Here are 3 Simple Steps to Avoid a Year-End Appeal Disaster

We’re now in the fourth quarter of the calendar year. It’s that special time of year when most charitable giving happens. That’s due, in part, to the fact that charities are out in force soliciting contributions as the year nears a close.

While there are many things you can and should do, I’m going to keep it easy. I’m going to give you three simple steps (and a bunch of useful tips) that will help you avoid a year-end appeal disaster:

Step 1 – Make a Year-End Appeal: You should test doing a beginning-of-the-year appeal in January/February since tax-avoidance is less of an issue for more people under the new tax code (see my post about this by clicking here). However, the fourth-quarter season-of-giving certainly remains the traditional time to ask for support. So, unless you have data for your organization that suggests otherwise, make sure you have a year-end appeal. The surest way to have a disastrous year-end fundraising appeal is not to have one.

As you plan your appeal, be sure to segment your prospect file. Treating your prospects as one homogeneous group may make your job easier, but it won’t help you keep your job. You’ll achieve much better results if you segment your prospect pool and target each segment with a tailored appeal.

For example, your message to existing donors will be different from your message to acquisition prospects. For starters, you’ll want to thank existing donors for their support before asking for another gift. Other segments might include monthly donors (You do have a monthly-donor program, right?), volunteers, past service recipients, event participants, etc.

In addition to tailoring your message to each segment, be sure to customize the ask. It’s inappropriate to ask an acquisition prospect for $1,000. Conversely, it’s also inappropriate to ask a $500 donor for $50. Just as bad, it’s a horrible mistake to not ask for a specific dollar amount or not to ask at all.

Step 2 – Have a Solid Case for Support: If you want people to give money to your organization, you need to make a compelling case for support. This is particularly true at this time of year when virtually every other nonprofit organization is out there looking for donations, too. Why should people respond to your direct-mail appeal (or phone solicitation, or face-to-face ask, etc.) instead of the appeal from another organization, perhaps one with a similar mission to yours? Address that question, and you’ll have greater success.

A strong case for support is particularly important when appealing to folks who have already contributed this year. They’ll want to know how you spent their money, the impact they have already had, and why you need more. Tell them those things, and you’ll increase the chance of getting another gift.

In addition to having a solid case for support, you’ll want to create some urgency. Why should people give to your organization now? If you’re the Salvation Army, people automatically get why you’re asking around holiday time. For pretty much any other organization, you’ll have to give prospects a good reason. And if that reason magnifies the impact that the donor’s gift will have, so much the better.

For example, you can have a challenge grant that matches all gifts received through the end of the year. Or, you could have the cost of your appeal underwritten by a major donor so you can legitimately tell prospective donors that 100 percent of their contributions to the appeal will go toward mission fulfillment. Both of these ideas will create urgency while magnifying the impact your donors can have.

Step 3 – Have a Stewardship Plan: In the nonprofit sector, donor retention is abysmal. Most donors who come in through the front door, leave out the back door shortly after the gift has been processed. If you don’t have a proper stewardship plan in place, you’re just like a mouse running on a wheel and not getting anywhere.

Make sure to thank all donors quickly and properly. Just sending a receipt doesn’t cut it. Sending a thank-you letter that is really just another fundraising solicitation in weak disguise doesn’t cut it, either.

Instead, send a letter that thanks the donor for making a difference. Let them know how important they are and how their money will be used. When donors make gifts, they feel happy in the moment; they feel like they’re doing something good, something that will make their community or the world just a bit better. But, that feeling quickly fades. Your job is to rekindle that feeling when you thank them.

Beyond the thank-you letter, you’ll want to have a plan for reporting to donors about how their gift is making a difference. You’ll also want to have a strategy for engaging donors throughout the year. That way, they’ll be more likely to renew and upgrade their support in the future.

Bonus Tips: Do not forget to ask older prospects and donors to consider making a gift from their Individual Retirement Accounts. Under the new tax code, the IRA Charitable Rollover remains a viable way for donors to give to their favorite charities.

Another tax benefit that remains with the new code is the ability to avoid capital gains tax by donating appreciated stocks. So, be sure to remind prospects of this and ask for such gifts. Make sure your website provides instructions for donors who are interested in making gifts of appreciated securities.

At the very end of the year, make sure that a live person, not a machine, is answering the phone in your office. People may have trouble making a last-minute gift on your website and need your assistance. Donors might want to call you to make a credit card gift. They may have questions about how to make a gift of stock. They might want to know the official name of the organization to put on a check. If you want people to give your organization money, make it easy for them. One way to do that is to have someone available to answer questions and address their concerns.

Right now, the economy is strong. GDP growth is robust. Consumer confidence is at its highest point in almost two decades. The unemployment rate is at nearly a two-decade low. Real estate values are up. The stock market remains in record territory. Wages are climbing.

In other words, the fundraising environment hasn’t been this good for a long time. So, don’t fall into the trap of injecting doom-and-gloom or, with special exceptions, politics into your appeal. Instead, focus on the opportunity to have a positive impact. Done the right way, your year-end fundraising appeal can successfully bring in the money your organization needs.

What proven or fresh ideas will you be using in your year-end fundraising efforts?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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One Comment to “Here are 3 Simple Steps to Avoid a Year-End Appeal Disaster”

  1. As always, sage advice from a … sage!

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