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Planning Your Non Profit End of Year Appeal Campaign

It’s winter. The air is turning crisp, the holidays are approaching, and end-of-year appeals for nonprofits are finally upon us. Giving Tuesday falls on December 1st and marks the beginning of the most profitable season for charitable organizations, accounting for roughly [17% of all yearly donations. It’s the perfect time to do one last donation push, finishing the year on a strong, financial note.

This year, however, your campaign has a lot to contend with. Besides the stress of the holidays and the usual increase in asks for charitable giving from other organizations, December marks the end of what has been an exhausting 2020 for most people, which will make opening wallets a little more complicated. Here are some tips to help you reach your donors.

Plan Ahead

There’s so much that goes into your year-end appeal—writing, editing, and designing your letter, segmenting your mailing list, establishing your budget, preparing your donation channels—that it can feel overwhelming, especially as we draw close to the end of the year. The more time you have to plan, the more precise and effective you can make your campaign. Unfortunately, time has a nasty habit of getting away from us. So here are three things you can do right now to make the most of your campaign:

  1. Decide why donors should give. We know “it’s the season of giving” and “think of next year’s taxes” are wonderful reasons why people give during the holidays, but they’re not convincing reasons for why people should specifically give to your organization. Your year-end appeal is a great time to summarize what you’ve accomplished in the past year while still offering a critical, compelling reason for people to give right now. Consider your greatest need at the moment and design a simple appeal that communicates urgency.
  2. Start writing your letters. This is the most important part of your campaign and the one that will take the most thought, feedback, and workshopping. Your letters will and should go through many drafts as you finalize and fine tune your year-end message.
  3. Prepare your donation channels. How are you going to ask people to give? Over the phone? Online? Through text? The sooner you decide which donation channels you are going to advertise, the more time you have to make sure the system works flawlessly for launch day. You also should take the time to explore your website and figure out how easy it is to find the donation link and complete the process. There should be as few barriers between a donor and the donate button as possible.

Tell a Story

People donate to your organization because they want to do their part in supporting your mission. Your end-of-year appeal—and, frankly, all of your appeals—should be tied to the work you are doing in the community and how each donor’s support has helped one person, animal, or place. These specific, personal stories put a name and face to the work your organization is doing and brings home how a single donation is making a real impact in the world. Even if you use your end-of-year appeal to showcase how far-reaching your work has been, make sure you always bring it home to one success story.

Make It About People

While it might be tempting to write your letters from the perspective of your entire organization, that distance can ultimately harm your donation goal. People want to hear from people, especially nonprofits. A letter signed (and at least partially written) by the CEO or another high-ranking staff member has a lot of clout, but there are so many more stories to tell. Consider having a volunteer write about their experience working in the field, asking a staff member to tell a story about how the organization has made a difference, or give someone your organization has helped a chance to tell their story in their own words.

Personalize Your Letters

One-time, consistent, and high-level donors all believe in your mission, but they most likely have very different reasons for giving. Take the time to analyze your donor list and carefully consider how you might inspire each group to give to your end-of-year campaign.

  • One-time donors, for example, are likely to respond to an urgent need if they feel even a small donation will make a difference. This is where tiered donation lists come in handy. Rather than showing the problem as something monumental that only a large donation can solve, you break the problem down into manageable sections, illustrating how even small contributions have the power to change lives.
  • Past donors will want to see how their donation has helped your organization achieve your mission. Everyone wants to feel as if their dollars truly made a difference, so this is your opportunity to showcase what you’ve accomplished over the past year. A single, jaw-dropping statistic is a powerful tool here and one you can turn to focus on the future.
  • Mid- to high-level donors should receive more personal treatment. A hand-signed (or handwritten if you’re up for it) letter that specifically describes how their donation was used over the year makes for both a great thank you and an invitation to donate again. Consider pairing the letter with a personal account from someone their money directly impacted for the perfect amount of warm fuzzies.

Engage All Channels

Your direct mail campaign is a great way to focus and lead your end-of-year appeal, but it’s not going to do the job alone. Email, social media, and personal connections are all integral parts of your campaign that will help drive even more people to your donation channels. Keep your messaging consistent, urgent, and people-focused to encourage donors to click that donate link.

  • Direct mail serves as the bedrock of your end-of-year appeal and is the most personal way to get in touch with your supporters. Think of your mailers as something for donors to put on their refrigerator as a reminder to donate as soon as possible (and, perhaps, to remind themselves of the good they’ve put out in the world this past year).
  • Email works to deepen the narrative and is a great way to follow up after your mailers go out. You can continue telling personal stories by sending images, linking to videos, and encouraging sharing across social media. It’s also the perfect way to send a quick, heartfelt thank you letter to anyone who donates during your campaign!
  • Social media’s power is in its shareability. Encourage volunteers to share stories about their experiences, create videos that showcase the work you’ve done and the need that still exists, and create graphics that actively show how close you are to fulfilling your funding goal.
  • Digital events, such as a Zoom conference, Twitch party, or Facebook Live stream, can motivate your volunteers and donors to spread the word about your organization to friends and family. Online events might not be as glamorous as in-person events, but they can give people a safe way to come together with like-minded individuals and celebrate the work you do.

Stay Focused on What Matters

This year has been tough for everyone, nonprofits included. Even if your team wasn’t able to make as much of an impact as you wanted because of COVID restrictions, you still have positive news to share, triumphs to celebrate, and goals for the future. Stay positive and focused on what truly matters: your mission and how your donors can help you achieve it. Ultimately, good planning, careful segmentation, and great storytelling are the best tools you have to make your end-of-year appeal a success. Throw in a compelling reason for donors to give to your organization, as well as personal stories about how donations help real people, and you are more than halfway to a great year-end campaign.

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