It's back-to-school time. And if you have kids - whether they're in kindergarten, starting college or somewhere in between - you make a plan for getting ready for that all-important first day.

What about your nonprofit? Are you getting ready for the most important time of your year? December can be make-or-break for your organization's annual budget.

Why? More than 30% of annual giving happens in December. And 11% of annual giving occurs on the last three days of the year.

If you haven't started planning your year-end fundraising campaign, now's the time to start. And here are a few ideas to get you going.


  1. Make a plan.

    First, set your top-line fundraising goal.

    Then, decide which channels you will use. (A direct mail appeal? A series of emails? Social media?) A multi-channel approach will be more successful than making a single ask.

    Lastly, make a calendar with activities, deadlines and names. And remember: a plan is only as good as those who set it through.


  2. Call your LYBUNTs.

    These are your donors who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This. (Not yet anyway.) When you call, you're not asking them to give again. Not yet.

    Just reach out and thank them for their previous support. If you like, you can let them know they'll be receiving information about this year's campaign soon. Close the call by thanking them (again) for their past support and saying you hope you can count on them again this year.

  3. Call your current donors.

    Thank-a-thons are a popular activity around Thanksgiving. Many nonprofits use the days before and immediately after the holiday to call donors and say "thank you" for giving.

    If you have board members who say, "I'll do anything but ask for money," ask them to help with your thank-a-thon. Nothing is easier than saying thank you.

    And if you find yourself with too many donors and not enough time (or not enough volunteers), who do you call? Conventional wisdom says start with your top donors.

    Instead, try starting with your first-time donors. Then move to your long-time donors. These donors will be surprised and delighted to hear from you. And it will improve donor retention.


  4. Use one call-to-action.

    For your year-end fundraising appeals, you want to give people one call-to-action: Give.

    Don't introduce topics like how to volunteer or how to sign up for the newsletter. There's a time and place for those messages. Your year-end appeal isn't it.

  5. Make it personal.

    Be sure your print and email appeals are addressed to a real person, not "Dear Friend" or "Dear Supporter."

    And, if your donor database allows you to, consider inserting last year's gift amount into your mail merge. That way, you can remind your donors what they gave last year (and even encourage them to give a little extra, if they're able).

  6. Be specific.

    Tell your donor exactly how her donation will help - ideally, how one person will benefit. And always share stories instead of spouting statistics. Numbers numb.

    For instance, 46.5 million Americans struggle with hunger. That's 1 in 7 people. (And a frightening statistic.) A single donor can't eliminate the problem - the problem's too big. However, one donor can make sure that Timmy and his family won't go to bed hungry tonight.

    Bonus points if you can tell your donors what different giving amounts will do. Habitat for Humanity does an amazing job at this, starting at $10 (buy a box of nails), with specific giving options up to $2,000.

  7. Create a sense of urgency.

    People tend to respond to a deadline, whether it's real or self-imposed. Deadlines require people to take action, and that's what you want. You want people to give. Now.

    Of course, that doesn't mean won't accept a gift if it comes in during January. At the same time, when you ask someone to make a gift by December 31, they'll be more inclined to do it simply because you gave them a deadline.

  8. Add a post script.

    Studies have found that donors often read the P.S. first - and sometimes it's the only thing they read.

    So, be sure to add a post script. It should restate your call-to-action, your deadline or another key message (like a matching gift).

  9. Write like you speak.

    Read your letter or email out loud. Is it conversational?

    Did you take out all the long-winded sentences? What about jargon and nonprofit-speak?

    (Did you know? The best nonprofit communications are written at or below a 6th grade level. It's called "reading ease," and you can test the grade level of your writing here.)

  10. Write to read, design to scan.

    When you're the one who's painstakingly and lovingly writing your nonprofit's annual appeal, you hope your donors will read every word. And some will. But most won't.

    Most donors will scan your letter to see if it's worth reading. They spend a few precious seconds looking at headings, pictures, captions and the post script.

    At first glance, they're not really reading. They're deciding if they want to read what you've sent.


  11. Allow donors to designate their gifts.

    Charitable gifts are a popular gift-giving option for holidays, birthdays, weddings and other milestones. By offering an honorarium or memorial option, you're giving your donors a way to recognize or remember someone while, at the same time, supporting your good cause.

    Also, if you have different programs, you might consider allowing donors to designate to a particular program. (With this information, you can send more targeted, more personalized appeals in the future.) And, if you include designation options on your remittance envelope or reply device, be sure to give a "wherever my gift is needed the most" option.


At a recent workshop, I shared the story of an American high jumper, Dick Fosbury, and his now-famous "Fosbury Flop." Fosbury's "flop" was actually a tremendous success, earning him the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics.

You need to be willing to experiment with new ways of doing things - just like Fosbury did - until you find the fundraising strategies and tactics that work best for you.

In the meantime, incorporate these tips in your year-end campaign and - like Dick Fosbury - you'll reach new heights.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay and FreeGraphicToday


Remember, there's more to grant writing than just "writing." Also remember, there's more to fundraising than just grants.

The success of your year-end fundraising campaign depends on donations from individuals. Create a plan to engage your current donors, and you'll reap the rewards.

Want more tips about year-end fundraising and writing great appeals?

Check out these 10 Year-End Giving Statistics Every Fundraiser Should Know

Sending snail mail? Here are 3 Tips for Improving Your Fundraising Appeal Letter

Sending email? Don't miss these 5 Tips To Writing Fundraising Email Appeals That Inspire Action

Third Sector Consulting helps nonprofits find more funders, win more grants, and raise more money.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.