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.
Don’t let the name fool you, the end-of-year ask fundraiser for nonprofits is not about the end of the year.
For an end-of-year campaign to be successful, it cannot be done during the final few months of the year. Instead, an effective end-of-year ask extends beyond one letter and incorporates multiple touch points with potential donors.
We talked to multiple nonprofit professionals, and they all agreed that the year-end ask was about relationship building and connecting with existing and potential donors on a personal level.
Jerry Krueger is the vice president of branding/operations for Alpha Dog Marketing, a firm that coordinates fundraising campaigns, newsletters and mailing for nonprofits across the country. He said they also work the end-of-year campaign into traditional advertising, which will curtail into the entire year.
Krueger said the year-end ask should be just one part of a nonprofit’s fundraising plan.
“The year-end is critical, but it’s really about the whole year. You need to have a comprehensive plan and multiple asks,” Krueger said. “If all you have is the end-of-year ask, then you will struggle.”
Heather Stulken, the donor relations manager at Great Plains Food Bank, which serves North Dakota, said the end of the year was important because they conducted 60% of the mailings during the last four months of the year.
Their direct mail campaigns are divided into three seasons. They send out four mail pieces during the spring, two during the summer and nine in the fall. Stulken said direct mail might seem inefficient for fundraising because of how easily recipients could discard letters, but they’ve added two more mailings in the past few years based on the success they’ve had.
Stulken said they work with a California-based vendor, Russ Reid, to send out their mailings. Even though she doesn’t directly oversee the production of the mailers, Stulken watches the results and looks for trends from previous years.
According to their financial reports for 2012, the methods have been quite successful, as two-thirds of Great Plains Food Bank’s overall revenue came from donations.
“Because of where our time and energy is allocated, the best use of my time is not writing letters,” Stulken said. “The best use of my time is visiting donors. So we let this company do the mailings and they seem to be working great. It’s work that we are not capable of doing in-house to the extent that they are doing and be very smart about it.”
Both Stulken and Krueger said they heavily segmented their databases to send different mailings to new potential donors, and then to current donors based on giving levels and number of gifts. Each receives a different mailing, with slightly different content and a different layout and feel.
Stulken and Krueger said one of the most successful mailings were cards that have the appearance of being handwritten, but in fact, are not. Stulken said they updated their lists frequently. She said, for example, if someone made a donation by November 15, in the next mailing, they would receive a request asking for a second donation.
When the outside company completes the mailings, Stulken’s work really begins. After the initial donation, she follows up with every donor who gives at least $250 with a phone call or an in-person visit, depending on the amount and availability of the donor. Her goal is to convert these people from one-time givers into monthly donors.
“The personal touches, like phone calls and visits, are extremely impactful,” Stulken said. “I’ve seen quickly how they turn into major donors very quickly after we stop by their house.”