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It’s Not Too Early to Think About Year-End

Production Solutions

November/December campaigns should top off properly cultivated relationships.

** This article first appeared in “Fundraising Success” and can be found here. **

Summer is finally here, and all I can think about is November and December. Winter is, coincidentally, the hottest time of year for those of us in direct marketing.

Reviewing the year-end fundraising results referenced in the Blackbaud 2013 Charitable Giving Report of 4,129 participating nonprofit organizations representing $12.5 billion in total fundraising, the months of “October, November and December accounted for more than a third of the year’s overall charitable giving (33.6 percent),” with the highest percentage (17.5 percent) coming in the month of December in the U.S.

The report also revealed that “overall charitable giving grew 4.9 percent on a year-over-year basis,” the largest year-over-year increase since the recession. Notably, online giving also reached the year’s high in December, accounting for 18.8 percent of 2013’s online gifts with almost every sector raising more than 20 percent of its online giving during December.

The Network for Good Year-End Fundraising Essentials guide of online giving noted that “in 2012, 10 percent of all donation dollars came in on the last three days of the calendar year. The vast majority of those donation dollars were contributed directly on charity websites.”

It’s during year-end when organizations strategically put their best appeals forward — or some variations thereof. Dare we project improved results for the 2014 year-end campaigns over last year? Yes!

And there’s no reason to leave it to chance when a treasure trove of 2012-2013 stats, best-performing formats and strategies for improving year-end results is available for reference.

Broadly recapping the advice of industry experts on how to cultivate and retain donors, it’s about creating a positive experience through multichannel touches that are relevant, integrated, coordinated and easy to interpret (as in “take this action”). The overall experience, if nurtured, invites increased engagement. You’ll have the attention of your donors at year-end if you do a good job of acknowledging what they’ve shared with you during the months and years preceding. Consider these tips:

  1. Invest in building stronger donor relationships throughout the year — not so much telling your story but rather telling their stories (donors, volunteers, stories from the field) with an emphasis on listening, responsiveness and respecting donor preferences. If you ask and they tell you, aggregate the data to learn more about the differences between a donor who gives just once versus a donor who commits to monthly giving, upgrades to a higher level of giving or inquires about planned giving.
  2. Consider more personal communication styles — hand-addressed fonts, ink-jet, auto pen, laser or real handwriting are a great start. At a recent Direct Marketing Association of Washington DM201 event, John Graves and Dennis Lonergan of Eidolon Communications presented “Creative Testing to Sharpen Message and Shred Costs,” in which the chart at top right quickly summarized the comparative value of “handwritten” personalization techniques.
  3. Thank donors promptly, and ask them to give again. Universally, results indicate that including a soft ask in a prompt and personalized thank-you/gift acknowledgment is a solid strategy for getting a second gift. The probability of getting the second gift decreases after three months. And the likelihood of getting a second gift is directly proportional to the amount of the initial gift — the greater the initial gift, the more likely the donor has made an emotional connection to the organization.
  4. Consider a welcome package as a follow-up to the acknowledgment within a few months of the initial gift. It can be as simple as a letter with an evergreen brochure. Allow the focus to be engagement — the additional ways the donor can take action (e.g., an overview of the monthly giving program).

Another gem worth considering is the Avalon Consulting FYI Blog post on “Planning for Year-End Appeals,” by TJ Hillinger:

  • Test timing — Revisit your schedule to see if earlier/later mail and send dates might improve results.
  • Dec. 31 — The most productive date. Consider sending twice (in the same day).
  • Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2 in 2014) — Give it a try: Create a test campaign strategy around this date to kick off your year-end online giving.
  • Test formats — Just because you’ve always mailed a certain package at year-end doesn’t mean an alternate can’t work better. Do you always mail a card in November and a letter in December? Then test flipping the order.
  • Renewals — And be sure to include year-end donors in your first renewal in January. They typically perform well!

Read the full Avalon article here.