3 ways to maximize your year-end fundraising letters

The most successful year-end fundraising campaigns all share some key features. They use tested, proven strategies that win year after year. And year after year, organizations just update the letters and send them out again.

That’s right.

They send the same message year after year. And get a fantastic response, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars!

You can get the same fantastic response by taking the three tips below to heart.

Tip 1: Ask boldly. Ask often.

Don’t wait until the end of your letter to ask the donor to give. Try asking in at least five or six places throughout. It helps to be specific and concrete when you ask a donor to give. Remind them that the people or cause you serve need help. Tell them what will happen if the money isn’t raised, and the specific impact their donation will have.

Tip 2: Talk about the people who need help, not your organization.

It’s a common mistake to make your organization the hero of your story. It’s also a big one. Your donor should be the hero of the story. Use your letter to explain how the donor can directly make an impact, not how they can help your organization make an impact.

Tip 3: Create urgency, include a deadline and a goal.

Year-end is a natural deadline to highlight in your letter, especially since December 31 is also the deadline for federal charitable tax deductions. Repeat the “midnight, December 31” deadline throughout your letter, on the OE, and the response device. Remember to always pair it with a clear monetary goal.

Get proven year-end fundraising letter samples

Would you like to see some real letters that used the principles above — and brought in more and bigger donations at year-end? And what if we said you could steal from these letters to create your own letter to your own donors?

You can get these samples — and see why they worked, as well as get in-depth instructions on how to use them to create your own successful year-end appeals — for just $129. That’s just $129 to raise thousands more!

We want you to raise more money for your great cause.

Better than a class

Buying these proven samples is better than a fundraising class or conference. With those, you spend anywhere from $150-$500, lose a day of work, and maybe learn something. Hopefully you’re a better fundraiser than you were before.

With these samples you’ll spend $129, upgrade your entire year-end fundraising, and raise thousands more dollars while spending less time doing it. This is a “the best money we’ve ever spent” kind of opportunity.

“Remind, Don’t Persuade”

A tree whose leaves have turned orange and red is in a field of golden grass

When I said it, everybody in the room wrote it down.

That’s generally how I know I’ve said something helpful. Here’s what it was:

“At the end of the year your job is to remind, not persuade.”

Here’s why I said that. We’ve done a lot of year-end campaigns for a lot of organizations. We analyze the results of every single one.

When you look at them as a whole a pattern emerges. The successful campaigns? They aren’t beautiful writing that would make Shakespeare weep. They aren’t powerful case statements or success stories.

Here’s what the best campaigns tend to do:

  1. Remind donors of the problem that your organization exists to help solve
  2. Ask them to give a gift before the end of the year to help solve that problem

That’s it. You’re going to want to talk a lot of other things. And that’s fine — as long as the main messages you send — the first things your donors see and read — are the Need and your Ask for a gift.

You see, you don’t have time to persuade. In November and December, your donors are moving FAST. Your donors love it when your organization is clear about what you want the donor to do and how their gift will help. Because your donor is also getting a lot of other mail — mail that spends three paragraphs talking about the color of the leaves this time of year, or how excellent the year has been, or telling a story that makes it sound like they’ve already helped everyone.

The time for Thanking and Reporting to your donors for their previous gifts? That was before. Make sure you’ve done that by mid-November. Year-end is a time for Asking.

In our tests, year-end fundraising that spent significant time Thanking or Reporting raised less money

This is not just theory. This whole post is an attempt to explain testing results!

It may be hard. It may be counter-intuitive. (And it’s especially hard for smaller organizations that don’t communicate with their donors more than a couple times a year).

But trust me. The job of your fundraising from mid-November on is to remind your donor to send in a gift, not to persuade them. Just Ask. Ask Boldly. Ask without fear. Ask knowing that your donors love your cause and your organization’s role in helping them make the world a better place!

1/3 of Your Annual Donations Are at Stake This Year-End — Do You Have a Plan?

Ask ?

When a third of your annual donations are at stake, you must make sure your donors receive the right message at the right time — and in the right way.

Come mid-November, you’ll find yourself in this exact situation.

So … do you have a great plan?

Introducing Your GREAT Year-End Fundraising Calendar

We’ve worked with and talked to hundreds of nonprofit leaders like you. Most of them don’t know exactly what to do and when to do it to make the most of their year-end. So, we developed a calendar.

Your Best-Ever Year-End Fundraising Calendar shows you the days, times and places you need to communicate with donors at year-end.  You’ll know exactly when to mail letters, send emails, update your website, and post on Facebook!

The guesswork is gone!

Vision House Raised 22% More Than They’d Ever Raised Before

Last year, we used the calendar with Vision House, a client that serves homeless families in the Seattle area. They needed to raise a significant amount of money last December. Together, we reviewed their planned list of November and December donor communications against our suggested calendar.

We discovered they were missing out on key opportunities:

  1. There was space in their calendar for another print appeal
  2. They needed to do more communication online

We added a timely print appeal and three emails to the end of December. And the results were powerful — a 22% lift over their previous best year-end!

How much more would you raise with a 22% increase in revenue?  Would spending $100 to achieve that be a good investment?

Raise More Money at Year-End — Just Like Vision House

You can run the most successful year-end campaign you’ve had yet – in half the time and with far less stress.

But you need to get started right away.

Get your Year-End Fundraising Calendar now!

Hidden Pitfalls: Not Following Up on a Pledge

Is your organization good at following up on pledges from donors?

In my experience, most organizations aren’t. And it’s especially apparent with major donor pledges.

The lack of follow-up usually comes from fears around ‘bothering’ or ‘badgering’ the donor. People fear they will ‘drive the donor away’ or ’cause a problem in the relationship’ — especially when the donor is a major donor or a board member.

And only one person needs to voice these fears and they spread like wildfire.

But these fears are mostly unfounded and do far more damage than you think.

When follow-up on a donor pledge is absent or insufficient, here’s what that communicates to the donor:

It says that the donor’s gift isn’t important.

Because if their gift was important – if it really mattered – the organization would be in touch with the donor early and often. It would be telling them how important that gift is. The organization would actively be trying to get the gift!

It says that the donor herself isn’t important.

Donors know that other people are giving to your organization. They imagine that you’re out having wonderful lunches with the big donors, happily giving and receiving, making the world a better place and enjoying it while you do. So when a donor isn’t followed up with, they feel like they must not be important enough to get the good treatment.

It says that your organization doesn’t have its act together.

The donor knows you have to pay bills, pay salaries, and use money to help the people who need help. When a donor makes a pledge and doesn’t hear enough about it, it feels to her like your organization must not track money very well. It makes her wonder what happened to the other donors who made pledges. And if you’re really raising as much money and helping as many people as you say you are.

The donor doesn’t feel like their gift makes a difference.

The most important one. If a donor doesn’t hear directly and often about her pledge, she wonders if her pledge was really going to make a difference. Because if it was really going to make a difference – if it was really needed – wouldn’t the organization have gotten in touch with her? Maybe her gifts don’t make that much of a difference after all . . .

Makes you want to do a good job following up with the pledges you receive, doesn’t it? Here’s a quick list for how to do that well:

  1. Always have a deadline. Deadlines are amazing at causing action to happen – both on your part and on your donor’s part!
  2. Communicate with your donor(s) early and often about their pledge. I recommend 3 times: once immediately after the pledge, once about halfway from the pledge to the deadline, and once a month before the deadline.
  3. In your communications, mention that their gift is important, that it matters, and that it will make a difference. You want your donor to know that her gift matters and that it is needed.
  4. Be sure to mention that you understand if circumstances change and they can’t give the amount they pledged or fulfill their pledge by the deadline. You want to give your donors an honorable way out.

Think of the whole thing as a ‘kind business process’ that’s honoring to your donors and honoring to your cause or beneficiaries. Don’t let fear get in the way of loving follow-ups! If you do, you’ll lose revenue and harm relationships with donors.

5 tips for a successful year-end fundraising campaign – and the one tool to rule them all

Ask ?

We know staring at December on the calendar can make your palms sweaty. It puts a lot of pressure on you.

We’ve been in your shoes many, many times. And…

You don’t have to do your planning alone

First, here are 5 tips for you to focus on. Then when you’re done here, go Get Your Best Ever Year-End Fundraising Calendar. Take advantage of years of experience and testing, and use the calendar to know what to do and when to do it.

Five tips to help you plan

Tip 1: Choose a goal
You want to know how much you need to raise so that you can build a plan to reach your goal.

Tip 2: Communicate to your donors multiple ways
Direct mail is still the number one way to raise money at year-end — but email, your website and social are raising more and more!

Tip 3: Think about all of your donor communications as a single combined campaign
Make sure you’re communicating the same message, modified to fit each channel, whether it’s a Facebook post or a letter in the mail.

Tip 4: Ask early & often
Some people give early, some give later, and some take multiple reminders before they give. Start early, and repetition is your friend!

Tip 5: Do a lot at the end of the year
There’s a HUGE surge in giving after Christmas. Be sure you’re in front of your donors multiple times between Christmas and New Years.

Next, get our Best Ever Year-End Fundraising Calendar (and our other year-end products) to help you rock your Year-End fundraising! You’ll exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to say it!

Get Your Best Ever Year-End Fundraising Calendar now

Don’t re-invent the wheel!

Year-end is fundraising prime time

Most nonprofits receive 1/3 of their annual donations just in the last few weeks of December!

No pressure … but that means there’s significant amount of funding riding on your year-end campaign!

Year-end fundraising is critical! But here’s some great news…

You now have access to the 4 tools that will give you everything you need to run your best year-end fundraising campaign ever.

It’s practically stress-free!

We’ve compiled decades of creative, tested, successful fundraising into tools you can use right now for success.

You don’t have to spend thousands on a year-end campaign!

These fantastic products will help you make the most of the all-important year-end fundraising season. Each one is designed for you to start using right now – saving you time and money!

As the saying goes, Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Take a look:

  • Your Best Ever Year-End Fundraising Calendar
    Your complete plan for fundraising: everything you need to do at year-end for maximum results, as well as tips and tricks for each channel. It’s a blueprint you can follow for proven success! $99
  • Successful Year-End Fundraising Letter Samples
    Save time by following a guaranteed formula for success. Borrow what you want from these sample letters that are proven winners year after year. $129
  • Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit
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  • Major Donor Year-End Fundraising Webinar: The System To Maximize Relationships & Revenue
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How to 8x Your Appeal Results

A client of ours was thrilled with the first appeal we did for them; it raised 8 times more than the appeal letter they sent to their donors the previous month.

Both letters were sent to the same group of donors, during the summer, roughly a month apart. (And there weren’t any results-skewing shenanigans like ‘we added a matching grant’ or ‘the second appeal went only to Major Donors.’)

There was much rejoicing! But at first they thought it was some kind of fundraising magic. So we showed them that the appeal just followed a proven formula that works for all different kinds and sizes of nonprofits.

We’re not talking big numbers here; their previous appeal raised $2,157. Our appeal raised $18,095. I mention this because even the smallest organizations can use the storytelling and fundraising principles I’m about to show you to raise a lot more money!

Here’s a part of the appeal letter this nonprofit sent just before working with us:

“When Sara and her two children moved from Florida to Washington, the last thing she expected to be was homeless.

Sara was excited about a new job opportunity in Seattle, but the job fell through and suddenly she was living out of her car. Her children, 5-year-old Jasmin and 12-year-old Luke, were devastated. Sara, Luke, and Jasmin wondered about things like; where would their next meal come from, would they ever have a roof over their head again, and how could they excel in school? Sara discovered Acres of Diamonds and made the difficult call to ask for help. Acres welcomed her warmly, and now this family resides at Acres getting help to rebuild their lives. Sara’s children suffered emotionally while living in their car, especially Jasmin. When she arrived at Acres, she was withdrawn and sad. Now that she has a place to call home, Jasmin is a vibrant kindergartner who looks forward to school and can be seen with a smile on her face. Luke is getting the support he needs to be successful in 7th grade. Through prayer and effort, Sara now has a job to provide for her family. Over time, Acres of Diamonds will support Sara and her children through The Path to Graduation programs. They will transition to independent living because of the generous support from people like you.

Will you help us continue this important work with families like Jasmin’s? Simply return the enclosed card…”

There are a couple things I want you to notice:

  • The family in the letter has already been helped. To repeat: they don’t need help. The ‘problem’ is already solved.
  • In the overall story this organization is telling in this letter, the donor doesn’t have an interesting, powerful role to play. All the donor can do is “continue this important work”
  • If the donor were to give a gift, they don’t know what sized gift will make a real difference – something that is very important for donors to know.

That is not a compelling fundraising letter and the results prove it. This letter falls into one of the most common fundraising letter traps.

Now look at the next letter this nonprofit sent to their donors, with our help:

“I have some urgent news to share with you.

Just a few days ago my phone rang and I received word that another mom and her 3 kids were in desperate need of help. Julianne had just fled her abuser. She was able to escape with her 3 kids in tow. But she had no place to go.

Stories like this one are all too common here at Acres. The need for more stable housing and resources to help homeless moms and kids is at an all-time high.

Our resources are thin right now and I could sure use your help. Homelessness does not take a summer vacation!

Your $35 gift secures a night of safety for one child or one mom.

Can I count on you to provide 1 night, 3 nights, maybe 5 nights of safety? Every night matters and brings a mom and her kids one step closer to feeling safe.”

Compare that letter to the first letter. See how there is:

  1. A problem to be solved — people that need help today!
  2. A specific way the donor’s gift will help, and a specific amount to do it.
  3. A clear way the donor can be the hero by sending in a gift today.

For your next appeal, whether it’s a mailed appeal letter, an e-appeal or an event, I encourage you to try this approach. You can be confident that it’s going to work; this is a proven, market-tested way of asking donors for support that works again and again.

And if you’d like to find out more, download our free eBook, Storytelling for ACTION. You’ll learn the three things nobody told you about using stories to raise money — including the two best types of stories and when to tell them.

Over-Communicate and Don’t Be Late!

A white, analog alarm clock sits on a white table with a white background

A couple of years ago we were part of a fundraising disaster for one of our clients:

  • Their Thanksgiving appeal letter raised only $31,000. It had raised $47,000 the previous year.
  • Then their Christmas letter raised just $17,000. It had raised $41,000 the previous year.

OUCH.

The reason why they raised so much less was really simple: both letters mailed late. Really late.

Through an unholy combination of a new working relationship, a project management snafu and unanswered emails, the Thanksgiving letter mailed 6 days before Thanksgiving. The Christmas letter mailed just 4 days before Christmas.

The effect on fundraising was devastating. (The effect on our relationship with the organization was also devastating. But I’m happy to say that they are still a client today; everyone fails sooner or later, but it’s often how you respond after failure that builds or breaks relationships.)

Why am I telling you this? Because the whole incident reminded me of a core principle for successful fundraising during the last few weeks of the year:

— Over communicate and don’t be late —

Your donors are so busy. And they support so many worthy causes. They love giving to you, but your chances of getting a year-end gift plummet if you don’t communicate with them often enough during the last few weeks of the year.

All your work — all year long — comes to fruition during the last few weeks of the year. Make sure you have a plan that gets your year-end Ask in front of your donors in time (and often enough) — and a production schedule to make sure you aren’t late and miss important days during the most important time of the year!

P.S. – Year-end fundraising is the easiest time to raise more money than you expect. We’re about to launch a set of products expressly created to help you raise more money in November and December. Ever wanted samples of really successful year-end letters and online fundraising? Or a calendar that tells you exactly when to send your letters, your emails, and update your website at year-end? Watch this space in the next couple of weeks!

​Improve Your Fall Fundraising the charity: water Way

Had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water for the Fundraising Is Beautiful podcast.

There’s a TON of tips you can use to improve your fall fundraising results! You’ll hear Scott talk about:

  • How important immediacy is
  • How to take your donors on a journey with every piece of donor communications
  • How charity: water “productizes” what they do to make it easy for donors to understand and then do something meaningful with each gift
  • How he’s comfortable sharing bad news with donors, and why that ultimately helps his organization.

I really encourage you to go take a listen. (And even subscribe!) I’m a better fundraiser for having listened to Scott, and you will be too! Here’s the link.