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Don’t Overcomplicate Year-End Fundraising

December 11th, 2015 Posted in Annual Giving, Direct Mail, Fundraising

You’ve got a little less than a month left before the bells toll announcing the end of 2015. For most fundraisers, that’s a time for balancing efforts—to end the year strong in terms of income, to use up accrued vacation, to be cheerful at the company party and to keep up on work so 2016 fundraising doesn’t fizzle before Valentine’s Day.

Here are five ways to stay focused on what matters in these final days of 2015 while still having time for holiday cheer.

1. Set realistic goals for December. It’s better to do some things well than plan to do everything by Dec. 31—but never get anything executed. A good mailing on Dec. 11 beats a great mailing that never gets past the planning stage. Especially in a small shop, accept that you can’t do everything; instead, do something, but make sure it’s something that matters.

2. Review your year-end donor communications and make sure the focus is on the donor, not your organization. When I was being nosy, my dad used to say, “This isn’t to you, for you or about you.” Unfortunately, too much year-end fundraising isn’t to, for or about the donor. “We have had a good year. We did this and that. I am so proud of all we have accomplished.” Where’s the donor in that? The formula for success in fundraising is not “What we do + your money = success.” If the donor isn’t front and center in your fundraising messaging, rewrite it until he or she has the starring role.

3. Set aside anything that catches your eye—in the mail or online. You may not have time to digest these pieces now, but think of them as free training for later in 2016. These samples sometimes are called a “swap file” because you can swap ideas from them. Sometime in 2016 when you are creatively coming up dry, the subject line that you actually noticed in the midst of the holiday-email clutter or that envelope that stood out from the rest of the mail can trigger a great idea that gets your own creativity flowing. Two ideas for jump-starting or expanding your own swap file:

  • Donate to organizations you admire from a fundraising standpoint. Then watch what they are doing and when they are doing it. You can’t assume everything they do is “best practice,” but you can see how others treat and communicate with donors and learn from that.
  • Consider a holiday gift to yourself of a subscription to Who’s Mailing What!, the ultimate swap file, collected and categorized for you.

4. Call some large donors from earlier in the year who haven’t given in the last four to 11 months, thank them and give them a report on what their gifts did that made a difference. Don’t ask. Just thank and report. Then see if it makes a difference in their year-end giving. (Don’t wait until Dec. 30 to do this; you want to give them enough time to make a gift after they get over the shock of being thanked and receiving a verbal report on impact.)

5. Celebrate your success in 2015. Fundraising is a train that never ends (unless the organization goes out of business). You did some great things this year; I know you did! Don’t wait for someone else to point them out and thank you for your amazing efforts. Look back at your favorite mailing and the one that raised the most (not always the same). Pull up that great e-news or e-blast you sent. If you were a kid, what would you want posted on the refrigerator door for all to see? Create your own virtual refrigerator door and take time to say “Well done!” to yourself.

Dec. 31 will come, no matter what we do. And this old dog knows that you won’t get everything done that you (or your boss) would like to see accomplished. But stay focused on what matters—your donor and your mission—and forgive yourself if other things get neglected. Choosing that new computer system or printer can wait until 2016.

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