Watch the Year-End Fundraising Playbook – Part 4
Welcome to the final lesson, Part Four of the Year-End Fundraising Playbook. To wrap up, we’re going to talk about this final category of emails that I want you to take into your email fundraising timeline during the year-end season.
These emails are something that I call the closers. When you’re getting close to a deadline is when these are most effective.
Now, this is a picture of Bobby Jenks. A shout-out to those who know who this was by just looking at the picture here real quick. He was a closing pitcher on the 2005 White Sox World Series-winning team.
Now, I’m not actually a huge baseball fan.
In fact, I quit all the way back at tee-ball. We won’t get into all the reasons why, but I got really into the White Sox in 2005. I’d actually said at that point, “You know what? I’m going to get into baseball this year.” My grandpa was a huge White Sox fan, so I said, “I’ll follow the White Sox too.” Turns out that they won the World Series that year, and it was awesome. Then in 2006, I checked out because they weren’t good anymore.
So clearly, I’m a fair-weather fan when it comes to baseball. But this season was pretty remarkable and incredible. You’d get into these really big games in the World Series and really throughout the season, but you’d get late into some of these even extra innings. You’d get into the 10th or 11th inning, and they’re trying to figure out how do we close this game out?
The manager would walk out to the mound, and he’d talk to the pitcher that’s out there. Soon he would turn around, and you don’t know what he’s saying, but you know what he’s saying. He’s doing this, and he’s calling for the big guy; the big guy’s Bobby Jenks.
So Bobby Jenks would come out and he’d throw these super-fast 100-plus-mile-an-hour fast balls. And he’d strike everybody out, he’d win the game, and it was amazing.
If you’d put Bobby Jenks in at the beginning of the game he might still throw some of those 100-mile-an-hour fast balls and strike a few people out, but it’s not as effective at the beginning of the game. Then his shoulder’s going to wear out real quick, and his pitches are going to start to slow down. People might get some hits off of him and maybe knock a couple out of the park, you get some runs going, and then… These closers are not nearly as effective at the beginning of the game as they are at the end.
The same thing is true of these closing type of emails. They’re not effective at the beginning of your campaign, even though we might be tempted to use some of the tactics in them early on. They’re only most effective when you’re close to a deadline.
So let’s dive in. Let’s look at a couple of examples of these closer type of emails:
The first one is what I just call the deadline email.
Here’s the goal: We want to remind donors of the impending deadline without rehashing all of the reasons why someone should give in the first place.
Ideally, you’ve been telling this story over the course of the season using a wide variety of cultivation and appeals to help someone clearly understand the impact that can be made and why they should give. Why they should donate to you.
So at this point, we’re just reminding them of the deadline. In fact, if you go too far into the details, you might actually hinder their giving, and we’ll look at an experiment in a moment.
This example from the Special Olympics, I think, is really good, and I’m going to highlight two things.
It’s like half the email’s doing one thing and half the email’s doing another. Everything highlighted in red for you is really trying to drive urgency. So it talks about you can give your gift before midnight tomorrow. It’s got this big giant countdown clock right in the middle.
Then it says, “Give now, give now, give now. Give before midnight tomorrow.”
All this stuff is just trying to drive urgency, which is helping someone understand why they should give now rather than later. It’s not a brand-new reason to give. It’s just trying to help them understand why they should not delay their giving.
Secondly, everything highlighted in green, which is basically the other half of the email, is all about an incentive to give. Why someone should give more rather than less?
It’s not a fundamental new reason why someone should give in the first place. It’s just an incentive. Your gift can be tripled; triple the support and triple the joy.
Down below it says, “Your gift will help three times as many athletes. Your gift will help three times as many athletes. Your gift will help three times as many athletes.” They’re reinforcing it over and over.
Then even if you look down at the call to action URL, it says specialolympics.org/tripleyourgift. Everything in this email is trying to help someone understand why they should give now rather than later, or why they should give more rather than less.
That’s really the point of these types of deadline emails, is to get someone’s attention and make sure that they give before the deadline.
This experiment is really interesting:
You can see the timestamp on it, December 31st. There’s 17 hours left to give, and here’s what it’d look like. Version A is a lot longer than version B, and most of the copy in version A is focused on rehashing the reasons why someone should give in the first place, the value proposition.
Version B has essentially 32% less value-proposition copy. It’s a shorter email, and the copy is more focused on being a quick reminder, “Hey, the deadline is coming up. Make sure that you get your gift in.”
By not rehashing everything and just focusing on the deadline at hand, it led to a 30% increase in donations.
So when you get to December 30th, the morning of December 31st, or even getting close to the deadline on Giving Tuesday, you can use this type of an approach in order to not rehash all the reasons to give, but remind someone of the deadline so they get their gift in just in time. That concludes closer email number one.
Closer email number two is what I call the reminder:
The last one was kind of a reminder, but this is like a reminder of the reminder. The goal of this email is to send a personal email to make sure that people didn’t miss the deadline email that you just sent a little bit ago. This is a potentially really effective tactic.
Here’s a great example from World Concern. You can see the full email on the left. It’s sent from a real person, from Jacinta, sent to a real person, to Pam. “Just wanted to send you a quick note to make sure that you received this email. I don’t want you to miss out on the chance to double your gift.”
Look at the timestamp on there, It’s sent at 10:06 PM on December 31st, so they’re less than two hours away from the actual deadline to give.
Down below, they’ve included the original deadline email that they sent. That has a little bit more, not a whole lot more, just a little bit more. “Today’s your last chance to give to double your gift. Here’s what it’s going to do. Here’s the link to give. Thank you for remembering those in greatest need.”
This is their deadline email that they’ve just included at the bottom of this reminder. It looks kind of like an email forward, and this is mimicking the natural behavior that you and I use in the inbox at least on a weekly basis, if not on a daily basis.
If you sent someone an email… maybe you’re working on a project together or something like that, and you’re expecting that they send you a reply. You’re getting close to the deadline that you need a response. You probably aren’t going to go send them a brand new email rehashing all the things that you already sent them. You’re probably going to go to your original email, hit reply, and send a little note that says, “Hey, did you see this? The deadline’s coming up.” Just a quick little note.
So we’re mimicking that same behavior in the inbox even with our fundraising emails.
Here’s an A/B test example of how this can be effective even beyond just for donations and even during year end.
This is an experiment we ran in our own marketing efforts as we were trying to get more people to sign up for a webinar.
Typically, we would send an invitation email about a week and a half to two weeks before, and then we’d look at the list and see who’s signed up/who isn’t. From those who aren’t signed up who probably should be there, let’s send them a new email and remind them with brand-new reasons why they should attend the webinar, but to try to get them to sign up. We’d normally write a brand-new email trying to address different motivations. If they didn’t respond to the first one, maybe we’d take this new angle, this new messaging approach.
The reality is most people that didn’t sign up just probably didn’t see the first email because you get basically like a 20 to 25% open rate, which means three out of four people that you’re sending emails to probably aren’t going to see your email even in the first place. They might just need a reminder.
So we sent this forward-style email. It’s a whole lot easier to put together because the only new thing you’re writing is just this introductory note. It says, “Hi, I emailed you last week. Notice you haven’t responded. Will you be joining us on the webinar next week? Here’s the link to register.”
Then you can click the link right there to go register. Down below is just a copy-and-paste of the original invitation email. You didn’t have to write anything new. It’s just a copy-and-paste. It looks like a kind of organic forward in your inbox.
By sending this forward-style reminder email, it led to a 20% increase in people actually signing up for the webinar.
So what I want you to keep in mind as you’re putting these reminders and closing-style emails together, that donors are busy people. You’re busy. I’m busy. Everybody’s busy. Donors are busy and sometimes we just forget, or we didn’t even see the original email that you sent. I may have the best intentions of wanting to give, but I just forgot.
So you can be kind and just send me a quick reminder to make sure that I can get my gift in before the deadline. So keep that in mind as you put your communication together.
Now that we’ve talked through these three primary types of communication to build into your plan, let’s just recap everything with this slightly more advanced playbook.
Again, we’ve got a full course that dives all the way into all 17 different types of emails and other things.
But here’s your slightly more advanced Year-End Email Fundraising Playbook.
Number one, send cultivation. We want to lean into the relationship. People give to people, not to email machines. We want to invest in the relationship first before we ask for money. Those cultivations, the priming and framing emails, are going to make the appeals that come later all the more effective.
Secondly, I want you to make your appeals personal, and I want you to make them logical. We want this authentic feeling in the inbox that you’re actually communicating with a real person on the other end.
So sending from a real human being using a design that looks like an email that you and I would just send each other out of Gmail. Using copy and tone that’s warm, inviting, and personal. But don’t forget that we also need to be logical in our emails. We can’t just rely on the deadlines. We just can’t rely on the tax deduction in order to get someone to give. We have to give clear, logical reasoning as to why someone should give to support your organization rather than support any of the other organizations that are asking for their money during this critical season.
And then number three, we need to send clear reminders for someone to give now. Again, people are busy and sometimes they just forget, and we can send them a simple reminder to make sure that they get their gift in before the deadline.
Throughout all of these, this has been the overarching theme in all of this communication, don’t forget to communicate like a human being. People give to people. We need to be authentic humans in the inbox. I can’t say that enough.
Now, I want to leave you with one more thing, and yes, it is another Star Wars reference. So sorry, but not really sorry, because it’s fun, and I think it’s actually really relevant.
This is kind of a Star Wars reference. It depends on what you think about the new Disney Star Wars movies. This movie is the Force Awakens and it’s the first of the new ones. For most of this movie, for at least half of it, they’re spending all their time trying to figure out where’s this map to Luke Skywalker.
Luke Skywalker is this Jedi Master who can help the new alliance basically go take down the new Galactic Empire, which is called the First Order. So they’re looking for Luke because they think he can help them bring down the First Order, and they need the map to go find him. He’s lost. They don’t know where he’s at.
When they finally get the map to Luke Skywalker, they open it up, they look at it, and they’re excited. Then they’re suddenly disappointed because they don’t know where this map fits into the entire galactic star map. It’s probably the most critical piece of the puzzle, but it’s more or less useless without the larger picture.
Now, magically at the end of the movie, R2-D2 wakes up, and he has the full star map, but it’s just missing this little puzzle piece. We won’t get into all the details there, but here’s what’s important: They can put these things together, and together they have an effective map to go find Luke.
Here’s why this is relevant to your fundraising now that we’ve done a Star Wars deep dive. Your year-end plans is like that map to Luke Skywalker. It is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, but it’s not going to be nearly as effective if you haven’t been doing the work all year long to cultivate and steward donors well.
If this season is the first time that you’ve shown up in the inbox or shown up in the mailbox and actually been present with donors to cultivate them and invite them into giving. You’re probably not going to see the same results that you will next year after you spend the year focused on developing cultivation plans and leaning into the relationship with your donors.
Now, I don’t say that to scare you off if you haven’t been cultivating donors well, but I share that with you because I want you to start cultivating, and I think there might still be time to lean into this even as we’re getting very close to the year-end season.
So here’s my cultivation tip for you – I want you to start sending a weekly cultivation email to your donors.
That may actually sound really scary because that’s a whole lot more work. That’s another email you’ve got to write every single week, and all the work that goes into setting up a new email and testing it and all this stuff. But it shouldn’t be that scary, and I’ll show you why.
This organization was seeing a drop-off in their email engagement. They had fewer opens, fewer clicks, fewer donations, all that stuff, more unsubscribes, and everything that goes into email engagement. All the metrics were just kind of going down, and they wondered, “Might we need to lean more into cultivation?”
So they split their email file in half, and version A got the same normal rhythms of communication in their email inbox: the same amount of cultivation, the same amount of appeals on the same schedule.
Version B still got all the same stuff, but they also got a weekly cultivation email sent every Friday, and it looked something like this, where it’s a very plain text-style email sent from a real person. It looks authentic and sounds authentic. It wasn’t overly complicated. It just linked out to a different blog, article, or story about the work that’s ongoing about the impact that this organization is able to have.
It’s inviting the supporter into the story just by sharing a link to a story of impact.
By doing this on a weekly basis for a period of six months, they saw that people that received cultivation led to a 42% increase in revenue. Again, this cultivation, the priming and the framing, makes those appeals that come later all the more effective.
So we need to lean into cultivation, even if you’re just sending a quick email. It doesn’t have any links to anything. It just shares maybe a quote or a testimonial from a story that you’ve heard in the past week as you’re close to the work that’s kind of going on in your programs or on the ground. It can be as simple as that. It doesn’t have to be anything overly complicated. You’re just leaning into the relationship, cultivating, and inviting people into your ongoing story of impact, and it can lead to a pretty dramatic impact on revenue.
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