Year-End Giving Prep: 21 FAQs Answered by Fundraising Experts

Recently, Brock Warner (Senior Manager, Fundraising at War Child) and I hosted a webinar regarding end of year fundraising for nonprofits—the things we need to stop doing and things we should be doing instead. We covered everything from what a successful fundraising appeal should look like to ensuring that your Giving Tuesday efforts are part of your overall end of year strategy.

During the webinar, we received a ton of questions regarding:

  • When and how to start end of the year planning
  • Coordinating and scheduling end of year plans
  • Building year-end content strategies

I’m a big believer in having conversations across the industry to share honest advice about what’s working and what’s not—I feel that it’s one of the best ways for us learn and lift the fundraising profession together. So, with the influx of questions we received around preparing for end of year fundraising, I realized that these questions are probably on a lot of fundraisers’ minds these days. Rather than saving the questions for private consultations, Brock and I have decided to share our advice with all of you!

Here are the top 21 questions (and answers) we received around planning for year-end giving success:

When and how to start planning for year-end giving

1. When should you start your End of Year campaign?

  • Some of the organizations I work with use #GivingTuesday as the launch of their year-end effort. [However, the Giving Tuesday appeal also stands on its own with a unique message tied to 24 hours of giving] That appeal is followed by 5-6 emails over the month of December, but these messages are segmented and do not go to the entire housefile. December donors are always suppressed from receiving additional appeals after they’ve donated. All of this is tied to a direct mail appeal, that can go out as early as mid-November or the beginning of December. In between the sends, our strategic advice is to send a holiday greeting and an e-news. Finally, we also configure the option for recipients to opt-out of receiving campaign emails all together, which is why a December e-news is important.  As an alternative, it is not uncommon to see EOY campaigns launch in November with one appeal before Thanksgiving, followed by Giving Tuesday, and then a series of emails in December. — Danielle Johnson Vermenton  

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2. How should you target users for holiday giving vs. other campaigns?

  • Your targeting may not change at all. What should be different is how you position the ask. It should be abundantly clear to your audience why you’re asking for this gift, at this time. — Brock

3. Whats the best way to creatively announce a year-end campaign?

  • Before putting energy into coming up with a creative way to announce a campaign, I would first determine IF you need to announce the campaign at all. What do you hope to accomplish by announcing the campaign? Is there a giving deadline or specific funding ask associated with the campaign? Think about it from your constituent’s perspective—what is most important to them when considering making a gift to your organization? Are they waiting for you to kick off a campaign before they will give? Or are people waiting for a moving, emotional and informative appeal that will inspire then to donate? Most likely it’s the latter. — Danielle 
  • That’s a tricky one to answer, because every charity and audience is different and what is or is not creative is incredibly subjective. My advice would be to worry less about the launch, and more about the follow through. My experience has been that my most successful campaigns have picked up steam along the way through consistent and relevant messaging, targeted engagements, and deliberate timing of the components. —Brock 

4. What is the ideal length of a year-end campaign to avoid donor fatigue?

  • I don’t believe in donor fatigue. I think donors get tired of boring, cookie-cutter solicitations that don’t align with their interests. As far as ideal length, I would say don’t start before Labor Day, but don’t be shy about starting soon afterwards if you’re able. Use segmentation to your advantage. You might be sending some version of some appeal to any given segment each week, but not everyone gets everything. Planning out these segments and conditions takes time and effort, so starting early (like, now!) is important. — Brock

5. Are there specific vertical spaces pre-disposed to higher holiday giving?

  • Religious charities tend to do well at year-end when they use the upcoming religious holidays to their advantage. – Brock 
  • I haven’t seen any data that shows a correlation to the kind of organization and the amount raised at year end. I have seen reports that show sending a multi-message campaign raises more funds versus sending only 1 email in December. —Danielle 

6. Are there EOY tips for orgs that are Science and Research focused?

  • I’ll go ahead and assume that your donors are thoughtful, analytical and either interested in or actively participating in the scientific community. If that’s true, then I’d go really deep into the nitty gritty of your work. Never assume that there’s an aspect of your work that wouldn’t be fascinating for your donors. Let them drink from the firehose of data and reporting. —Brock  
  • A couple of years ago, I learned about the Planetary Society and they did a bang-up job with an engagement campaign right before EOY. One year they asked people to share their space stories – specifically why was the exploration of space important to them. They did it through email and social and set up a page on their website where members could share their stories and read what others submitted. I think your mission lends to a similar level of engagement. — Danielle

Coordinating and scheduling end of year plans

7. When is the best time to send a direct mail newsletter?

  • In terms of fundraising, print newsletters don’t tend to directly raise much money (though I’m sure there are exceptions). I’d say you should push your print newsletter out early, like September so that you can follow up with a traditional, direct fundraising appeal by mail in early/mid October. Mail has a long tail, but that long tail tends to stop pretty abruptly on December 31st for most charities. At War Child, Giving Tuesday does not affect my decision making for print communications and appeals. — Brock 
  • I wouldn’t send a printed newsletter any later than October because by the time November rolls around holiday cards and advertisements are making it to people’s mailboxes. You also want to share mission stories and organizational news before constituents receive a fall or EOY solicitation piece. — Danielle 

8. Should you only send a follow-up email if a constituent opened the original appeal?

  • You should send a follow up appeal to people that either didn’t open the message or did open, but didn’t give. Emails don’t always make it to the inbox or subject lines don’t catch people’s attention, so a multi-message EOY campaign is important. We’ve seen our clients increase their overall fundraising total by sending a minimum of 3 emails in December – a kick off (2 versions: one for donors, the other for non-donors), a holiday greeting (2 versions: one for donors and one for non December donors) and finally a Dec 31 message. — Danielle 

9. How should you thank—and then solicit— in-kind donors?

  • This is a good question because in-kind donors need special treatment before they are thrown into the deep end of the solicitation pool. I would develop a welcome program that runs off and online. For the donors that provide their email address, get them into the online database as soon as possible (within days, not weeks) and send them a special automated welcome series targeted at in-kind donors. For those that do not opt into receiving email, send out a letter to anyone that has made a recent in-kind donation. The content is the same (it’s just written differently for the channel): 1. Thank the donor for the in-kind donation. 2. Explain how in-kind gifts make an impact by telling a story. 3. Give the new supporter ways to get involved like volunteering, taking a tour or watching a video. For an online welcome series, this is done over multiple emails, in 2-3 different messages. For an offline welcome I would work with your database coordinator to pull an updated list of new in-kind donors every month, then send out the letters on the 1st. — Danielle  

10. Should you call major gift prospects after sending EOY letters?

  • Of course, as long as it is a personal call and not an outsourced phone campaign. If it’s a serious major gift prospect, you may not want to put their solicitation into a mass direct marketing stream. Consider personalizing a brief 1-2 page proposal with a cover letter, sending that, and following up with a call.  — Brock 

11. Should you include Giving Tuesday donors on other End of Year fundraising emails?

  • By all means, continue to communicate with them if you have non-solicitation communications in the pipeline, but avoid re-soliciting at the risk of looking like you don’t realize they just gave. — Brock 
  • Yes, include Giving Tuesday donors in your EOY appeal, but you must thank them for their GT gift before sending another solicitation. If you send multiple messages in December, I recommend only sending the GT donors 1 appeal towards the end of the month, not send them the entire series of emails. Whenever you do it, the appeal that goes to the GT donors should mention that they gave on GT, thank them and then make the ask. If that tactic is voted down within your team, then definitely include the GT donors in a holiday greeting email and a January stewardship message. — Danielle 

12. How do you deal with new-to-file donors after EOY?

  • For new-to-file donors in general, I’d recommend a monthly conversion ask of some kind as early in the new year as possible. – Brock 
  • The clients I work with include an EOY stewardship/campaign wrap-up email that is sent in early January to everyone that donated in December. That is typically followed by an impact email around February 14 with a success story. Organizations should also have an automated new subscriber/donor welcome series that is sent on a recurring basis. — Danielle  

Building year-end content strategies

13. How can we add a sense of urgency to give on December 31st?

  • Unless you are running a challenge campaign which is tied to a deadline, the Dec 31st message should focus on the impact the reader can have by giving. An “end of year, last chance” to give solicitation implies that the gift matters if it’s made within the deadline. A better message is to talk about the year ahead and how the constituent can be a part of that work through their financial investment. However, I think it’s totally ok to mention the tax-deductible deadline in the PS as a gentle reminder that there is a tax incentive. — Danielle 

14. Is it a mistake to reuse campaign creative and images from the previous year?

  • There’s value in establishing a visual identity for your year-end appeal. Charities that have some form of membership do well with consistent branded renewal packages, for example. I think it would be a mistake to use the same images of beneficiaries or programs because it could be interpreted by some that nothing has really changed. There will be people that don’t notice, so it ultimately comes down to your appetite for risk in that case. — Brock 
  • I agree with Brock, branding is important and in general your communications and solicitation assets should look and feel like they are from the same organization. I think the general branding for an EOY campaign (like using a winter theme) is perfectly fine, but I wouldn’t use the same images when it comes to the beneficiaries of your mission. Your story and the images related to the story should change, otherwise your constituents will notice. — Danielle  

15. What are the 5 W’s for a fundraising appeal?

  • Who, What, Where, When and Why. Who are you asking? What are you asking them to do? Where do they take action? When are you asking them to do it, and Why are you asking them to do it? — Brock 

16. What are the segmentation basics?

  • Recency (when did they give), Frequency (how often do they give) and monetary value (how much did they give). You can segment your list on just one, or some combination of these. Depending on the tools you use, you’ll go about it differently. If your database and email tool aren’t in sync, then consider that most tools allow you to create groups within a list. If so, you would want to query on the giving behavior in your database, export it, and then import it into that “group” in your email tool. Be sure not to add anyone to your list that has previously unsubscribed. Your tool may or may not manage that for you—just something to watch out for.  — Brock 

17. Should fundraising appeals be donor-centric?

  • Personally – I believe that your average donor wants to fund your mission and know that they’re gift is making an impact. So fundraisers should seek a balance between justifying your organization’s ability to do the work and acknowledging that the donor has helped make that work possible. You can’t have one without the other. Remember that any fundraising campaign has to demonstrate an urgent need – otherwise, why are you asking at all? If your primary messaging is related to thanking a donor, it veers into stewardship rather than solicitation.  — Brock 
  • I think a donor-centric message only works if you’re mailing or emailing donors. Where I’ve seen organizations fail is when they send appeals to everyone, even those that never supported the organization. This is just lazy. People are savvy and many will remember if they’ve supported an organization. If the message isn’t written for them, they will tune it out. A donor-centric appeal can be amazing when it is tied to impact, recognizes past support, and emphasizes the partnership the donor can have with another gift. — Danielle 

18. Is it helpful to share a campaign goal with supporters?

  • We coach our clients to use goals sparingly and only when tied to a specific need—raising $5,000 for books or $20,000 for a challenge. Just adding a general fundraising goal isn’t motivating and isn’t a reason to give unless it is tied to something very tangible. If you do publicize a goal, have a plan for how you’ll handle communications if the goal is not met. — Danielle  
  • If your campaign has a very tangible outcome, then yes. For example, you’re raising $50,000 to buy a Meals-on-Wheels delivery van. People can rally around that, not to mention see the van when you buy it. If your campaign goal is just a number that you need to keep a varied set of programs running, then it’s less persuasive. In the latter case, your mass communications should showcase examples of your impact in the community and a clear call to action. — Brock 

19. How do you determine who fits the “Why Have Your Forsaken Us” Group?

  • It can vary, but for War Child we would define this groups as those who’ve made no gifts for 3 or more years. Depending on how many people you have, I would recommend a test – put a group into a prospect acquisition appeal to see how they perform against your traded or rented lists. Put another group into your recent/active donor appeals, with a version of copy that acknowledges that it’s been a while. Hopefully you’ll learn where they reactivate more effectively, or you’ll learn if the investment is better spent on trade or rental lists. — Brock 

20. How can you repurpose one piece of content for different audience segments?

  • I start with my direct mail piece. For our active donors, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to write a 4 page letter. Next, I’ll make a 2 page version that we’ll use for lapsed donors, maybe to test in the acquisition stream against our control package. Then, I’ll shorten and tweak the 2 page letter for an email, knowing that email readability and structure is quite different from direct mail. Last, I’ll write an even shorter version for Facebook, and shorter again for Twitter. You can also fold that letter into your receipts and acknowledgements in print or online. Write it up as a blog or story on your website, pitch it to local news outlets as a feature, etc. — Brock 
  • Great question. Brock lays out the process for reusing content for multiple pieces. I recommend that you use 1 piece in at least 2 additional channels, for a total of 3 altogether. This is a strategic tactic for working smarter, not harder.  — Danielle 

21. Where can you find good examples of actual mailing campaigns?

  • Here – that’s a .zip file hosted on Google Drive. — Brock 
  • An amazing resource for all things nonprofit, including examples and case studies, is SOFII, an international site that showcases the best in nonprofit work from all over the globe. — Danielle 

Bonus Question:

What is the best way to find the next great fundraiser for a non-profit?

  • In Canada there isn’t a registry, but many fundraisers committed to the profession will be a member of their local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and advertise it on their resume and Linkedin profile. CharityVillage is a popular site for posting fundraising positions, as well as increasingly on Linkedin. A Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) accreditation signifies and up-to-date knowledge of best practices and ethical guidelines for fundraising, and is obtained after an application citing 3+ years of full-time experience and passing a rigorous written examination. If you’re trying to make sense of a stack of resumes, these can be helpful in distinguishing committed fundraising professionals from the rest. — Brock 
  • CFRE has a job posting board. If you’re looking for professionals with more experience and a proven track record, that is one of the best places to start. Another resource is AFP, they have a national job board and local AFP chapters will often post job opportunities as well. When hiring leadership like a CEO, CDO or Executive Director, I believe it’s a smart investment to work with a search firm. If you are filling a leadership role, we tackled the topic of nonprofit leadership on the Raise+Engage podcast earlier this year. — Danielle  

Your Ultimate End-of-Year Fundraising Toolkit

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What other questions do you have? We’re happy to answer!

Brock Warner headhsot

Brock Warner, CFRE is the Senior Manager, Fundraising at War Child, a humanitarian organization devoted to protecting childhood in war zones. He is responsible for the annual and monthly programmes, donor services management and appeal integration. He has travelled to South Sudan, and extensively across Canada on behalf of War Child.

He has taught ePhilanthropy and Social Media at Humber College’s postgraduate Fundraising Management programme in Toronto and is a graduate of the programme. He contributed to the development of The Philanthropic Mind by Chuck English and Mo Lidsky published by Civil Sector Press in 2016, and is profiled in Gail Picco’s latest book Cap in Hand: How Charities are Failing Canada, and the World released January 2017 on Civil Sector Press.

As a presenter, Brock has participated in industry leading fundraising conferences in Canada on topics related to integrated campaign strategy and ePhilanthropy and is a TEDx presenter. He has presented at AFP Congress and Fundraising Days, Digital Leap, My Charity Connects and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @brockwarner, or connect with him on LinkedIn.