourage donors to give. It’s no surprise that direct mail is the most effective way to ask for year-end donations, followed by email.
Your end of year fundraising letter doesn’t have to be a single letter. You might want to launch a direct mail campaign and send a few letters during the course of giving season.
St. Joseph’s Hospice created a holiday appeal that shared one family’s story of a loved one’s end of life journey at St. Joseph’s Hospice. See the full story below:
Looking for more letter-writing inspiration? Check out this brilliant fundraising letter that generated 875% ROI.
Recurring Giving Campaign
A recurring giving campaign is a great way to get donors to stay engaged with your organization, while also keeping your organization sustainable. This is one of those year end fundraising ideas that you have to approach carefully, as getting donors to donate monthly can be more difficult.
Possible Health, a nonprofit that aims to universalize low-cost healthcare, overcame reluctance by highlighting how donors can play an integral role in building Nepal’s first rural teaching hospital. They focused on a single campaign and stressed the importance of regular support in order to achieve their goal.
Social Media Challenge
While you definitely want to post about your fundraising campaign on social media, you can get even more creative and stand out from the crowd by hosting a social media challenge.
Ask your supporters to do something specific – the task can be fun, challenging, impressive, surprising or anything in between – and take a photo or video of them doing it. They can then donate and tag your nonprofit using a special hashtag you created for the challenge.
This is a great way to get your nonprofit in front of people who don’t already know about your organization. And once they see the photos and videos, it’s likely they’ll want to try it themselves, resulting in more donations, and more shared content.
The United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development got TikTok users all over the world to post videos with the hashtag #DanceforChange to raise awareness about the need for increased investment in sustainable agriculture in developing countries.
A Text-to-give campaign automatically charges a donation amount through the donor’s mobile service provider, and is a really easy way to encourage giving, since people are always on their phones.
One of the earliest adopters of text-to-give was the American Red Cross. Following the Haiti earthquake, they raised over $43 million in relief funds by encouraging people to text “HAITI” and donate $10. Their text-to-give system is still successfully running today.
We hope these end of year fundraising ideas got you inspired, but if you want more, check out these Unique Christmas Fundraising Ideas & Campaigns for 2022 & 10 Incredibly Successful Holiday Fundraising Campaigns.
Best Practices For End of Year Fundraising Campaigns
Here are a few key points to keep in mind while planning your year-end fundraising campaigns:
Consider Using Virtual or Hybrid Fundraising
The pandemic forced many nonprofits into using virtual events for fundraising, but there’s a good reason to continue doing this!
A hybrid approach combines both in-person and online events which helps reach out to a larger network of people while still keeping your community engaged.
Consider doing a mix of online fundraising and offline events to engage more people who might want to support your cause, but don’t live in the area or can’t attend fundraisers. Live streams, social media campaigns and virtual events create a more dynamic experience for donors and help your campaign stand out from the crowd.
Create A Cohesive Experience Across Multiple Channels
No matter where you engage donors you’ll want to keep your messaging consistent. This will help reinforce your message and serve as reminders to give. Different messaging on different channels will confuse potential donors. A clear consistent message across multiple touchpoints is what will motivate donors to give.
Focus On Storytelling
Powerful nonprofit storytelling is one of the best ways to encourage giving. They create a strong emotional connection while communicating the mission of your nonprofit.
When you write your end of year fundraising letters make sure you tell a powerful story of change. While you’ll definitely want to feature stories of your beneficiaries, you could also collect stories for volunteers, donors and board members. Look for unique stories that communicate the impact of your work.
Segment Your Donors
Making the right ask to the right person is half the job done! Segmenting donors is a key part of strong end of year fundraising campaigns. You can segment donors by gift type, preferred communication channel, demographics (age, gender, location) and giving level. This will help you tailor your message to individual donors – for example you could mention when they last gave or ask for suggested gift amounts that are only slightly higher than their previous donation so they’ll be more likely to contribute.
Here are also some tips on what not to do during year-end fundraising campaigns,
End of year fundraising campaigns provide an important boost to the financial health of your nonprofit and are worth the time and effort. To take full advantage of this important time of year and raise much needed funds for your cause, follow the tips in this guide.