It’s hard to overstate the importance of end-of-year giving. Nearly one-third of the year’s digital giving happens in December alone, according to the Network for Good’s Digital Giving Index. Moreover, 12% of annual giving comes in just the final three days of the year.
How you perform in the final months of the year can help determine whether you make your goals. That’s why it is essential to plan ahead to ensure you’re maximizing your efforts. To help you hit your goals, I’ve mapped out six steps you can take right now—before the end-of-year rush.
Step 1: Drive donors to give earlier
It takes time, energy, and good data to move donors to give earlier in the fiscal year. By leveraging giving frequency data for your audience, you can develop messages that nudge your donor population to shift their giving earlier—or at the very least not to let it lapse by a month or two. Here are a few ways to motivate donors to give earlier in the fiscal year:
- Ask them earlier. Many annual giving programs reserve July and August as blackout months to let the donor file rest and ensure a smooth closing of the prior fiscal year. However, some of the most effective programs use those months to start the solicitation cycle, enabling them to gain as much as 25% of their donors in the first two months of the fiscal year.
- Send a reminder. Don’t count on your donors to know when they gave last year; send them a gentle reminder a month or so before the anniversary of their previous gift. Consider a personalized message on non-standard-sized stationery that will stand out in the mail or use video to capture their attention via email. This concierge-level outreach is a great stewardship moment for your donors and helps to underscore that you value them and their generosity.
- Push recurring giving. Recurring giving is one of the easiest ways to boost annual donor retention rates, and it’s easy to execute. First, invite your donors to make their annual (or monthly) gift on their credit card and let them know they won’t have to think about it again. This is a perfect solution for donors who request fewer solicitations during the year. It’s also helpful to develop a special stewardship segment for the group.
Step 2: Leverage your CRM to identify key donor segments
As September ends, it’s time to start looking at your data to determine who needs personalized outreach from you and your team. Most of your donors will come through your multichannel marketing efforts—especially online giving—but some donors give through other vehicles. You want to ensure they receive the attention they deserve. Here are a few donor audiences you’ll want to focus on:
- Donors who received a matching gift. Now is the time to review the list of donors who received a corporate matching gift in the first half of the fiscal year and haven’t received a match yet this year. Pull a list of donors from your prior fiscal year and the first half of the current fiscal year who have received a match in the past. Next, pull out those who haven’t renewed or haven’t had their gift matched yet in the current fiscal year. Send a personal message to the donors thanking them for their support and mention that they have taken advantage of a matching gift in the past (better yet, share the link to the gift form from their company). If they write back saying they’ve changed jobs, ask for more information so you can update your database and check to see if their new employer has a matching gift program.
- Donors who give through 401K distribution, donor-advised funds, or stock. Some leadership annual giving donors make their contributions in ways that take time to complete. For example, if donors typically give stock, give them a nudge with enough time for them to complete the transaction before the end of the calendar year. In my experience, donors who give through these methods appreciate the personal outreach—especially if the process has changed from one year to the next.
Step 3: Reach out to your volunteers
Many annual giving programs leverage volunteers to help with solicitations, event planning, and engagement. Don’t overlook this important audience, and don’t be shy to ask them for their annual gift. Inviting your volunteers to give earlier in the fiscal year is a great way to bolster your donor list and helps inspire others to give. As volunteer leaders, it’s important to ask them to make a financial gift that is meaningful to them in addition to their volunteerism.
Step 4: Engage recent graduates and young alumni
Don’t hold back your solicitations for your recent graduates and young alumni. Annual giving programs serve the important role of teaching your community that you will ask them for support and that your organization is worthy of their support. Here are a couple of ideas for how to capture recent graduates and young alumni for early giving:
- Events. Recent graduates often return to campus for fall events like homecoming or reunions. Use these events to amplify their sense of nostalgia and school pride and invite them to make a gift to support those following behind them. Consider asking guests to make a gift to attend a signature event just for them and make it an annual tradition.
- Loyal giving. For programs with a senior class or graduation gift drive, consider creating a special level for those who give during that program and invite recent graduates to renew that status during the first half of the next fiscal year. Many programs use a “perfect giver” status and nudge their donors not to lose the status by making a gift of any amount. Loyalty programs are most effective when they come with additional benefits such as advance access to event registrations, meet and greets with leadership, exclusive experiences, or custom swag such as tech tags, office décor, or apparel.
It’s worth noting that the pandemic has impacted annual giving audiences across the globe. Many students had an interrupted or suspended academic experience. It is critically important for annual giving programs to recognize this when soliciting and to be mindful of the potentially strained relationship this cohort of students may have with the institution. Consider leading with how the institution or organization can help and offer services before asking for money. Value-added support such as career counseling, resume reviews, and mentorship opportunities may yield better results when compared to the more traditional “make a gift now” language.
Step 5: Incentives
10 years ago, I would have said stay away from incentives at all costs. Today, my thoughts have softened—mainly because they work (especially for public broadcasting), and for some donors, it’s exactly the right thing to capture their attention. So if you’re considering an incentive to help boost your donor base, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t overdo it. Offering an incentive every quarter will train your audience to wait and see what you have on offer to see if they like it. I recommend one to two incentives a year at critical moments, like calendar year and fiscal year-end. Connect your incentive to your mission and make it exclusive—something you can’t simply purchase. There is a lot to consider when launching an incentive program (like IRS guidelines), so check with your leadership before going down this path.
- Make it easy. When thinking about an incentive, you might be drawn to offering a T-shirt or another special piece of apparel. However, keep in mind that anything requiring you to collect size information immediately increases staff time and production to deliver your incentive to your donors. Instead, think of items that are easy to ship and can be automated for quick and seamless fulfillment.
- Think about your endgame. Before launching an incentive program, think about how you will treat new donors or reactivated donors to your donor file next year. You want them to return as donors without the need to offer a new incentive. Consider creating a new segment for donors who came in through an incentive and then work hard in the following fiscal year to bring them back without another incentive. You want to inspire them to give based on your mission and how you are leveraging their support to make an impact, not because they’ll get a new mug if they give again.
Step 6: Build your staffing plan
The end of the year can be intense. Now is the time to set expectations for your team for the last month and weeks of the year. Inevitably donors will call on the last day of the year, hoping to make their year-end gift, and you and your team should be prepared for how to handle those calls. Here are a few ideas to help with end of year staffing:
- Voicemail and email autoresponders. With the end of the year approaching, don’t hesitate to be put critical information in your email signature, voicemail greeting, or email autoresponder. Donors who make gifts at the last minute want quick access to the information they need to make their gift—provide links to online giving, 401K, or stock transfer forms, and the hours staff members are available to take gifts over the phone.
- Coordinate staff outreach plans. Chances are that your organization will be sending out broadcast messages as the end of the year approaches. Work with your marketing team to develop a plan for you and your team to chase those messages to offer a personal outlet for donors to make their gifts. I love sending a note after a big message has gone saying, “I’m sure you saw the message from our president this morning, and I wanted to reach out to say I’m in the office today until 8 PM should you have any questions or want to make your gift over the phone with me.” Sometimes that personal outreach letting a donor know they can speak with someone directly is just the trick to move them to give.
- Celebrate. The end of the calendar year is a big lift for everyone. Find time to celebrate the success of the team and those who support the organization during this busy time. An unexpected delivery of treats to gift processing or those answering the phones helps to make everything a little easier and joyful.
In closing, the end of the calendar year may feel like it’s far, far away, but now is the time to put your plan in place to make it as smooth as possible. Having a plan now will help your entire organization come together to help inspire your donor community to come together to support your mission. Good luck!
If you need help developing your end-of-year strategy, reach out to Colin Hennessy at firstname.lastname@example.org.