Year-end fundraising: It’s never too early

December is National Fundraiser’s Month and online fundraising programs often raise one-third to one-half their annual revenue in December, especially the very last week of the year.  It’s never too early to make your year-end plan, get buy-in, and gather the assets you’ll need.

Here are some basic guidelines for what’s worked for many of our clients, but things are constantly changing online, so be sure to try at least one new tactic each year.

  1. Make sure your home page makes the case for giving in a powerful and prominent way…and makes it easy to find the donation form.  Many donors will seek you out in December, even without email appeals; more and more donors who get your direct mail will visit your site to make their gifts, as the tax-deductible deadline approaches.  You may want to try a “homepage hijack” – replacing your normal homepage with a special donation page (with a “Go to homepage” link) from time to time in December and/or a “lightbox,” a highlighted rectangle covering part of the home page and asking for donations.  You might want to feature a countdown calendar during the last week of the year.
  2. Make sure your donation “landing pages” are as effective as possible in converting visitors into donors.   Testing now can help improve your pages.  You can also look for “best practices” from organizations such as CARE, Amnesty International USA, Defenders of Wildlife, and Nature Conservancy, who have optimized their pages (though no one landing page layout works best for every organization).
  3. Email often (but not necessarily early).  Most of our clients raise very little before Dec. 15, but emailing around Thanksgiving and in early December puts you on the donor’s map of expectations for later giving.
  4. Email often.  The more you mail in December, the more you’ll probably make. While we all worry about irritating donors and prospects by sending them too much email, they’re already inundated by everyone else in December, so they’ll probably not even notice your extra frequency.
  5. Make your best pitch. So be sure you make the case for giving and highlight the Dec. 31 tax-deductible deadline prominently on the home page and other high-traffic pages.
  6. Consider a matching gift.  This one is controversial because many of us believe year-end is the time you don’t need to sweeten the offer.  On the other hand, we’ve found that matching gifts increase response and sometimes average gift, even at year end.
  7. Figure out what to do on Facebook.  For the first time, you can create a special page (tab) where you can accept donations via an “API” that send donor credit card information into your CRM system, such as Convio.  Few organizations have raised much money this way, but it seems worth trying for year-end, as well as for emergencies and news-driven issues.  You might test a lower gift string on Facebook, given that heavy users tend to be younger and don’t normally use Facebook as a place to give.
  8. Last but not least:  Consider what to do with your largest online donors, the people who gave you $500 or $5,000 online this year or last year.  These folks have indicated they like to give online (though they may give by mail or to your major donor folks too) – and they can provide a major boost in December. Of course, you should have been cultivating them all year, online and off, but now’s your last chance.  Can you send them several Outlook-looking emails from your CEO or ED, trying to speak to them one to one and inviting them to dialogue directly with you?  Can you invite them to a phone or in-person briefing on “what your donations accomplished this year”?  Can you at least recognize their special importance in your emails to them, and make sure their gift string is appropriate to their giving history?

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: nick@donordigital.com or phone (510) 473-0366.