Year-end Fundraising Checklist for Nonprofits

Year-End-Fundraising-Checklist-for-Nonprofits1by Nancy Schwartz

December is the hands-down most powerful month to fund-raise and to strengthen relationships for the year to come. So stop cranking it out right now – for one to two hours – and start your last-chance marketing audit to uncover if you’ve been doing the right things and should quickly do more of what’s worked, or whether you need to retool pronto to wind up strong.

If your planning year is a fiscal year, rather than a calendar year, I urge you to shape your outreach to your donors, volunteers and program participants who live on the calendar year model. It’s your job to match their outlook, rather than shoehorn them into yours.

No matter if you’re scrambling to increase year-end impact or hoping to shape your 2014 plan to surpass 2013 results, jump into these four last-chance marketing to-dos today.

Pinpoint where you are right now

1. Roll up your sleeves and take a long, hard look at your results, both quantitative and qualitative. Note: If you have no idea what they are, designing ways to measure success is a must for 2014.

Assess results against your benchmarks.

Review year-to-date results, then compare to your benchmarks to see what’s working as hoped, and what’s not.

This is easiest with hard numbers, like those associated with online petition signing or registration, online giving, or other actions that you can directly track back to their source. More challenging is drawing insight from quantitative information such as client, volunteer or donor feedback, and stories from the field.

Identify meaningful trends.

  • What matches are working: Which target audience is responding to what campaigns, channels and messages?
  • Who else should you be in touch with: Are there any surprise visitors – groups that you didn’t expect to be engaged with your org who’ve shown up this year?
  • Who’s fallen off your radar but you need to be in touch to try to rekindle the relationship before it’s too late? Who was a loyal supporter in previous years but significantly less responsive this year?

Execute what you can ASAP to boost 2013 results

2. Every connection you squeeze into 2013 allows you to deepen the relationship just a little more! So clarify your goal, think through what’s going to be top of mind for these folks, and start reaching out right now.

December stands out as the month to generate the donations you need. Fundraiser Gail Perry cites that studies show 40% of online donors make their gifts in December, and that 40-60% of those gifts are made the last two days of the month. Offline giving is up as well in December. So look at the calendar – it’s time to start today!

Do more of what has worked best to engage your most loyal supporters while you have their attention.

Your trends analysis will also highlight the channels and messages that hit a (positive) nerve with each audience group, and these are the ones you’ll want to replicate in the remaining weeks this year. Use that info to shape some year-end-specific messages.

Go beyond online channels to share those messages. Although email is a timely and relatively low-cost way for targeted campaigns, print and social media campaigns can be great complements if resources allow. There is still time to get another postcard out the door, if it makes sense.

Launch an energized, donor-focused email and social fundraising campaign in late December, including emails the last two days of the month.

Although the stats indicate that December is a productive fundraising month, you’ll have to work better and harder than ever to generate gifts as all fundraisers are onto the same stats.

Make sure your tone is personal and your call to action clear and easy to act on. Follow these five steps to a successful year-end email campaign.

But first, get your website and staff ready to respond.

Make sure that your website features:

  • Recent stories about programs, including some programs introduced pre-2013 (to connect those folks who haven’t checked in much this year)
  • A big donate button on every page, with a “phone in your gift” number
  • A recently-tested online giving process
  • Consistent messages and look-and-feel across your entire site, including the donation page. Avoid confusing donors by making it easy for them to be confident that they’re still on your site.

Prep your team to:

  • Be confident in sharing year-end messages
  • Be ready for a flood of last-minute requests for help and info
  • Immediately share important feedback they get on any component of last-minute marketing, so you can course correct if necessary.

Nurture your relationships now, to build support in 2014

3. Spend a few minutes, ideally one on one, with colleagues in your organization to thank them for their help in making marketing a success (even if their role is very indirect).

Thank your current supporters, of all stripes.

That includes clients, board members, donors, volunteers, partners and others who help your organization move its mission forward. The more personal and relevant the better – make sure to segment your audiences (e.g., high-dollar donors, entry-level donors and prospects; or five-year or more volunteers, two- to five-year volunteers and new volunteers).

If the number of personal notes required is overwhelming, consider sending hand-signed custom holiday greeting cards to at least your Tier 1 network: Board members, loyal volunteers, donors (or at least some donors – returning, new, young, or any other group that deserves special recognition). That personal (real!) signature makes all the difference.

We all want to know that our effort (be it money, time or attention) is valued. Don’t miss this natural opportunity to appreciate your supporters. And encourage colleagues, who many have slightly different networks, to do the same.

Reach out to rejuvenate relationships that have gone dark in 2013.

You’re likely to find a group of former supporters (don’t limit it to donors) who have gone quiet in the last year or six months.

Now’s the time to nudge them out of hibernation, by thanking them for their prior support and sharing stories that showcase how your organization has moved your cause forward in the last year. Focus on established programs they’re likely to be familiar with rather than new funding or volunteer needs.

Select the channel that fits best with each sub-group’s habits and preferences, and – if you have the info – feature messages that have generated response in the past. I recommend a multi-part campaign (preferably multichannel, try a mix of email and direct mail, with a call thrown in if possible for high-value supporters).

Refine your 2014 right-things marketing plan based on your 2013 learning

4. Or, if you don’t have one at all or it’s just in your head, create a first-time plan. Wherever you are in your marketing planning, you’ll find this right-things marketing plan template helpful.

Fine-tune your marketing goals and primary target audiences.

Look at what’s changed within your organization and the environment in which you work. There is change whether you acknowledge it or not, so make sure you find it and adapt accordingly.

Remember to find a way to build the engagement of those “surprise visitors” you identified in your trends analysis. They’ve found their way to you on their own, which demonstrates persistence and the likelihood they’ll be back for more.

Set or refine ambitious but realistic benchmarks, and your methods of measuring where you are on the path to achieving them.

  • If you didn’t set benchmarks for this year, use 2013 results to set quarterly benchmarks for 2014.
  • If you’ve already drafted 2014 marketing benchmarks, update them to reflect your 2013 trends.

Make your personal plan for 2014

Do you have measurable goals for your own professional development? If so, review them and see if you have made progress.

Either way, write down some ambitious yet realistic goals for yourself for 2014. It’s the best way to move yourself forward.

Be honest with yourself about your performance, then use the holiday season to recharge and prepare to start strong in 2014.

What’s on your fundraising or marketing checklist?

Nancy Schwartz is the principal of the nonprofit consultancy Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

creative commons logoThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported.