What A Cardboard Cut-Out Taught Me About Fundraising

My first job out of college had a weird feature. When you walked in the door, the first thing you saw was a life-sized cutout of a 70-year-old woman who looked like Barbara Bush.

Her name was Mrs. Johnson

Mrs. Johnson had white hair, a blue sweater set, and pearls.

The company was a fundraising agency that helped nonprofits all over the country raise money. And we were instructed to write every single fundraising appeal as if we were writing to Mrs. Johnson.

This was my first job out of college. I was 22. And writing fundraising letters to Mrs. Johnson seemed really weird. After all, she wasn’t going to change the world! She looked like a grandma. It was my young friends and I who were going to change the world!

A Lesson In Demographics

Mrs. Johnson was in our office because the founder of that fundraising agency knew a couple powerful things:

  1. First, he knew his demographics: the average donor in the United States was a 69-year-old female. (Which is still true today, by the way.) And a 69-year-old woman was far more likely to give gifts, and give for longer, than me and my 22-year-old friends.
  2. Second, he knew that us copywriters tended to make a couple common mistakes. We’d write fundraising letters as if we were writing to all the donors at once, and we’d talk about the things that we cared about, that we thought were most important.

So, our founder had us write every letter as if we were writing it to Mrs. Johnson. Having her life-sized figure in the office was a powerful way to get us to think about who we were writing to.

We also learned a powerful lesson: an organization can really like a fundraising letter – but if Mrs. Johnson doesn’t like the letter, the letter will be a failure.

I share this today because most nonprofits make the same mistakes that us yahoo copywriters made back then. Organizations often write letters and emails that they like. They write a certain way to impress themselves and please the staff or board. They use insider jargon and describe processes that only people in their niche care about.

All of which causes them to raise less money. Because, as a rule, Mrs. Johnson doesn’t care about any of that stuff.

First, Figure Out Your Mrs. Johnson

It might be a Ms. Rodriguez. It might be a Mr. Patterson. It might be Mrs. Johnson. The important thing is to figure out who she is for your organization, and then write to her about the things that matter to her. Talk about your organization, without jargon, in a way that she can understand.

And if you’re guessing who your Mrs. Johnson is, don’t guess. Find out. It costs so little to find out. Do donor surveys. Do donor interviews. Do whatever you need to do to figure out who your supporters are. Please. Don’t. Make. Assumptions.

For instance, your donors are almost certainly older than you are. Every client I’ve worked with that had an age overlay done on their donors was shocked to discover how old their donors were.

One organization swore up-and-down that their average donor would be in their 50’s. Their average donor was 73.

It’s possible your Mrs. Johnson is different. For organizations that have a ton of child sponsors as donor, Mrs. Johnson tends to be about 49 years old, not 69 years old.

For organizations that are super youth-oriented, Mrs. Johnson might even be 35 years old on average. And she might be a Mr. It doesn’t matter. The thing is to figure out who it is for your organization, how old they are, and then write to them about what they care about.

Communicate To Her, About What She Cares About

You’re getting a handle on who your Mrs. Johnson is. You know she almost certainly knows less about your organization and your cause than you do. And that she has different interests and values than you do.

Now we’re getting somewhere!

You see, too many nonprofits look at their fundraising as their chance to communicate what is so special about their organization. But smart nonprofits look at their fundraising as a chance to communicate something of interest to Mrs. Johnson and people like her.

Don’t write about your organization. Don’t write about what your organization cares about. Instead, look for points of alignment between what your organization cares about and what your Mrs. Johnson cares about, and write about those things.

For instance, I used to serve an organization that helped disadvantaged women get an education, graduate from college, and get a job. The organization thought of itself as ‘giving a hand up, not a hand out’ and often asked their donors to “send in a gift today to help a local woman with a hand up, not a hand out.” Jim and I thought that this organization’s donors — their Mrs. Johnsons — cared more about providing an education than they did providing ‘a hand up.’ So we convinced the organization to instead talk about college credits, and to ask their donors to ‘send in a gift today help help a woman get one college credit closer to a job.’ Worked like crazy.

That’s a good example of focusing your donor communications on how your donors think about an issue, not how the organization thinks about an issue.

So figure out what your Mrs. Johnson cares about. Figure out what words and phrases she uses to describe those things. Then talk to her about what her gift to you will do using those ideas, words and phrases!

Just A Reminder, She’s Probably Older

One thing that hasn’t changed since I was a young fundraiser: the average donor in the U.S. is about a 69-year-old female. And she’s the type of donor who will stay with you longest and give you the most over time.

She probably isn’t on social media. She probably checks email occasionally, but doesn’t trust it because it’s so hard to tell what spam is. She might be on Facebook. But she absolutely has a mailbox and reads her snail mail more than you and I do.

So that tells you the media channels that you want to use if you want to reach her effectively. . .

All That From A Cut-Out?

Amazing. All of this epic long post from a cardboard cut-out that I first met in 1993. But it’s a lesson that stuck with me as long as I’ve been a fundraiser, and I think it’s made me a more effective fundraiser.

My hope is that it does the same for you. Figure out who your Mrs. Johnson is. Grab some stock photography with a picture that looks like her. Print it out, and stick it to your computer monitor. Every time you’re writing your fundraising, make sure you’re writing to her. About what she cares about. Using words she would use. Do that and you’re on your way to have a LOT of Mrs. Johnsons devoted to your cause — and sending you lots of money!

Last Chance! Raise More Money Online This Year

What happens when you wait . . .

I get it. I’ve put things off until the last minute before.

What usually winds up happening is I tell myself, “Oh, I’ll remember to do that in time.”

But by the time I get to it, 9 times out of 10, I miss out.

Don’t let that be you.

Order your Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit now!

Because December 31 isn’t here yet. And there are lots of things you can do to raise the money you need before the 31st. Even in the next couple weeks!

If you’re ready for year-end, you can skip this. If you’re not ready, we get it. We’ve been there.

Don’t panic. You can do five things today for more revenue by year-end.

1. Use an interrupter

Make it so easy for your donors to give you a gift online that they can’t miss it (or get distracted by other options). Use some sort of interrupter like a splash page, homepage overlay, or just a big, bold donation button that goes straight to your donation page.

2. Make messaging simple and urgent

Tell your donors you need to raise $X by Dec 31. Let them know if you have a match or a shortfall. Tell them they have X days to do it. Believe it or not, that’s all they need to know. Remind, don’t persuade.

3. Skip the details

This isn’t the time to tell stories, share photos, or offer details about your programs. Trust us. Get straight to the point and ask for a generous year-end gift.

4. Send three emails in the last few days of the month

You should send emails on December 27, 30 and 31. These can (should!) be versions of the same email that progressively get shorter and more urgent — eg. “This is your LAST CHANCE to give a gift this year!”

5. Test social media advertising

If you’ve never tried it, build some Facebook ads to run during the last week of the month. Use the same messaging as your emails — but shorter! Advertise them to a lookalike audience of people who like your Facebook page.

If you want a great cheat sheet to walk you through exactly what to do, remember — we’ve developed a Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit. It can be yours for just $149. Buy it now and this year-end will be your best year-end yet!

Order the Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit

You Have 1 Extra Week – How To Make The Most Of It

There’s an extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, which is a big deal if you’re a fundraiser.

Your extra week means you have an extra week raise money during the strongest fundraising season of the year.

What Will You Do With Your One Wild, Precious Extra Week?

Just like how your fishing is more effective when the fish are running, your fundraising is more effective this time of year. It’s not that your fundraising materials are magically more effective, it’s that more donors are more likely to give gifts!

Because ‘the giving season’ is a week longer this year, you can expect to raise more money if you take advantage of your opportunity.

And this week, December 3rd through 9th, is your extra week. It may not feel like it, but it’s extra. It’s a gift. What are you going to do with it?

Here’s What To Do With Your Extra Week

Here’s a list to help you prioritize your time. These are organized roughly in order of importance:

  1. Contact any major donors who have not yet given a gift this year. This is the single most important thing, with the biggest financial impact, that you can spend time on. One gift from a major donor who missed your earlier communications can make or break your whole year-end campaign – not to mention the long-term relationship benefits.
    1. If at all possible, try to meet them in person. Next best is telephone. Next best is email.
    2. When you speak to them, be able to very quickly describe why their gift is needed before the 31st, and what their gift will do.
  2. Send another appeal letter. If most of your donors are local, you can send a letter out the week of the 11th, nonprofit postage, and still have it get in homes in time to drive donations before year-end. Make this letter a shorter version of your regular holiday letter, and mention the ‘December 31st deadline’ multiple times. In our experience, you’ll raise about 1/3 of the amount you raised with your regular holiday letter, and this is new, additional revenue!
  3. Prepare your 3 emails for the end of the year. Our Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit will show you how to do this well, and includes samples. Here’s the strategy; online giving sees a massive spike during the last three days of the year. During that spike, you want to remind donors that their gift is needed and their gift makes a difference. The best way to do that: have an email in their inbox each of the last 3 days of the year.
  4. Prepare your Thank You / Receipt letter for everyone who gives here at the end of the year. Do not use a generic thank you letter. You’ll build stronger relationships with your donor if the language in the letter reflects what the donor has just done. For instance, you could begin the letter by saying, “Thank you for giving such a generous gift at the end of the year! As I mentioned when I asked you, your gift is going to [insert what their gift is going to do, using the same phrasing you used in your appeals and emails].”

If you’ve already done all those things, fantastic! You’re on your way to a successful year-end fundraising season. Your donors and your organization are going to thank you for all your efforts and for the money you’ve raised.

Extra Credit

If you’ve completed everything you can, here’s how to earn “extra credit” and make sure 2018 starts off with a donor-loving, relationship-building bang:

  1. Plan your early 2018 Thank You email. We recommend an emotion-filled email, dripping with gratitude, to your donors on January 2nd (the first work day of the new year). Thank them for their gift in 2017, and for all the ways your beneficiaries were helped. No Asking, no Reporting, just Thanking.
    1. Ideally, this email would only go to donors who made a gift in 2017, not your whole email list.
  2. Get started on your donor newsletter. This is where you Report to your donors on what their last gift accomplished. Because so many of your donors will have given in November and December, it’s really powerful for them to receive a newsletter in January or February that tells them what their gift accomplished. Remember, most organizations don’t tell their donors what their gift accomplished. Getting good at “Reporting” to your donors is one of the best ways a small nonprofit can stand out, build loyal donors, and raise more money.

Good luck, use your extra week well, and visit our store if you need any samples to help you out!

Your Fundraising Should Be MORE Repetitive

I often say, “In fundraising, repetition is the best friend you don’t know you have.”

Many people literally can’t believe I would say something so crazy.

But it’s true. Using repetition as a tool is the biggest lesson that advertising & marketing have to teach us fundraisers.

This post will tell you why that’s true, and how to use this idea to raise more money.

Two Reasons for Repetition

There are two reasons your fundraising materials — and all of your fundraising — should be more repetitive:

  1. Your donors don’t read the whole thing. They skip and skim.
  2. Humans often need to hear a message multiple times before they take action. And your donors are humans.

As always, this post is an attempt to explain what we’ve seen in head-to-head testing. Put another way, we know from testing that repeating the right things will increase how much money you raise, and this is an attempt to explain why.

Note: this idea is especially important for smaller organizations who are trying to make ‘the leap’ to the next level in revenue. Being more repetitive is counter-intuitive. It’s something your board or E.D. might push back against. But if you embrace it you’ll start raising more money both immediately and in the long term.

Your Donors (and Potential Donors) Don’t Read the Whole Thing

People don’t read your whole letter . . . or email . . . or newsletter, etc. (Except for your board, they read everything to find errors.)

If you want to make ‘the leap’ to the next level of income, you need to wrap your mind around this. People don’t read/watch/listen to the whole thing. They skim, they jump around.

If you want evidence of this, go check out the work of Siegfried Voegele.

So to increase the chances that your donor sees your main message (usually your call-to-action) you repeat it multiple times. That way, as your donor is skimming your fundraising, there’s a greater chance they will see what you want them to do.

Remember: you go through your fundraising with a fine-toothed comb, reading from the top to the bottom, looking at every detail. But most of your donors just glance at it. Repeating your main idea increases the chances that even your “glancers” will read what you want them to read.

This makes it difficult (at first) to write effective fundraising, by the way. We learn in school to set up an argument, tell a story, and then make our point. But the most successful fundraising tends to make it’s point, tell you why the point is so important, and then make it’s point again. Writing that way is a learned behavior.

Humans Often Need to Hear a Message Multiple Times Before They Take Action

You know this from your own life; telling a busy co-worker something multiple times, or talking to a friend who is doing something else at the same time.

It’s a good idea to assume that your donors are busy, or are looking at your fundraising and doing something else at the same time.

Smart fundraisers use this knowledge to do two things:

First, in their letters and emails, they’ll repeat key phrases and ideas multiple times. For instance, my rule of thumb is that each appeal letter should have three direct asks to the reader to send in a gift today. I usually put those three “asks” in the following three locations:

  1. Somewhere in the first three paragraphs
  2. Somewhere in the last three paragraphs
  3. In the P.S.

Because your donors are skipping around, if you only put your ask in one place in your letter, a whole bunch of donors just got your letter but don’t know you’d like them to send a in a gift. That’s a recipe for raising less money than you could be.

Second, smart fundraisers ask donors to do the same thing multiple times during the year. Because they know that of the donors who saw the message the first time you sent it, not all of them were convinced to make a gift.

Say you’re a community museum that has a hard time raising money with your general appeals, but the one time each year you ask your donors to ‘send a local child to the museum’ you raise a lot of money. Well, next year ask you donors to send a child to the museum twice (and do the things you need to do to make the funds undesignated).

To give you a real-life example, Jeff Brooks tells a great story about an organization that accidentally sent out the same exact appeal letter two months in a row. The same letter to the same people. What to know what happened?

The letter did better the second time!

The Consequences for Your Fundraising

It takes real discipline to use repetition in fundraising. Because when you do, your nonprofit will end up communicating more often to your donors, and communicating about fewer things to your donors.

Here’s a story to illustrate my point. We worked with an organization in the Midwest who raised about $10m per year. They talked about EVERYTHING they did, every program, all the time. They always wanted to say all the things!

We counseled them to make their fundraising simpler and more repetitive. For instance, in each letter and email they should only talk about one of their programs. Their response was an all-time classic:

“Steven, you don’t understand. We’re not a simple organization that just does one thing, like World Vision. We do so much more!”

Now, I’ve done some work for World Vision. They are anything but simple. So I explained that World Vision isn’t simple, but they are disciplined in their donor communications.

So we convinced the organization to get more specific about one program in one letter. That letter raised roughly double any of their other letters that year.

By the way, iIf you follow this advice, it’s totally possible that your board and staff will like your fundraising less. They will think your letters and emails are repetitive. They won’t all hear about their favorite programs or parts of your organization. But you’ll raise more money and will be able to do more good. Whether they like your fundraising or not should not be a core issue. The core issue should be whether your fundraising is effective or not.

And if you use repetition as a tool, your fundraising will be more effective.

Repetition at Year-End

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that repetition is one of your core tools to year-end fundraising success.

Your donors are busier than ever, and repeating the same message (and your call-to-action) is one of the best ways you can get noticed by them.

Our Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit is on sale right now for more than 40% off. Grab it. You’ll see exactly how to use repetition over the next few weeks – among lots of other tips-n-tricks – and you’ll raise a LOT more money this year!

Highlights from Storytelling Conference After-Hours Session, plus a Bonus Gift

So at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference earlier this month in San Diego, I did an after-hours bonus session. A couple hundred people trusted me with two hours of their evening.

Note: get a deeply-discounted ticket to next year’s conference here.

The focus of my session was creating year-end fundraising that causes your donors to give gifts instead of deleting or recycling your materials. This post summarizes that special session. And provides you with a link to the actual presentation that night. And provides you with a secret squirrel discount code . . .

This is a long post. It’s more of a novella. Maybe a mini-festo. So grab a favorite beverage. And if you’ve read our free eBook on Storytelling for ACTION, much of this will sound familiar. But keep reading to see how to apply it to your year-end letters and emails.

To start, three ideas for you . . .

Your donor should have a role — and see herself — in every single story you tell.

This basically means that in your donor communications, you want to focus on your donor’s part of the story, not your organization’s part.

Here’s a real-life example: “Will you help us continue this important work with families?” Pay attention to how that phrasing positions the organization as the “hero.” The donor is given the role of “helper” or “partner.”

Here’s how we improved that phrase for the organization’s next appeal: “You can give moms like Julianne their own apartment, and counselors to help them recover.” That phrasing positions the donor as the hero and doesn’t even mention the organization.

That’s two different sentences about the very same organization. The appeal with the second sentence raised 8-times as much money. There’s more to it than one sentence, of course. But hopefully the example makes the point; focus on your donor’s role, not your organization’s.

What story you tell, and when you tell it, matters a LOT

When you are Asking for support — in appeal letters, e-appeals, fundraising events — you want to tell what we call a “story of Need.” This is a story where someone needs help now, today. Put another way, there is a problem that needs to be solved, today.

Most organizations only tell what we call “stories of Triumph.” These are stories where the person has already been helped, the problem has already been solved.

When you tell stories of Triumph, the only role left for your donor to play is “supporter” or “helper” or “partner.” It shocks most nonprofits to hear this, but that’s not the most attractive role you can offer your donors. And it doesn’t work as well as the following approach . . .

You want to tell a story of Need and then ask your donor if she will meet the need today. That story puts your donor in the role of Hero. Look at it this way:

Take off your organization hat and put on your donor hat. You’d rather be the Hero, right? So give your donors chances to be heroes – especially at year-end!

Pro tip: save your stories of Triumph for your newsletters, when you are Reporting back to your donors on what their gift accomplished.

You have a Big Story you need to constantly tell your donor

Your Big Story is really simple:

  1. Your donor is needed
  2. Her gift makes a real difference

You want to constantly say that to her and show that to her.

I can’t overemphasize enough how important this is. Most organizations spend their time telling their donors how good the organization is at it’s job. But for my whole career, again and again, I’ve seen that telling and showing your donors that their gifts are needed, and telling and showing them that their gifts make a difference, is the surest path to raising more money and keeping your donors for longer.

Your Year-End Fundraising Communications

So what does all this mean for your year-end communications? Take a look at my presentation from the Storytelling Conference, focusing on the last 10 slides, for the details.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Write to your donor about what her gift will do, not about what your organization is doing. If you’re an Arts organization, tell her that “your gift will preserve and promote the arts in your community in 2018,” instead of saying “Please support our programs to preserve and promote the arts in our community in 2018.”
  2. Tell her a story of Need. Don’t tell her how well things have gone in 2017, tell her how much her help is needed to achieve the outcomes you want in 2018. If you help homeless women and children, tell her that “your gift will provide safe housing for a mother and child –and keep them out of the cold–this January”, instead of “Thanks to you, we served 318 mothers and children in 2017.”
  3. Flat out tell her that her gift is needed and that she will have an impact! Phrase it any way you want. But say it loudly, clearly, and in multiple places.
  4. Final thought: focus on the deadline. Deadlines are magic for causing action in fundraising. If your year-end fundraising materials don’t mention the December 31st deadline early and often, you’re doing it wrong!

Now, to reward you for the half hour it took you to read this manifesto, I have a gift for you . . .

In my presentation, on slide forty-seven, there is a coupon code that will save you 25% on our year-end fundraising products

If you haven’t sent your year-end letter or Follow-up letter yet, save on the Successful Year-End Letter Samples.

If you’re already focusing on your online fundraising, save on the Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit.

With the coupon you’ll save 25% on your whole purchase, save a ton of time, and raise way more money than you did last year.

OK, now it’s up to you. It’s the most important month of the year for fundraising. Remember that your donors love to give, and go give them lots of chances to do so!

Thanks for Standing Up Like My Neighbor

Growing up, my next-door neighbor was an old guy named Mr. Barnett. He was kind, avuncular attorney. Great neighbor.

It wasn’t until later that I learned he was a hero. And it wasn’t until a long time after that I learned that you are, too.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I grew up on an island outside of Seattle. It has the unfortunate distinction of being the very first place during World War II that Japanese Americans were forcibly rounded up and relocated to internment camps.

Not the brightest moment in our history.

I learned later that Mr. Barnett was the attorney for the only Japanese American to challenge, through the legal system, the forced removal of Japanese Americans from their homes. Mr. Barnett took the course all the way to the Supreme Court, and was not a popular guy for doing so.

But he stood up for the men, women and children who were interred. And for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I was thinking about how I had no idea my next-door neighbor had done something so incredible. And my next thought was that most fundraisers have no idea they do something so incredible.

The deeper into my career I get (25 years!) the more I see that most fundraisers — and maybe even you — only barely grasp the important role you play.

You stand up for your beneficiaries. Who often have no voice.

You are their voice to people who have the resources to help.

Without fundraisers like you, how would they get help?

Like Mr. Barnett, you stand up for a person who needs justice.

And maybe the cause you work on isn’t one of the sexy ones, like “social justice.” Maybe it’s foundational like “supplemental math skills for elementary school kids.” Maybe you’re one of the few standing up for your cause. Maybe you’re the only one – like Mr. Barnett.

But you stand up.

Thank you.

As a fundraiser, you do fight for justice. Whether it’s for food or math skills. For immigrant rights or for a museum that preserves Quilting Arts. Over these next couple busy months, in the middle of this crazy year-end, remember this . . .

You are standing up for your beneficiaries or cause. Who often have no voice.

You are their voice to people who have the resources to help.

Thank you!

You Are More Important Than You Think

You already know that fundraising is so much more than writing your next appeal, or prepping for your next event, or talking to your Board.

But let me put words to how much more you do.

I think fundraising is creating a sacred connection between people who have resources and people who need help.

And that sacred connection is made by you and your fellow fundraisers. Which is amazing because less than 1 in 10 fundraisers actually likes asking for money. (That stat is based on my impromptu polls at conferences.)

I mention this today because it’s the busiest time of year. “Fundraising” seems like a series of tasks. Each day feels like a long list of things to do but not enough time to do all of them.

The difference between a fundraiser and a Fundraiser

I wish there was a difference in our field between “fundraiser” and “Fundraiser.” I think a person should only get the capital “F” if they know that fundraising isn’t ultimately about the money.

With training, it’s not that hard to be an effective fundraiser. Right? You can learn to be donor-centric. You can learn segmentation, and how you should spend more time (and money) on your Major donors than your Mass donors. You can learn to speak and write effectively. You can learn the difference between marketing and fundraising.

None of this is rocket science. There’s a set of accumulated wisdom our sector has created over the past 60 years, and it’s available to anyone with the drive to learn it.

But a person who knows all that AND knows — in their bones — that it’s not about the money? That’s a Fundraiser. That’s a person who is aware of, and loving, creating connections between donors and beneficiaries.

Notice I didn’t say ‘between donors and organizations.’ But that’s a post for another day.

But again, why take the time to write about and then send this to you today?

Because this is a call, to you, to be a Fundraiser

To know, in the midst of the year-end crazy, that you’re creating sacred connections. To know that your job is SO MUCH MORE than sending emails and pulling mailing lists. To feel — in your bones — the joy your donors have when they make a gift through your organization.

Do you feel that joy? Will you choose to feel it for the next few weeks? For every donor who gives a gift between now and midnight on the 31st? That’s a lot of joy!

Because if you do that, you’re going to LOVE the next few weeks. You’re going to write differently. You’re going to talk to donors differently.

And you’re going to raise a lot more money!

So please, when it gets hectic next week (or later today), remember the joy your work gives to donors. Remember the joy your beneficiaries get when they receive help. You’re doing that. That’s you. You’re a Fundraiser.

Lessons from 25 Year-End Fundraising Seasons

This year will be my 25th year-end fundraising season. (In related news, I have a lot of grey hair.)

That means I’ve been a part of about 250 separate year-end campaigns for different nonprofits around North America.

Let me share with you what I’ve learned. Because we do lots of testing, pay close attention to what works, and have a pretty good handle on what works the best.

But before I do, allow me a brief aside. The thing I’m personally most excited about this year is the four low-cost products we just released. They take complex year-end fundraising campaigns and break them down into simple, easy-to-follow steps. They are written and designed so that you’ll learn what to do, when to do it, and how to say it. I couldn’t be more proud.

Today, I want to share how to think about year-end fundraising. It’s a short set of ideas that put you on the path to happy donors and full bank accounts.

Idea #1 – Your donors love to give, but they are busy

Before you do anything, just think about this for a moment. Your donors love to give! Share this idea with your staff and board. If you want to have a great year, you must remember that your donors love to give, but they are busy!

Most nonprofits think two unhelpful things:

  1. Our fundraising makes people give gifts they don’t really want to give.
  2. Every donor receives every message we send.

Neither of those things are true. And if you think those two things, you will only communicate with your donors a couple times in December. That’s a HUGE mistake.

Instead, remember that your donors love to give, but they are busy. They need to be over-communicated with during this busy season. (And if there’s a donor or board member who has already given their year-end gift, by all means remove them from the mailing list!) But for everyone else, you need to communicate to them often enough to break through all the noise, get their attention, and remind them to give you a gift.

Idea #2 – Think of your year-end fundraising as a service

That’s right. Not as fundraising, but as a service to your busy donors who love to give.

You are reminding them to do something they would love to do.

So what makes a good reminder?

  • A clear focus on the action you want them to take. In all your communications (letters, emails, your website, social) get to the point very quickly. Ask them to give a special year-end gift before the end of the year.
  • A clear focus on the deadline. Remind donors, again and again, that their special year-end gift is needed before the end of the year. Deadlines are magic in fundraising, and this is the best deadline you’ll ever have. Mention it early and often!
  • Remind them what their gift does. This is NOT a reminder of what your organization does with their gift. For instance, if you’re an Arts organization, don’t remind them that their gift ‘supports our programs to promote the arts…” Instead, remind your donors that their gift ‘supports the arts so that our community has a thriving arts scene and culture.’

Idea #3 – The only other ideas to add are reasons to give now

Resist the urge to talk about your upcoming capital campaign, or tell a story about somebody you’ve already helped.

The only other ideas to add are reasons your donor should give a gift right now. Things like:

  • Their gift will be doubled by a matching grant
  • Your organization has a shortfall and you need to ‘close the gap’ as quickly as possible
  • You have a big need for funds early in 2018 and the donor’s gift will help

The Main Point

You can do these things and still write a warm, personal letter or email. Really, it’s a matter of focus. Make sure you communicate the main things in a way that donors who just briefly glance at your letter will still get the point.

So of course you can talk about how it’s been a good year. And you can thank your donor for their previous generosity. You can even talk about how pretty the snow is.

But those should not be the main, most noticeable parts of your letter. If you write and design you year-end fundraising following the principles above, you’ll raise a lot more money!