Across the board, the majority of annual donations come in at the end of the year. Some reports show that number is as high as 50% from October to December, with December topping 30%.
In fact, as the end of the year draws to a close, donation numbers rise exponentially.
Studies show that the average donation amount on #GivingTuesday — one of the most profitable fundraising days of the year — is $130. The average donation amount on December 31 is $188.
Many elements combine to make the end of the year ripe for advancement teams.
First, most people are already in a giving frame of mind. Thanksgiving and Christmas especially are times where generosity comes naturally.
Second, the end of the year is the last chance for donors to make a tax-deductible gift for the year.
Third and finally, the end of the year is full of marketing opportunities. Coming up with a campaign concept is simply easier when there are so many relevant themes to choose from. Think turkeys, cornucopias, gratefulness, pumpkins, Santa Claus, snow, Christmas trees, winter solstice, the list goes on.
That doesn’t mean your advancement office doesn’t have to lift a finger, however. Constituents need to know about and care about your year-end giving goals in order to help with them.
Make the big end-of-the-year push a bigger success for your school with these five tips for increasing giving.
1. Plan Ahead — WAY Ahead
Your year-end fundraising should be treated like any other campaign — and that means starting ahead of time with a goal, a message, a strategy and a theme.
Create a master document that outlines your goal, message and theme. (Here is a list of themes to inspire you.) Everything should answer the question “why” for your constituents. Why are you seeking donations right now? Why should donors care? Build your strategy around those answers to help your constituents connect personally with your campaign.
Don’t forget the stories while you’re creating your year-end campaign strategy! Gather student, parent and faculty stories that support your campaign. You may have some stories on-hand already — but it never hurts to gather more. Look through thank-you letters and social media comments for additional stories to tell.
If you’re reading this article late in the year, you might be thinking “But we’re already at the end of the year! How can I plan ahead now?” Consider this your prompt to start planning earlier for next year. Document the lessons learned from this year’s campaign and then …
2. Warm up Your Constituents Early
53.8% of organizations plan their year-end campaigns in October — but donors need to be warmed up long before then.
If December is the first time they’re hearing about your year-end fundraising campaign, you’ve got a problem. Most constituents will require a number of touches before even considering giving a gift.
Tease the year-end campaign in the regularly scheduled content leading up to the end of the year. We suggest starting by September, but no later than October. Mention it in the newsletter and on social media, and consider adding a chiclet (a small, usually square banner) in the sidebar of your website.
Here’s another idea courtesy of major-gifts coach Gail Perry: Hold a thank-a-thon.
Before you start pushing your year-end campaign, spend time thanking past donors. Consider rolling in the announcement for your calendar year end campaign with your stewardship activities related to your fiscal year end close. Get everyone involved — all the teams in your advancement department, board members, volunteers, even highly engaged current and past donors — and pick up the phone. Personally thank donors for the impact they are making, and keep the conversation centered on them (not your organization).
After being thanked so thoughtfully, they’ll be much more open to donating again when you launch your end-of-the-year campaign.
3. Use Multiple Channels to Reach Constituents
While you should put the most effort and resources into the channel that reaches your constituents best, the most successful campaigns use multiple communication channels.
Much of this increase in effectiveness has to do with increasing the number of touchpoints with potential donors — but it also has to do with something marketers call “message matching.” When constituents see a message in their Facebook feed and then see the same message in their advancement newsletter, they’re more likely to trust it and remember it.
Like warming up your constituents before launching the year-end campaign, choosing communication channels is something best started early in the year. If your department hasn’t had much presence on Twitter, for example, and then all of a sudden your Twitter followers start seeing tweet after tweet about end-of-year giving, it’ll feel superficial.
Using multiple channels doesn’t mean you have to create new content for every channel, though. You can reuse your content in many different ways.
- Turn portions of a flyer or article into posts for Twitter and Facebook.
- Use a still image from a student story video as an Instagram post.
- Use messaging from the campaign webpage for website banners.
Remember, the percentage of giving done online is increasing every year — and it reached an all-time high last year, with a 12.3% increase in online giving to higher education— so make sure if you’re sending out direct mail, you’re also telling those recipients where they can give online.
4. Use the Year-end Countdown to Your Advantage — With Heart
“Only three more days to make your 2017 tax-deductible donation!” Many year-end fundraising campaign messages center around the tax deduction. That can work … but it’s not a truly meaningful message. And it doesn’t reflect the fact that most people give based on emotions, not logic.
Instead, focus on how they can make an impact this year and set the school up for success next year. Only gently mention the tax incentive (it is a motivating factor … just try not to lead with it if you want to reach donors’ hearts as well as their wallets).
“Emotional” doesn’t have to mean “sappy,” though. For inspiration, watch the story of the transformation that donors enabled at Marist School:
5. Stay Strong to the Finish
Remember, the year isn’t over until the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Many people wait until the very last days of December to make year-end gifts – so don’t let your campaign efforts fade at the end!
Keep asking during Christmas and in the few days leading up to January 1. Share with constituents how close you are to making your annual giving goals, and more importantly, share with them how their money will benefit the school.
If your mailing list software allows for it, resend emails to recipients who didn’t open the first send. And don’t hesitate to reach out personally to those who appear to have opened the email but didn’t give. Sometimes emails don’t make it to people’s inboxes at all. Sometimes emails get deleted for reasons as simple as the recipient is having a busy day.
Danielle Johnson Vermenton, director of nonprofit strategy at PMX Agency notes, “We’ve seen our clients increase their overall fundraising total by sending a minimum of 3 emails in December – a kick off (2 versions: one for donors, the other for non-donors), a holiday greeting (2 versions: one for donors and one for non December donors) and finally a Dec 31 message.”
Stay persistent. It’ll pay off.
A Gift Is an Opportunity
The end of the year is an emotional time for everyone. Make it a happy time for your constituents by offering them an opportunity to support programs that are personally meaningful to them. Plan ahead, keep your campaign centered around the impact donors make, and communicate frequently to turn constituents’ holiday spirits into generous gifts for your school.