Plan Early, Fundraise Often—The Keys to a Successful Year-End Ask

This article originally ran in our Nonprofit Hub Magazine, a free bi-monthly magazine dedicated to providing focused content on a particular topic.

In our September/October 2014 edition, we explored year-end giving. To reserve your free copy of our next issue, sign up today.


If you’re feeling the pressure, you’re not alone.

That’s because the year-end is coming on full force. And although we wish we had the power to superhumanly make time stop while we continued in constant motion… we can’t. (Trust us, we tried.)

So it looks like the only way to take the pressure off of the year-end ask is to start early and plan it out—Every. Last. Detail.

We know it’s not easy, which is why we enlisted the help of some of our friends to get us through this trying time. Tom Ahern is an expert on using donor communications to increase fundraising dollars, and he works with organizations every day to help them achieve their goals.

Ahern said that in terms of profitability, the quality of your organization’s donor list was the most important to consider.

“When a new client is coming in, we’ll talk about who is on their database and they’ll reveal that they’ve been mailing to people that have been unresponsive for five years,” Ahern said.

As a nonprofit organization, your resources are valuable. Which is why you can’t rationalize wasting time on people who don’t show promise of being able to give. Instead, flush out your list so that you can focus your time and efforts on people who are more likely to contribute.

Kivi Leroux Miller is a nonprofit staff member, volunteer, board member and consultant working every day in the nonprofit marketing world. She suggests starting the actual year-end ask near Thanksgiving.

“That’s the absolute latest that your campaign should start,” Miller said. “And you usually want to try to be warming up and leading up to it even earlier in November.”

Luckily, you’ve got time to prepare. And Miller suggests including media such as thank-you videos or content to make sure donors understand how much you need and value them.

This is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of Giving Tuesday, or the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Promote it beforehand so that your organization is top-of-mind when Giving Tuesday arrives.

Miller suggests saying something along the lines of, “Thank you for what you did this year. Thank you for making all of this stuff possible. We’re really looking to 2015 now, and we need you more than ever.”

Then, the direct asks usually start right after Thanksgiving. One of the biggest struggles with the year-end ask, Miller suggests, is starting too late.

“If you’re going to do things like have a custom landing page, that’s very specific to your year-end ask,” she said. “You’re not just going to send people to some generic page that’s up the rest of the year. And that takes time. It takes planning.”

And if you’re simply stating “please support us again,” then the offer is weak, Ahern suggests.

“I would guess that just on average, about 10% of the appeals a year are probably pretty terrific,” he said. “Another 50% are middle ground and then the rest of them just stink.”

So, what exactly should your appeal include?

“Best in class do a direct mail piece followed by telephone solicitation,” Ahern said. “Now that means you have to mail the piece far enough in advance so that you can get most of your returns back, which is three or four weeks to get most of the gifts back.”

And once you’ve got all of that done, it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief, right? Not so fast. Many nonprofits mistakenly believe that it ends there. But that’s hardly the case.

“One of the interesting things about year-end is that when the New Year comes, if you were to mail the very same mailing to the same people, minus anybody who already responded, in January you would still have more gifts coming in,” Ahern said.

Basically, if you think you’re doing enough, that’s probably not the case.

“Do twice as much as you’re doing now, because you’re leaving lots of money on the table,” Ahern said.

When it comes down to it, unfortunately there are a million great causes and donors don’t have unlimited funds.

“A lot of people do have to make a choice… it goes back to some basic fundraising tactics, where you have to be really clear about what you’re doing with the money, really clear about their role and how important they are in making that difference,” Miller said.


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

September 10, 2014

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