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Nonprofit Fundraising Tips for A Successful Calendar Year Close

By Alexandra Hanken August 16, 2018

Though it feels strange to prioritize December’s work in the middle of the summer, year-end is absolutely vital for the majority of nonprofits in the U.S. Nearly one third of annual giving occurs in December, with almost 12% happening in the last three days of the calendar year. So it helps to plan ahead!

Since individual donors now surpass foundation and corporate donors, nonprofits face the challenge of engaging large volumes of constituents and creating urgency for an arbitrary and competitive deadline. Donors have many other priorities and expenses in December, and their inboxes are crowded with solicitations. Given the importance of this final fundraising push, many nonprofits employ more traditional engagement methods like call centers, volunteer fundraisers, and consistent email marketing appeals. However, because email response rates are significantly declining and there’s constant competition for donor’s attention, we’ve helped put together a guide to help fundraisers engage those final donors without calling around the clock.

Here are a few effective strategies we recommend to make Year-End a more productive and positive experience, for your fundraisers and donors alike!

1. Start planning now.

For nonprofits with a June 30 fiscal year end date, it can be hard to dive right back into planning a big campaign, but setting up automated campaigns now will free up fundraisers’ valuable time when the end of year chaos sets in.

If, like most nonprofits, you’re sending all of your emails to all of your constituents, or if your only segmentation/targeting strategy is pulling lists of those who have not yet given yet… keep reading!

Segmentation works. GreatSchools sends over 76 million emails, but using Marketing Cloud, they’ve been able to make them targeted and personalized to each parent in their ecosystem. Leveraging A/B testing for their weekly newsletter (to 1.2 million parents), they boosted email open rates by 57%. increased their donor conversion rate by 300% through an iterative process of collecting donor data and developing targeted email approaches. Clearly, data makes a difference, so identifying how you’ll talk to your constituents at the end of the year can not only save you time, but also massively increase the ROI of your email campaigns.

Once you’ve created some segmented audiences (think parents or alumni for educational orgs. and past donors or volunteers for nonprofits), you can set up automated donor journeys that will set each constituent up on a personalized pathway according to what category they’re in.

What exactly is a donor journey? It’s a pre-determined pathway that lets you choose the number and frequency of emails and adapt the content directed at each audience segment. Based on specific behaviors (that lead to “triggers” for an action within that pathway), you can set the pathway up to adjust what a particular donor will receive next, yielding a personalized experience and eliminating a lot of the frustration of non-responsive emails. For example, as soon as a donor gives, that could trigger an automated thank-you email *and *ensure that future solicitations get suppressed. If a donor doesn’t open two solicitation emails in a row, you could set a trigger for them to get a different email theme. Email journeys allow you to “set and forget” specific pathways without having to manually move donors from one list to another. For organizations with high solicitation volumes at the end of the year, this can mean a massive difference in your unsubscribe lists and in donor fatigue…not to mention the fatigue of your email marketing team!

Here’s an example of a donor journey that you can build in Marketing Cloud:

Donor journey for nonprofit fundraising

Automated donor journeys can help make email follow-up easy and hands-off, leaving your fundraisers with time to focus on high-priority donors and higher-touch engagement.

2. Diversify your means of communication

A recent M+R nonprofit benchmarking study found that response rates to fundraising emails had dropped to just .06%. That’s 6 responses per 1000 emails (eek!). Shifting your email strategy as outlined above can help improve response rates, but email still won’t likely get your team to the fundraising volume you require in a short time, and not all donors are responsive to email or provide accurate contact info. So, if your year-end strategy relies primarily on email, it’s time to start working on incorporating multiple channels, even including direct mail. (For more on that, read this blog series on direct mail for nonprofit fundraising.)

Mobile and desktop options of advertising studio for nonprofits
Ad studio for nonprofits

Social media and advertising have been proven to effectively engage donors, especially around specific campaigns. The engaging format of social media lets you capitalize on the goodwill present around the holidays by selecting emotion-provoking images and content for campaigns, and then tracking what resonates most with your donor base so you have better data for next year.

Social channels are optimal not only for staying top of mind for prospective donors that are already in your orbit, but also for finding and engaging new audiences that don’t know you yet, but might be well-aligned with your mission. Here are a couple of ways to leverage social for a short-term year-end campaign:

  • Lookalike audiences: Ever wish you could clone your top donor list? Good news — you can. Using data analysis to identify common attributes in your donor population, several tools are available to create “lookalike audiences” that you can target on social media channels to engage prospects that behave similar to your existing donors in terms of affinity and propensity to give, and then you can add them to an email journey to give them a sense of who you are, what you do, and why they might want to support you this year.
  • If you’re already using paid ads on Facebook or other advertising channels, make sure you’re able to track the ROI and conversion rates — using a tool like Ad Studio can help you determine which channels are the most effective and focus on those during high-priority times like end-of-year.

One important note — diversification is a great way to meet your donors on the channels they’d most like to be reached, but operating an omni-channel approach can lead to silos unless you find a way to integrate and aggregate the data. Look at trends across channels for a particular donor segment to find which channels you should optimize to get more donations.

Once you get donors to give, make it easier for next year

3. Once you get donors to give, make it easier for next year

Recurring giving revenue is up 40% from last year. Imagine what your team’s month of December might look like if even a fraction of the donors you’re reaching out to this year were already queued up to make their gift, unsolicited, next year? Pretty glorious, right?

Luckily, there are many innovative tools that make recurring giving more appealing and easier for donors than ever before.

Curious to learn more? Download the AppExchange App Guide to Fundraising Apps.