Are you prepared for year-end fundraising success?

October 8th, 2019

By Andrew Olsen, CFRE

It’s October and that means we have officially kicked off our Q4/year-end fundraising period where most nonprofits generate as much as 50% (or more) of their total annual operating revenue.

Are you prepared for success this quarter?

Here’s a quick list of 10 action steps you can take right now to help you maximize revenue in the last quarter of the year.

Map out Digital Year-End: I don’t like to think about digital efforts as individual campaigns or one-off projects. Instead, I like to look at it as a single campaign stretched out across multiple months. For that reason, I recommend that my clients look at Giving Tuesday not as “a campaign”, but as the kick-off of their Q4/year-end fundraising efforts. Are you prepared today with a digital plan that starts on Giving Tuesday and stretches through December 31? If not, now is the time to map out all of your digital touches — stewardship, relationship cultivation, and your asks, of course. Make sure they all tie together and help strengthen your key themes, messages, and calls to action.

Use Asset-based Asks: If you aren’t already incorporating asset-based asks in your fundraising efforts, now is the absolute best time to add them to the mix. Start with the simple. The first of those is the Donor Advised Fund ask. Last year I added a simple box on the back of a direct mail solicitation letter for one of my clients. It told donors that they could make a bigger impact for this organization/cause if they would consider giving a gift through their DAF. One donor who had historically given gifts in the $3,500 – $5,000 range (via check), gave a $100,000 DAF contribution in response to this ask! Now, I can’t say those results will be typical. BUT…I do see that when I donor moves from giving cash gifts to DAF-based gifts, the gift amount almost always increase. In addition to incorporating DAF giving options on your direct mail and newsletter packages, you should take some time to sign up for the DAFwidget from my friends over at MarketSmart. It’s a web-based tool that you can embed onto your website and into emails, so that donors can direct a DAF gift to your organization right through your website. It allows you access to hundreds of different DAF’s. Once you’ve incorporated DAF giving options into your fundraising efforts, you can next look at Appreciated Stocks. The stock market has had ups and downs this year, but many people have still done well. That means there are appreciated assets, and some donors will face capital gains in the coming year. You can create a win-win with your donor by inviting them to give a gift of appreciated stock to your organization, which will help offset some of their capital gains. Again, I like to do this simply by incorporating the option directly into solicitations. For many of my clients I include this option directly in their mail and email (as well as on their website) by including all of their brokerage information (including the name and contact info for your organization’s broker) directly into the appeal. That way, if a donor is interested in doing this, she can just forward their solicitation directly to her broker to execute a distribution to their organization. The last asset-based ask that you should consider including is an ask for IRA Rollover gifts. Donors who are 70 1/2 years old (either today, or by year-end), and who have IRA accounts are required to begin taking distributions from their IRA. However, one option they have is to use the charitable rollover provision to again avoid tax penalties on these investments. In this instance, you’d want to create a highly targeted ask for donors who fit this age restriction. If you already have birthdate or age in your CRM, then all you have to do is select records that meet the age/birthdate requirements. If you don’t yet have that information on file, you’ll need to go get it. My favorite places to get information like that are from my friends over at Infogroup or DMI. Both of these companies are great to work with, easy to navigate, and can screen your file and provide you with the information you need, which can be appended back into your donor records. Once you have the data appended and select the right audience, you should send a specific solicitation request asking these donors to consider sending a special IRA Rollover contribution that is beneficial both for your cause, and for the donor personally.

Plan for Major Donors who typically give in the 4th quarter. Pull a list of all Mid/Major donors who typically give in the Oct-Dec timeframe. Reach out to each of these donors personally (ideally by phone, but email if absolutely necessary) and ask them for a face-to-face meeting where you can discuss their year-end gift commitment. In this meeting, your goal is to make a specific ask for a specific amount, that will benefit a specific project or program.

Plan for Major Donors who typically give early in the year, but haven’t yet this year. Pull a list of all Major donors who typically give in the Jan – Sept timeframe, but who haven’t yet given a gift this year. Call each one of these donors and ask them to make a specific ask for a specific amount, that will benefit a specific project or program. Make the ask more compelling by alerting these donors to a special match or challenge opportunity (if you have one), and by putting a time limitation on their action (i.e., we’re hoping to receive all gifts to XYZ project by November 21st so we can get started on this effort in early December).

Create a unique, high-impact project to engage Mid-level donors. These donors really love giving to specific projects, so you’ll want to create a specific project at year-end that includes a special ask that is both time-sensitive and tied to an important program-based goal. If possible, incorporate a match or challenge component to get more donors energized about the project. Focus your Mid-level donor asks for Q4 around this project to maximize giving from this group of highly committed donors.

Deploy a special year-end ask to Monthly donors. Similar to #5, create a special project-based appeal for your monthly donors at year-end. Some people say you should NEVER ask monthly donors for an additional gift. That’s crazy talk — and it’s a terrible idea. Instead, I recommend that you create a special ask for these donors, ideally on a quarterly basis. In fact, my clients that do this often see response rates of anywhere from 15% – 24% to those special appeals. That’s because these donors LOVE you. They are some of your biggest fans and best supporters. You can’t ask them for an extra gift each month. But once a quarter is perfect. In fact, some of my clients generate as much as an additional $1 Million by doing this every quarter.

Say thank you. Take the next 30 days and commit to calling and thanking your donors. Depending on the size of your supporter base, you may not be able to call everyone. At a minimum, I’d recommend you call any donor who has given a gift of $100+ in the calendar year. And ideally, you’re calling all recent donors within two weeks of receiving their gift (a week is even better!). This is a great way to steward your donors and show appreciation. And I’ve also seen that a thank you call like this can even prepare donors to give more generously in the few months after receiving that call. For that reason, I’d recommend you make these important calls in September and October, to prepare donors to make the most generous charitable commitments possible in November and December. If you can’t handle this in-house (and many organizations can’t), I’d recommend you call my friend Tom Hooper over at Nimble Connect. They are experts at the thank you call process and can help maximize your time and impact by taking this part of the work off of your plates.

Take a step back. Look at your entire year-end fundraising plan and re-edit your messaging to make sure each touch point is as compelling and urgent as possible. Is your call to action clear, concise, and and compelling as possible? Is your fundraising offer / case for support crystal clear (If you need help with that, download my Offer Development worksheet today)? Is your case emotionally engaging and urgent? Is your creative impactful and visually arresting? Have you included respond-by dates across your campaigns to increase urgency with your supporters?

Upgrade. Pull a list specifically of people who have upgraded their giving 1-3 times in the last 12-24 months. Send them a specific ask in December that asks them to increase their giving at year-end to help support a special project that you will kick off in the coming year.

Gain Leverage. One simple way to create leverage in year-end giving is by reminding donors that their employers (either current employers, or organizations they might have retired from) may match their charitable giving. The best-case scenario is that you have specific instructions for donors on how to engage their Human Resources offices to a) confirm whether their gift to your cause is eligible for a match, and b) explains how to go about requesting those matching funds. Explain to your donors that the simple act of requesting these matching funds from their company can double or even triple (in some cases it might be 10X!) the impact the donor can make at year-end. You can also use the corporate match as an incentive to get your donors to increase their giving up to the amount that their company will match. For example, if a donor has given you $1,000 already this year, but their company will match up to $2,500/year in charitable gifts, then ask the donor to consider a gift of $1,500 at year-end, to maximize the impact they can make for your cause by securing corporate matching dollars.

For questions or to talk about how we can help you and your organization, drop us a note at

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