5 Tips For Your Most Successful Digital Year-End Campaign

5 Tips For Your Most Successful Digital Year-End Campaign

Are you ready?

According to Network for Good, most nonprofits raise about 1/3 of their revenue in December. And 11% of their annual total during the last three days of the year.

Year-end is the easiest time to raise more money online! Think about it this way:

Your donors are more likely to give during the last weeks of the year than any other time of the entire year.

And because year-end is such an important time for digital fundraising, we want to give you 5 tips that will ensure a successful year-end for your fundraising.

# 1: Use the same message in every channel

Some of your donors are online, some aren’t. Pick your strongest message, then repeat it through direct mail, email, your website, and social media. It’s more powerful for your donors to see the same message in different media channels than it is for them to see two different messages.  Repetition is your friend!

# 2: Ask early and often

You’ve been talking to your donors all year about what your organization does, you’ve told them how they can help. So this time of year, don’t Thank them. Or Report to them. It might feel counterintuitive, but our testing showed that Thanking and Reporting this time of year will cause you to raise less money than you could. Follow the advice below and just Ask well!

# 3: Emphasize the deadline

A deadline communicates urgency. December 31 is a natural deadline — for the tax year and for your organization. Tell donors your deadline and repeat it multiple times in your messages.

# 4: Set a goal

How much do you want or need to raise? What would it take for you to meet your budget? Feed everyone you want to feed by year-end? Shelter abandoned pets through the end of the year? Overcome a financial shortfall? Tell your donors the goal.

We need to raise $XX,XXX by midnight, December 31.

# 5: Communicate consequences

What will happen if you don’t meet the goal? Connect the donor right to the heart of your work.

We need to raise $XX,XXX by midnight, December 31 or we will have to cut back on the number of pets in our shelter in the coming year.


We need to raise $XX,XXX by midnight, December 31 or we will not be able to advocate for the arts as effectively next year.

Whatever your organization does, if having less money means you would be able to do less next year, say so!

Most important tip? Start now!

The 1 Thing to Know for Year-End Fundraising

The reason your organization raises so much money at year-end has little to do with your organization.

But it has a LOT to do with your donors.

Please, let me tell you how you can use this information to help your donors give even more. This is a big idea.

People aren’t more generous in November and December because they suddenly wake up and want to help nonprofits. Your donors are more generous because this is time of year they celebrate thankfulness and generosity. This is when they celebrate the gifts they’ve been given (personally, financially, spiritually), and focus on the things that matter most to them.

A natural outcome of your donors’ celebrations — and of thinking more about what they care about — makes them more likely to give gifts. They put their money where their heart is.

Here’s why I’m telling you this . . .

Focus your message at year-end on what your donors care about and you’ll raise more money.

But most nonprofits don’t do this! Instead, they focus their messaging on the organization itself. They talk about what the organization did during the year. They talk about the programs of the organization.

Here’s a super-simple example of why focusing on what the donor cares about is so effective. Imagine you’re an arts organization. Here’s what your donors care about, in order of importance:

  1. The arts
  2. Promoting and/or preserving the arts
  3. Organizations that promote or preserve the arts

Remember, the organizations that raise the most money tend to focus on what donors care about most.

So, this arts organization would focus their messaging on the arts themselves, and how the donor’s gift will promote or preserve them.

But most organizations write about themselves. They are focusing their messaging on the least important of the three things their donor cares about! Their letter will be all about what their organization is doing to promote and preserve the arts. Then they’ll ask the donor to “support the organization” or to “help us continue this good work.”

Here’s what works far better: talking less about the organization, and asking the donor to ‘support the arts.’

In practice, this means making your year-end letters, emails and website features more about your cause and your beneficiaries than about your organization.

I know this works. Our clients usually see their biggest gains working with us at year-end, mostly because we help them communicate more about what their donors care more about! We even sell samples of year-end appeal letters that are proven to work – and if you look at the samples you’ll notice that they talk very little about the organization that sent the letter. They talk to the donor about the cause or the beneficiaries, and about how the donor can help.

So this year more than ever, make your donor communications about what your donors care about most!

How you can use the 80/20 rule to raise more money

80/20 rule

At Better Fundraising we see a LOT of examples of the 80/20 principle in fundraising. 

Shoot, they even use an example from fundraising as the graphic on the Wikipedia page!  (A great summary of the 80/20 principle is to say that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.)

A couple of common examples:

  • 80% of a company’s sales usually come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a country’s land is often owned by 20% of its people

What follows are three examples of this principle in fundraising, along with how you can use them to raise more money for your organization.

The 80/20 Rule in Major Donor Fundraising

About 80% of your individual donor revenue will come from 20% of those donors.  (And in recent years it’s been closer to 90% of revenue coming from 10% of donors).

The organizations that make the most of this reality (especially this year) are the ones who intentionally prioritize those donors with how they spend their fundraising time and budget. 

The 80/20 Rule in Direct Mail

If you look at eye-tracking studies, you’ll notice donors only read about 20% of appeals or newsletters. 

To be great at raising money through the mail, you need to know what portions of your letters or newsletters are most likely to be read.  Then you put the content that’s most likely to drive action in those locations.

The 80/20 Rule for Small Shops

For organizations that only send out a couple of fundraising pieces a year, 20% of their communications typically raise 80% of their individual donations.

In our experience, those organizations can always raise more money immediately.  All they must do is isolate the types of communications that raise the most money, send out more of those, and send out fewer of the type that raise less money.

That’s such a radically simple idea that most small shops believe it can’t be true.  But it IS true.  We’ve done it so many times I can give three examples off the top of my head:

  • Annual reports
  • Most e-news
  • Appeals that are general calls for support

We cancelled those by the bushel and never – not once – saw a drop in revenue. 

The Double Benefit

Here’s the great thing about applying the 80/20 rule: you get a double benefit.  You save the time and money from not doing an inefficient activity.  And you get that time and money to do more of an efficient activity.

The Questions for You

Look at your organization’s fundraising activities.  What activities don’t produce measurable results, and you should cancel them?

What activities drive the most revenue, so you should do more of those with your freed-up time and budget?

In your mailed communications, are you putting the most important content in the 20% of your letter your donors are likely to read?  

Savvy organizations are constantly measuring their fundraising results, so they know what should be jettisoned and what should be done more often.  Because there’s always a way to raise more by doing less.

This post was originally published on September 29, 2020.

Top 5 Appeal Tips

Top 5 Appeal Tips.

I’ve reviewed a LOT of appeal letters.

Recently someone thought to ask, “What’s the advice you give most often?”

What a great question! I immediately wanted to know because it seemed like the top 5 pieces of feedback would make a great “checklist” to share with organizations who want their appeals to raise more money. So we did the research.

From hundreds of reviews, here are the Top 5 pieces of advice I give most often when reviewing an appeal or e-appeal…

#5 – Avoid using pronouns in underlined or bolded copy

The main reason to highlight specific sentences and sentence fragments in appeals is to pre-select what you want most people to read.

Here’s what I mean by “pre-select.” Most people will scan, not read, an appeal letter. As they scan, their eyes are most likely to stop on emphasized copy. So by bolding and underlining, you are in effect choosing for the scanner the parts of your appeal they are more likely to read.

And if you’re going to take the time to choose a sentence for a person to read, make sure they can understand that sentence without having read the rest of the letter. Which brings us to underlining pronouns and why not to do it.

If you underline a sentence that reads, “He needs it today” the person scanning your letter does not know who “he” is and doesn’t know what “it” is. The person’s limited attention has just been taken by something they can’t understand. Not good.

Whatever you highlight in your letter should be able to be easily understood without the context provided by the rest of the letter. It needs to make sense if it’s the only thing the person reads.

#4 – Ask donors to help one beneficiary, not to help all the beneficiaries

Appeals and e-appeals tend to work better when the donor is asked to help one person – one beneficiary – instead of asked to help all the beneficiaries.

To give you an example, a foundation that supports a hospital would likely write, “Your gift today will help cancer patients.” But the appeal or e-appeal would raise more money if the ask was, “Your gift today will help a cancer patient.”

Why? Because when a donor is asked to help just one beneficiary, it’s easier for her to say “yes” then when she’s asked to help an unknown, larger number of beneficiaries.

Additionally, it’s more believable. Say I’m a $1,000 donor to an organization that helps kids. Do I really believe them when they say, “Your gift will help all the children we serve”? I know the organization helps thousands of children, and I’m pretty sure my gift isn’t going to help all of them.

There’s a rule I have in mind as I create or review any piece of fundraising: I need to convince the donor to help one person before they will be interested in helping more than one person.

#3 – Include no more than 1 or 2 numbers in an appeal

Most numbers in appeals need context and thought before the donor recognizes why those numbers are important.

But because most donors don’t have the context, and are unlikely to put in the thought, the numbers become a part of the appeal that the donor doesn’t really understand.

Think about that for a second; the organization is using numbers to establish credibility and expertise… but is pushing donors away. The numbers have the opposite effect than the organization intends.

The numbers can be GREAT for Foundations, Partner organizations, Government grants, etc. But not for mass donor appeal letters and e-appeals.

And of course there are some numbers that are good to have in your appeals – you can read about those here.

#2 – Avoid “we” and “our” language

Your fundraising appeals and e-appeals should sound as if they were written by one person, for one person.

It should not sound as if an organization is writing a donor. It should sound as if a person is writing a donor.

Are there times with the editorial “we” makes sense? Sure. Some parts of annual reports come to mind. Your website. Blog posts, too.

But in your direct response fundraising, sounding 1-to1 is the way to go.

#1 – The only good news in an appeal should be that the donor’s gift today will help

Here’s something we see again and again – it’s like clockwork.

We’ll start working with an organization. Their previous approach to appeals was to “share a story of something they’ve already done, then ask the donor to do more of that thing.”

We change their approach to appeals that “share what’s needed today and how the donor can help.”

Their appeals begin to raise more money immediately.

Note: you should absolutely share past successes. That’s how your donors see that their gift to your organization was a good decision. But share the successes in separate publications; your newsletters, your blog posts, stories on your website, in e-stories, and your annual report.

Focus your appeals on something the donor cares about but that needs help, and the fantastic news that she can make a difference with her gift today.

This is hard because it’s counter-intuitive. But it works like crazy.

This post was originally published on October 19, 2021.

Fundraising Assets > Fundraising Art Projects


There’s a question you should ask about every piece of fundraising communication your organization makes:

“How and when, with as little work as possible, could we use this again?”

That’s what the savvy fundraising organizations are doing. For instance:

  • This year’s Fiscal Year End letter looks and reads almost exactly the same as last year’s Fiscal Year End letter.
  • This year’s event script follows the exact same flow and timing as last year’s event script.
  • This year’s Back to School e-appeal uses the exact same offer and copy as last year, only the story has been updated.

When you start doing this, you and your organization benefit.

You benefit because you can get things done faster. It’s a LOT easier to update last year’s successful appeal than it is to make a whole new one.

Your organization benefits because you tend to raise more money this way. Why? Because you start paying really close attention to what works and what doesn’t. And you end up doing more of what works. Which raises you more money.

True Story

We work with several organizations that mail their donors about 10 appeals per year.

On average, 7 of the 10 appeals are updated versions of the same mailing sent the year before. Same for the email versions of those impacts.

Think about how much time that saves them!

There’s another benefit – it makes their income much more predictable. For instance, say last year’s successful February appeal raised $50k. If you mail the same thing again next February, you can count on raising about $50k or more. But if you create a whole new piece from scratch, you might raise $50k, you might raise $25k. Which scenario would you prefer?

For Comparison…

Most organizations approach each piece of fundraising as an Art Project:

  1. They assume this year’s letter needs to be different than last year.
  2. They assume they need to say things differently than they’ve been said before.
  3. If something worked last year (or last month!) it’s assumed that it won’t work again.

Based on those assumptions, they create something new and different each time.

Which is unfortunate because all of those assumptions are incorrect.

Those assumptions lead to what we call “art projects” – unique pieces of fundraising that take more work to create and tend not to repeat the successes of the past.

At a nonprofit, where time and money are often scarce, why would you choose to take that approach?

So, What Assets Do You Already Have?

That’s a question you should ask yourself immediately. Especially since we’re entering the busy fundraising season!

As you think about your fall – what fundraising assets do you have from this spring, from last year, or from three years ago that you could simply update and use?

Because if that piece of fundraising worked, you know your donors liked it.

And I have 30 years of experience that says if your donors liked something once, they’ll like it again.

It will save you time.

And I promise – no donor is going to contact you and say, “Hey! Wait a minute. This letter/email is just like that one you sent 7 months ago!”

It just doesn’t happen.

So go find an asset you’ve created. Use it this fall to save yourself some time. and raise a bunch of money.

And for any fundraising you create in the future, always ask yourself how and when it can be used again.

This post was originally published on September 3, 2019.

Lessons from 30 Year-End Fundraising Seasons

Lessons from 25 Year-End Fundraising Seasons

This year will be my 30th year-end fundraising season. (In related news, I have a lot of grey hair.)

That means I’ve been a part of about 300 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.

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 next year 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!

This post was originally published on November 13, 2017.

Messaging Mishaps

What not to do.

There’s a difference between the messages most organizations want to send, and the messages that make donors want to give.

This is a Big Idea for organizations who want to grow their fundraising programs. Let me explain…

Most organizations have a way they like to talk about their organization and their work. They create this “way of talking about the organization” by having staff and core stakeholders come together and talk about why they think the organization is so effective and why its work is meaningful. And they talk about why they think people should give gifts.

Those ideas come together to form an organization’s messaging. And in some cases, those ideas are codified into a brand.

There are two important things to note here, and I believe they are the cause of most of the ineffective fundraising that’s out in the world.

First, note that the organization likes this messaging. Remember, the messaging is made up of the reasons staff and stakeholders think the organization is effective & meaningful. The “reasons for support” are the reasons those staff and stakeholders believe are the most important. The organization is sharing the reasons the staff and stakeholders think the donor should give a gift.

Second, most individual donors are markedly different from staff and stakeholders. The vast majority of individual donors – especially if an organization wants to scale past a few hundred donors – know less and care about different things than staff and stakeholders do.

Here’s a thought exercise for you…

If an organization sends out fundraising with messages that would motivate staff and stakeholders to give… but the people who receive the messages know less and care about different things than the staff and stakeholders… how well do you think the fundraising is going to work?

Not very.

The Leap

What happens for organizations that make “the leap” to the next level of fundraising success is that they start making their fundraising more other-centered.

The organization sets aside what staff and stakeholders like about their organization. They set aside why staff and stakeholders think people should support them.

The organization then does the hard work to figure out what donors tend to support. The organization does the hard work to figure out the messaging that causes regular people to respond.

So, are your appeals sending the messages your organization likes sharing? Or, are you sending or the messages that you’ve figured out are more likely to get a response? Because the messages an organization wants to send aren’t likely to be the messages that are most effective at causing individual donors to give.


If you’d like help creating and sending fundraising messages so that your organization makes “the leap” to your next level, get in touch. We stop taking new customers around the end of October because there’s so much to do for year-end, so if you’re interested, I’d encourage you to fill out this form for a free conversation.

Three Rules For ‘We’


I read an appeal recently where the first sentence was:

“We’re facing a crisis.”

Think about that sentence with me for a moment. Who does the “we” refer to?

As far as I can tell, the possibilities for the “we” are:

  • The organization itself.
  • The writer and the reader.
  • Everyone on the planet.
  • Everyone who cares about the issue the organization works on.
  • Everyone in the city/region where the organization is based.

For now, let’s set aside how important first sentences are and how it’s not ideal to start an appeal with a sentence with multiple meanings.

Instead, let’s focus on that “we”…

The next time you read a piece of fundraising, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll see a “we” that could refer to at least a couple of groups. I make this error in my own first drafts all the time.

Over time I’ve developed three questions that I ask myself when I see the word “we” (and its close cousin, “us”). These questions are an easy way to make your fundraising writing to individual donors more clear and more impactful.

Can I make it abundantly clear who the “we” refers to?

This results in changes like this:

  • From “We care about the…” to “The staff and I care about the…”
  • From “We need to save the wetland…” to “Everyone who lives in this watershed needs to save the wetland…”

Fundraising that’s crazy easy to understand lowers the cognitive load on the reader. That keeps more people reading, and results in more money being raised. Clarity is good.

You get it. And speaking of “you”…

Can I directly include the donor?

This results in changes like this:

  • From “Together, we can…” to “Together, you and I can…”
  • From “We don’t want to cut back…” to “You and I don’t want to cut back…”

Directly including the donor with the word “you” gets them more emotionally involved, which increases the likelihood of them giving a gift.

And finally…

Can I remove the organization entirely?

Two examples for you:

  • From “We need your help more than ever…” to “Your help is needed more than ever…”
  • From “A gift today helps us make transformations like this possible.” to “A gift today makes transformations like this possible.”

Focusing the donor’s attention on their role, as opposed to the organization’s role, is a surefire way to keep individual donors more engaged in direct mail and email.

Any time you see the word “we” or “us,” ask yourself these three questions. You’ll make your writing more relevant to your readers, which is key to raising more from your readers.

The Regular Kind, or ‘How to Break Through the Noise’

There’s a “regular” kind of fundraising.

You’ve seen it before:

  1. Letters and emails that begin with a thank you, then tell a story of something good that the organization has already done, then a request for support that’s not particularly strong.
  2. The details of what the donor’s gift will help accomplish are often hidden behind abstractions like “you’ll deliver hope” or “please help their dreams come true.”

This “regular” kind of fundraising works OK when there are a lot of people are interested in your cause. Think top-ten subjects like hospitals, cancer, feeding children, higher education, you get it.

But if fewer people are interested in or affected by your cause, “regular” fundraising just doesn’t work that well.

In that situation, if you want to break through, your fundraising must be better. Sharper. Bolder. Clearer.

You’re going to have to make fundraising that leads, fundraising that’s different from the “regular way.”

Here are two pieces of advice to help you create fundraising that breaks through the noise and makes people care more about what you do.

#1 – Figure Out What It Is About Your Cause That Makes People Emotional

Notice I said your cause, not the specifics of your work. What is it about the underlying need for the work you do that makes people emotional? Talk about that when you’re asking for support.

To illustrate, I know of a Men’s Choir that figured this out. They used to do their fundraising the “regular way.” They highlighted how good their singers were, how technical their arrangements were, how impressive they sounded.

They raised a regular amount of money.

But their fundraising took off when they started talking to their donors’ emotions about the music. Turned out that many donors got emotional about preserving and sharing old songs. Other donors got emotional because the music reminded them of their parents.

Can you feel the difference between “Your gift will make the choir’s impressive sound possible” and “Your gift will preserve your musical heritage, and you’ll hear music that will take you right back to listening to it with your parents”?

#2 – Talk About the Consequences of Your Work

What’s the change your work causes that makes people emotional?

When you’re Reporting back to donors on what their gift accomplished, talk about that change. Not about your organization itself, or about what your organization does to make the change.

Your donors care more about the change than they care about how you make it.

When you Report back to donors and share stories that illustrate the change they’ve helped make, your donors will be thrilled they gave and more likely to give again.


The “regular way” doesn’t work very well for small nonprofits.

If few people care about your cause or issue, does it make sense to spend your fundraising talking about the details of your programs? (Think about it – do you want to hear the details about a subject you’re not interested in?)

Instead, find out what makes your current donors emotional about your issue or cause. Get good at talking about that, and you’ll raise more money.

And you’ll have the added benefit of being more attractive to potential donors. Why? Because many of your potential donors have those same emotions that you’ll be talking about. This enables your conversations with potential donors to start on common ground. And that’s a much more inviting place for a donor than having to hear about the details of your programs.

It’s the difference between a potential donor receiving your fundraising and thinking, “I don’t really care about that” and them thinking, “huh, that’s more powerful than I realized.”