10 Tips for Year-end Fundraising

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The holidays are close and virtually all Main Street organizations have set their promotional calendars into action by now. But have you spent an equal amount of time gearing up for end-of-year fundraising?
Every Main Street organization should be reaching out for year-end gifts. Look to current donors and the people already on your mailing list and e-mail lists for support. Tell your Facebook fans and Twitter followers about the projects that you will be able to accomplish in the coming year with their financial support.

But why bother asking for gifts before December 31?

10 Facts About Year-end Fundraising

According to some of the leading nonprofit fundraising authorities, your organization could be raising up to 40% of its donations during the last six weeks of the year if you use a variety of fundraising channels. A 2011 report by Charity Navigator asked 110 charities and 550 donors the following question: “What percentage of annual contributions from individuals does your charity receive at year-end (roughly speaking Thanksgiving to New Year’s)?" The answers literally ranged from 0% to 100%. But, on average, these charities received 41% of their annual contributions in the last few weeks of the year. And as the statistics below show, nearly a third of donations take place on the 31st of December. More compelling statistics:

  1. In 2011, an estimated $298.4 billion was raised through charitable donations.  – Giving USA.
  2. Giving increased just 0.9 percent after inflation in 2011 from 2010 when giving was $291 billion. – Giving USA
  3. 73% of all gifts came from individuals, same as in 2010. − Giving USA
  4. The average person makes 24% of his or her annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. − Center on Philanthropy
  5. While majority of donations are still made by check (79 %), online fundraising is the fastest growing donation channel. – Association of Fundraising Professionals
  6. Online fundraising grew 15% from the previous year. − The 2011 Convio Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index™ Study
  7. Online giving continues to grow fastest for smaller organizations. Organizations with 10,000 or fewer e-mail addresses grew by 26.7% in median revenue, similar to the growth in 2010. − 2011 Convio Study
  8. Recurring giving (monthly or quarterly pledges) is a major driver of giving over time and should be strongly encouraged. − Network for Good
  9. A third (33%) of the donations made in December occur on the 31st of the month − Network for Good
  10. The peak giving time on December 31 is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in each time zone − Network for Good

10 Steps for a Year-end Giving Campaign

Year-end giving can be a potential gold mine for your Main Street program if you can dedicate some time in the next two weeks to organize a small campaign. The following tips are meant to help you upgrade an existing effort or create a new one.

A multi-channel campaign, using direct mail, e-mail, e-newsletters, phone calls, and personal solicitation will yield the best results. You could pick one or two channels, however, and apply this same methodology to seek support from existing members, donors, and stakeholders. Most e-mail campaigns cost only pennies to implement. Direct mail costs are higher, but still inexpensive. And as we all know, the personal touch through a one-on-one conversation is still the best way to raise funds any time of year.

1.    Set a goal, create a campaign theme, think multi-channel giving.

  • Set a realistic goal. Create an achievable goal for your year-end campaign. Because end-of-year gifts are above and beyond regular donations (this campaign is not for renewals), you won’t hear back from everyone. But the spirit of the season is in your favor. There is more than enough evidence to show that Americans make charitable donations around the holidays. Create specific monetary and donor (number of people) goals and get to work!
  • Compile a list of eight compelling stories and photos. Identify stories about the impact your organization is making on downtown. Keep them short, two to three paragraphs at most. Plan to use one story per message over the course of the six-week campaign. This is the time to tout your achievements: declining vacancies, the positive memories you create from your special events year round, new business openings, restored buildings, or farmers selling healthy food at your weekly market. Your stories should focus on the people you help and the memories you create for people who live and work in the community. Highlight one or two new merchants and explain why they located in your downtown. Tell about family fun at events you host. Photos of happy people having happy times in downtown are the most effective. These stories will be the basis for your letters and e-newsletter solicitations.
  • Think multi-channel. Research indicates that using multiple channels — e-mail, direct mail, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter — will bring in more money than relying on one channel alone. Coordinate any direct mail with an online campaign that reinforces the message by using your website, e-newsletter and/or social media. Mention your website donation page in the direct mail piece and vice versa. If you cannot afford to do a direct mail piece or are pressed for time, make sure you mention the campaign on your web site, on social media, and in any newsletter that goes out before December 31.

2.    Clean up your mailing lists.

  • Size up your mailing lists. Take a hard look at both your e-mail and regular mailing lists. Determine which one is larger, newer, or more complete. Ideally, you will use both for your year-end campaign.
  • Segment your mailing list. Copy your existing mailing list, including lapsed members, and make a new list entitled “2012 End of Year Mailing.” Color-code everyone who pledges. Set the pledge list aside as you won’t be soliciting them for end-of-year gifts. Go through the rest of the mailing list, and pick a different color for everyone who has given more than $250 in the last three years. Call these people DONORS. You’ll see the names of board members, sponsors, foundation officers, city officials, etc., when you are color-coding them. Take all the DONORS off the year-end mailing list and put them in a special DONOR list. These people need to be solicited in person, not through direct mail or e-mail. We will discuss this process later in this post. Count how many names are on the DONOR list and on the year-end mailing list.
  • Personalize your e-mail list. Look at your e-mail list, and determine how many first and last names are associated with your e-mail addresses so that you can personalize any solicitation. See if you can add more names to the personalized list. Count how many e-mails you have with names and with no names. If you don’t have a name, you can use “Dear Friend” for your solicitation, but try to keep these to a minimum. If you need advice about which e-mail broadcast tool to use, Idealware has done the research for you.
  • Clean up your mailing list. Look for duplicates but make sure you copy information into the appropriate record before deleting any addresses.
  • Clean up your e-mail list and add new names and addresses. Purge the hard bounces (e-mails that have bounced back to you undelivered because they weren’t accepted by the recipient's mail server) from your e-mail list. Determine how many soft bounces (a e-mail that has bounced back to you undelivered after it has already been accepted by the recipient’s mail server) you have, and clean out those that have bounced twice. Add any new members to your e-mail list from raffle tickets, signup sheets from events, and other sources.   

3.    Take online gifts. Where is your website’s "Donate Now" button?

  • SOTW-11-7-12FundRaiseTips_DonateButtonMake sure your website can receive online gifts. Use Donate Now, Network for Good, PayPal or other service. Idealware has a great blog post about various online donation services  Make it easy to give. Talk to your webmaster and add this feature today.
  • Put a “Donate Now” button on your home page. Can visitors easily find where to click to donate? Make the button red or green and easy to see.
  • Make the “Donate” button BIG. Make sure the “Donate Now” button is easy to spot. Network for Good wrote an excellent blog post about getting the most out of your donation page. Check it out here.

4.    Test your donation page now.

  • Test your donation landing pages. Alia Mckee at Sea Change Strategies recommends that you test your donation page before starting your campaign. She suggests that you give two of friends $10 and ask them to donate that money on your website and then give you objective feedback. Is it easy to find the “Donate Now” button? Does the information you are collecting make sense? Were there any glitches? Any frustrations? Did they get a thank you e-mail immediately? You have time now to fix any of these problems before sending out your appeal. If it’s not easy to donate, your supporters may decide to give elsewhere.
  • Make it easy to give. Not everyone wants to donate online. Nearlyl 80% of all donations are still checks, so make it easy. Put your organization’s address on all correspondence and prominently on your website so that people can send a check. If you send out a direct mail piece, include a reply envelope, perhaps a green one (for money) as MainStreet Libertyville in Illinois has done for several years. See how they increased their membership to $80,000 in one campaign in the “Make Your Case: Triple Your Members!” in the September-October 2010 issue of Main Street Now. Consider using an envelope imprinted with a business reply mail (BRM) indicia from the post office and just pay for postage when the donor sends the envelope back (a yearly fee applies). Learn more.

5.    Revise your giving levels, ask for recurring gifts, create simple forms.

  • Make the donation form simple. Keep the form simple. Don’t ask for more information than you need. Is it easy to enter billing information? Can donors easily set up recurring payment or enter a message if they are making a contribution in someone else’s honor? Consider adding a photo and caption on the form describing a specific reason to donate—such as: help us maintain our award-winning flower baskets downtown.
  • Link to the Donate Now button page only. Your direct mail letters and e-newsletter messages should link directly to the donation page. Don’t send them to any other page. The call to action should be clear! DONATE.

6.    Create compelling stories and letters and set up a weekly countdown.

  • Write your first appeal letter today. Include one story, a compelling quote, and some amazing statistics from this year. Longer letters −two to four pages − work better according to fundraising authorities. If you send a direct mail piece, plan a day for volunteers and staff members to personalize the letters. This also creates a connection with the potential donor.
  • Write a compelling story. Show your donors why your work in downtown is relevant and important to them and why they should care. Ask them to contribute in the first line of the second or third paragraph. Tell them what the Main Street program has done for the downtown in the last year, and what your plans are for the coming year. Show how their gifts can make a difference. Tell your supporters that the tax deductibility deadline is near and ask them again to make a gift in the last paragraph. Create a deadline. Don’t tell donors that you need to end the year in the black because it is just not a compelling reason. Explaining that their gift goes toward general operating expenses is unappealing. Instead, year-end campaigns should focus on programs that are helping you meet your mission, such as event programming, watering flower baskets, keeping downtown clean, installing colorful banners, or hosting a downtown event, farmers market, or much-loved seasonal events. Seek unrestricted gifts if at all possible, rather than gifts aimed at projects. A great blog post about LONGER letters and why they work was posted on Guidestar.com. Read it here.
  • Make your impact clear. Put colorful charts and graphs that show your impact on downtown in your letter and e-newsletters. Use your reinvestment stats to impress.
  • Create a handsome letter. Your letter doesn’t have to be a traditional letter. Put in a photo that illustrates an important downtown project completed this year. Personalize the letter with the person’s name. Make it festive in celebration of the holidays.
  • Show the progress of your appeal. Your website’s home page is the best place to keep a daily record of your campaign’s progress. You can use a traditional thermometer or other graphic device to show the campaign’s progress. Telling potential donors how well you are doing will be especially helpful if you make a second e-mail or direct mail push to ask people to help you to get over the top. Make sure you publish your list of all year-end donations soon after the end of the appeal. You can post on your web site, or in the next issue of your newsletter. Organize your list based on the giving levels, not alphabetically.

7.    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Write a thank you letter now. Everyone who gives a gift, whether by check or online, should receive a paper thank-you letter. Online givers should get a thank-you letter that does not look or sound like a receipt within a week.
  • Three times, three ways. Resolve to thank donors at least three times − when they make a donation, when they get your e-mail receipt, and when they get your thank-you letter in the mail. Assign a volunteer to send out thank-you letters once a week during the last six weeks of the year.

8.    Automate thank-you’s and tweet about gifts.

  • Automate thank-you e-mails. Send an immediate thank you e-mail immediatelly after receiving the gift. Make sure the donation experience is quick and easy and gives the donor more information about your downtown organization.
  • Tweet about it. Once they have made a donation, make it easy for donors to tweet about it or post to their Facebook page through links on your “Thank You” page. Install links to Facebook and Twitter on the automated “Thank You” page. Giving donors an easy opportunity to talk about their involvement with Main Street can help spread your message and might result in donations from their friends.
  • Send handwritten thank-you cards to the 2012 DONOR list and make appointments. Send thank-you cards during Thanksgiving week and divide up the personal contacts among board members and key committee chairs. Start making appointments the Monday after Thanksgiving to discuss the year-end campaign with these, your most invested friends and ask them to make a year-end gift. Your most important donors should not get a letter or an e-blast. They need to be contacted in person.

9.    Reinforce your campaign with traditional PR, matching gifts, and donor lists

  • Use other PR tools to reinforce your relevance this season. Does the community know what Main Street has accomplished this year? Use other PR tools to help raise awareness about your program. Speak to civic groups. If permitted, hang a banner about the holiday campaign on your building or across the street. Send a press release to local media. Send an e-alert or special newsletter about your campaign to your mailing lists.
  • Matching gifts are highly appealing. Ask your board members to consider making additional gifts to match any new or increased donations during the year-end appeal. Some donors might be willing to give again if they know it will double (or triple) their gift. Others love to come in at the last minute to help the organization meet its goal. Keep your website up to date on your campaign progress and your gifts to date.
  • List your donors. People want to see their name “in lights.” Put “List in formation” at the bottom so everyone knows you are still accepting gifts. Make it clear on the website if and when your goal is met. Publish the list of year-end donors in the your newsletter or send an e-blast to everyone in January.

10.    Don’t take Christmas week off!

  • Make sure your office is open between Christmas and New Year’s. If no one is in your office, answering the phone and opening the mail − and making bank deposits − you will miss out! E-mail gifts will come in at the very last minute, so automating thank-you letters is a good idea. The IRS permits mailed gifts that are postmarked by December 31st to be considered in that tax year. Make sure you communicate this to your accountant and date the thank-you letter appropriately. See IRS Publication 526 for more information on delivery issues for donations.
  • Celebrate and then take a vacation! If you are conducting the fundraising campaign entirely with online and social media tools, publicize the results the week after New Year’s. Send a note or newsletter to your entire list. This may attract some additional donations at the start of the new year. Take a few days to recover, and start the New Year knowing that you’ve started 2013 with a good cushion from your year-end fundraising efforts.

For a coded calendar of November and December to guide you in setting up your campaign, click here.

Tell Us How You Did

We would love to know what you decide to do and how your year-end fundraising campaigns turn out. Please share your success stories and any fundraising campaign materials with us at mainstreet@savingplaces.org. They will help other downtown organizations in their efforts. Good Luck!