Year-end fundraising season is in full swing. And I’m sure you’re really feeling the pressure of reaching as many donors and raising as much money as possible.
But what exactly is your strategy? And how do you know if it’s going to work?
We’ve put together a 12-part series of quick year-end fundraising tips so that you can get the most out of your year-end.
But don’t worry, you’re not going to have to recreate your entire plan. These 12 ideas are data-driven and proven tactics that you’ll be able to weave into the strategy you already have in place.
Oh, and you won’t want to miss out on what the Gingerbread Man and Christmas Tree are up to.
- Day 1 – Google Analytics
- Day 2 – Value Proposition
- Day 3 – Email Frequency
- Day 4 – Transcribe Your Video to Text
- Day 5 – Send More Donation Appeals
- Day 6 – When Not to Ask for a Donation
- Day 7 – Give Something Before You Ask
- Day 8 – One Email Test to Run
- Day 9 – Send Emails When Others Aren’t
- Day 10 – Subject Lines
- Day 11 – Urgency
- TODAY – Last Week of the Year
Day 1 – Google Analytics
Most organizations send the same types of year-end emails year after year after year.
But how do you know they’re working?
Knowing what’s worked in the past – and what hasn’t – is a crucial part of developing an effective year-end fundraising campaign.
And the only way to truly know what works is to look at the data.
If you don’t have Google Analytics setup to track your fundraising efforts, make that your number one priority this year-end.
If you do have Google Analytics data, there are a few simple steps you can take to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and where you can test new ideas.
- Open your source/medium report in Google Analytics
- Click to compare Transactions VS Revenue above the timeline
- Note all the spikes where you saw revenue coming in last year-end season
- Dig in to see which channels led to revenue growth
From here, you’ll have the building blocks to know what channels led to the most revenue. And then you can start testing new ideas within those channels to maximize your donations.
If you want to get really advanced with Google Analytics, you can check out our analytics course at https://courses.nextafter.com/courses/google-analytics-for-nonprofits
Day 2 – Value Proposition
As you try to reach as many donors as possible during the year-end season, it’s crucial to give them a real reason to give.
Most organizations ask donors to give during year-end because:
- TIME IS RUNNING OUT!
- HAVE YOUR GIFT TRIPLE MATCHED!
- You can make a tax-deductible donation
- So we can finish the year strong!
Contrary to popular belief, these are not reasons to give.
They might be reasons to give now. But almost any other organization can say the same things.
Here’s a real reason to give – it’s what we call the value proposition – and it includes 4 essential elements:
1. Appeal – Do I want to support this cause?
2. Exclusivity – Can I make this kind of impact only with your organization?
3. Credibility – Do I believe what you’re saying is true?
4. Clarity – Do I have a clear understanding of what you’re asking?
Always make sure that your emails, your advertising, and your donation pages use these 4 elements to help your donors understand why they should give to you. You can learn more about what makes for an effective value proposition in our Intro to Online Fundraising Optimization course at https://courses.nextafter.com/courses/intro-to-online-fundraising-optimization
Day 3 – Email Frequency
Your inbox is busier during the year-end season than any other time of year.
Let me give you an example: last November, Old Navy sent Jeff’s wife 45 emails BEFORE THANKSGIVING. And that’s just one retailer!
One of the biggest challenges as a fundraiser is to make sure your emails actually get seen amongst all the other clutter.
What’s the simplest way to give yourself the best chance of being seen in the inbox? Well, you might just try sending more emails.
In 2019, the average nonprofit sent 5 emails during that last week of 2019 alone – let alone through the whole year-end season.
So to give yourself the best chance to be seen by your donors, you need to plan to send more than just a couple of emails. If you’re concerned about overwhelming your donors, just think about Old Navy. You’re more likely to be up against people selling khakis and performance fleece than you are donor fatigue.
Day 4 – Transcribe Your Video to Text
We all know that video is an incredibly powerful story-telling device.
However, it’s also a donation killer – at least when you put it on a donation page.
In one experiment, adding a video to a donation page decreased revenue by 81%.
In another, removing the video from the donation page led to a 560% increase in donations.
The key here is this: The copy on your page is far more effective at helping someone clearly understand why they should give and leading towards more donations.
So instead of putting a 60-second video from your founder on your donation page, try communicating the same message and reasons to give using text.
You can save your videos for cultivation emails and social media that prime donors for a donation appeal later on. Want to see what else could be killing conversion on your donation page? You can dive deep in our free Donation & Landing Page Optimization course at https://courses.nextafter.com/courses/donation-landing-page-optimization
Day 5 – Send More Donation Appeals
During the 2019 year-end season, 70% of emails sent from nonprofits were donation appeals.
Now, you obviously have to ask people to give during the year-end season if you expect to actually receive donations.
But there’s more to fundraising than simply asking for money.
For example, one organization that had been sending a monthly email appeal was seeing declining email response rates: fewer opens, lower deliverability, and fewer donations.
So they decided to test sending a cultivation email every week in addition to their monthly appeal.
After running the test for 6 months, the subscribers that received the weekly cultivation emails gave 41% more than those that only received the donation appeals.
What did they learn?
You can’t only send donation appeals. Make sure to send cultivation emails throughout the year-end season to help donors feel involved and connected to the cause. It can ultimately lead to more revenue. You can find out more ways to improve your email fundraising in our free Email Fundraising Optimization course at https://courses.nextafter.com/courses/email-fundraising-optimization
Day 6 – When Not to Ask for a Donation
The data shows that sending donors more than just donation appeals during the year-end fundraising season can lead to more revenue.
But what on earth do you send in December besides a year-end appeal? Well, what do you send your friends and family?
Think about it this way. Your donors read your emails, they take your surveys, they give to your cause, they believe in the same things you do! They have a relationship with you, so treat them like the friend they are and send them a note that reflects that friendship.
Keep it a simple email. One that you could write and schedule today. A simple, heartfelt, “Happy Holidays” email. Or Merry Christmas. Or Happy Hanukkah.
There are multiple holidays over the course of the year-end season, but you know your audience best – is the majority of your list celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or do you need to keep the holiday focus broader?
Choose the most relevant holiday, and then make sure to send your donors an email wishing them well. And write it like you would write a friend. Your goal is to create a sense of community around shared values and ideals – even as simple as sharing in the season of joy and giving.
And send it to your whole list, not just donors. If they aren’t a donor yet, after this email, they are more likely to be one by the end of the year.
But whatever you do, DO NOT ASK FOR A DONATION in this email. Not even in a P.S. Just be a real person and say, “Have a Merry Holiday”.
Day 7 – Give Something Before You Ask
December is the season of giving. We give gifts to family and friends. We give to charities and causes we care deeply about.
Yet fundraisers spend most of their energy asking, asking, asking, and asking.
You have to ask if you want to see donations. But I wonder if you can spend a little bit of your energy giving something to your donors this season as well.
In fact, think about what you can give your donors. Here are a few ideas:
- A personal video, shot on your phone, thanking supporters for the impact they’ve made this year.
- A testimonial from someone directly impacted by the generosity of donors
- A heart-felt and personal note from an executive or leader at your organization
- Or it could be as big as a free ebook, video series, or online course.
Ok. Take the next 30 seconds to think about what you can give your donors.
Now go tell someone what you’re going to send so they can ask you about it later. And then get to work. You can dive deeper on tested and proven ways to give to your donors first in the free year-end fundraising course at https://courses.nextafter.com/courses/year-end-fundraising-for-online-fundraisers
Day 8 – One Email Test to Run
Did you know that in 2019, just 13.8% of all year-end emails were sent from a real person?
That means that 86% of nonprofit emails were being sent from what I like to call “an email marketing machine”. This could be the name of the organization, a no-reply address, or some other non-human sender.
But testing shows that simply sending from a human being can lead to a 28% increase in email opens – just by sending from the name of a real person instead of a brand name.
When you send from a human, not a machine, you make your communication more personal for the donor and open up more opportunity for revenue growth.
Because people give to people, not machines.
So if you one run test in your year-end emails, test sending from a human sender.
Day 9 – Send Emails When Others Aren’t
When is the best time to send your email appeal?
If you follow the “best practice”, you’d be sending all your emails at 9am on Tuesday morning – along with EVERYONE else.
When we analyzed over 2500 year-end emails from 2019 we discovered that:
1. The inbox is most crowded on weekdays from 7am to 2pm.
2. The inbox is the least crowded in the afternoons on Saturdays and Sundays.
On the weekends, most people have more time to slow down, chat with their partner or spouse, and make an informed decision on how much to give to you. Which means a weekend send might not boost your opens and clicks, but it might boost your average gift and revenue. So if you can, test sending an email appeal or two on weekend afternoons when the inbox is the least busy.
Day 10 – Subject Lines
The first thing donors use to decide whether or not to open your email is who sent it. But the second most important factor in winning the open is the subject line.
Here are some extremely common subject lines you’ll hear this year-end:
- “Time is running out!”
- “Help us meet our goal”
- “Help us finish strong”
- “Meet our matching challenge”
Do these sound like anything you were planning to use? Invoking urgency and having a strong call-to-action in your subject line is important, but if everyone else is saying the same thing, how can you stand out from the rest?
Try testing different subject lines this year-end that communicate a slightly different message. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Personalize it. Try using the donors name or refer to them in the subject line
- Create urgency around a specific goal, issue, or cause that is unique to your organization
- Say something more friendly like “Checking in” instead of “TIME IS RUNNING OUT”
Are you looking for more ideas to improve your subject lines? You can discover everything we’ve learned about email fundraising through testing in the Email Fundraising Optimization course at You can’t only send donation appeals. Make sure to send cultivation emails throughout the year-end season to help donors feel involved and connected to the cause. It can ultimately lead to more revenue. You can find out more ways to improve your email fundraising in our free Email Fundraising Optimization course at https://courses.nextafter.com/courses/email-fundraising-optimization
Day 11 – Urgency
Urgency can be a powerful factor in influencing someone to give now. And there are 2 simple ways to add a little extra urgency to your donation page during the year-end season.
The first way is to use a countdown clock.
A countdown clock gives donors a clear indicator that time is running out to give, and can incentive them to donate right away.
In fact, one organization added a countdown clock to their year-end donation page and saw a 61% increase in donations as a result!
But beware of using a countdown clock too soon.
If you use a countdown clock too early in your campaign, it won’t make much of a difference. And it *might* actually give donors the excuse to put their donation off until later.
Progress bars are another simple tool you can use.
Showing donors how close you are to your goal can incentivize them to contribute now and join with others to help accomplish the mission.
But be careful. One organization used both a progress bar and a countdown clock together at the top of their donation page and it actually created more confusion – leading to a 28% decrease in donations.
So be sure to use a progress bar or a countdown clock as you get close to the end of your campaign. But don’t put them right next to each other on your page.
Looking for more donation page ideas? You can take the full Donation Page Optimization course at https://courses.nextafter.com/courses/donation-landing-page-optimization
Day 12 – Last Week of the Year
Do you know which day of the year brings in the most donations?
Here’s what our data says…
In 2019, Giving Tuesday brought in 4% of online year-end revenue.
December 31st brought in 15% of online year-end revenue.
And the last week of the year as a whole brought in 37% of online year-end revenue.
So even if you’ve missed Giving Tuesday, and you haven’t really participated in year-end yet, there’s still a ton of untapped potential for the last week of the year.
Here are 3 ideas for you to get the most out of the last week:
- Send just one more email than you have planned. Our data shows that asking just one more time can increase donations. And in most cases, nonprofits just simply aren’t emailing enough.
- Use a match to incentivize donors to give now. Rather than sending a standard direct donation ask emphasizing the December 31st deadline, one organization created a treatment email that added in language around the financial need, and leveraged a matching challenge as an incentive to donate. The treatment version of the email saw a 50% increase in donations by spending more time focusing on the financial need and leveraging the match challenge as an opportunity to help meet that need.
- Communicate like a real, authentic, human being. Fundraising emails tend to sound like a pushy sales person as the year comes to a close. But we’ve seen emails that use a personal tone out perform more formal donation appeals by a 136% increase in donations
So send more, use a unique incentive to give now, and communicate like a real person.
And whether you hit your goal this year, or you fall a little bit short, there are tons of ways you can grow, optimize, and increase revenue in the year to come.
Get even more ideas to apply to your year-end fundraising
In fact, you can activate the Year-End Fundraising for Online Fundraisers certification course for free. In the 4-session year-end fundraising course, you’ll discover new ideas to craft a successful year-end fundraising campaign for your organization based on years of research and thousands of fundraising experiments.
Activate your free access right now at https://www.nextafter.com/year-end-fundraising-for-online-fundraisers-course/
Thanks so much for all you do at NextAfter. Your hard work really shows and you are “leading from the front”. The information you share and especially the NIO Summit really have opened my eyes to things we need to do at the non-profit where I work. Thanks so much and God bless you all.
It’s our pleasure, Michelle. I appreciate the kind words! So glad we’ve been able to pass on some new and helpful ideas. Thanks for all you do!