4 Mistakes To Avoid In Your Year-End Fundraising

Guest Post by Natania LeClerc, Senior Digital Engagement Strategist at ThinkShout.

Natania fell into the nonprofit industry over a decade ago, but there’s nothing accidental about her skill for developing long term engagement solutions for nonprofits.

Natania came to ThinkShout with an extensive background in nonprofit development. She’s worked with organizations like Feeding America and Best Friends Animal Society to build enduring and effective fundraising programs, helping them expand their constituencies and support their causes through meaningful campaigns. Natania left lasting impacts on the organizations she touched, and they still use the strategies she put in place. Natania does have a life outside of nonprofit engagement, which includes photography, spending time with her dog, and going to concerts. She says she once stormed the stage at a Beastie Boy concert in the 90’s. Points for bravery, Natania.


This time of year, there is no shortage of articles on year-end fundraising strategies… heck, I’ve written a few myself. But what should you not do? What are the hallmark mistakes to avoid when approaching this critical time of year?

For one, it can be tempting to take the easy way out — especially when you’re understaffed and overworked and so much is riding on the last quarter of the year. But this is not the time to cut corners; doing so could drastically hurt your bottom line. Not just in terms of dollars raised, but also in terms of retention and consumer/donor trust.

Avoid these 4 Year-End fundraising mistakes and you’ll set yourself up for success this year end.

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1. Don’t Wait Until The End Of The Year To Test Content Or Changes To Your Donation Form

Testing in general is advisable; but you don’t want to conduct a major test of your donation form at the end of the year when so much is at stake for you.

Try to set up landing page/donation testing earlier in the year (think August-October); so that come November, you know *exactly* what works best on your audience and you can reap the benefits knowing you’ve truly optimized the best experience for your supporters.

However, this isn’t to say you can’t run subject line tests on emails… try them on a small segment of your audience though, before sending a message to the full file. Ideally, here’s how you’d go about that:

  • Create 2 subject line variations. Decide which one is your control (one that has traditionally worked) and which one is your test.
  • Test the variation on 10% of your email list — or if you have a large file to work from (over 100,000 emails) go up to 20%.
  • Half of your test audience will get one variant; and the other will get the control.
  • Check your results throughout the day and send the winning subject line to the remainder of your file. For subject lines, you’ll look to open rates to identify the most effective approach. If you’re updating the design/call to action within a message; then click-throughs and funds raised from each variant will be your key performance indicator.

2. Don’t Just Shorten The Copy From Your Direct Mail Letter For Your Email

Yes, your email copy should be concise, with a clear call to action for easy reading on mobile devices. But simply shortening the direct mail copy will not do. You need to grab the reader’s attention immediately.

Think: what would make me stop and finish this email if I was reading it on my phone in line getting coffee (because nearly 50% of email recipients read their messages on their phone). Here are some tips:

  • Use a lot of “you” language, put the donor first.
  • Make your call to action buttons prominent and easy to click.
  • Assign a deadline or a goal such as, “help us raise $10,000 by midnight this Thursday!” This really helps to inspire competitiveness in people and works great around days of giving or year-end.
  • Personalize when you are able. If a donor has typically donated at the $250 level, don’t ask them to pitch in with $25, $50, or whatever they can give. Speak to how they have interacted with you in the past.
  • Keep subject lines to 50 characters or less.

3. Don’t Just Use The Inherent Social Share Option For Your Email To Post It To Your Org’s Social Media Page

Many of the email software options out there include social sharing options as part of their messaging templates. It’s easy (and tempting) to think you can just utilize those to share your campaign message on your official Facebook/Twitter page and mark that cross-channel marketing task as ‘done’… but content is digested differently in each channel.

You wouldn’t copy/paste your 4-page direct mail newsletter and drop it into an email, right? Same goes for social. Images work better and using copy that motivates people to participate and engage is also a plus. Getting people to share, retweet, or even click through to give is icing on the cake. Some things to keep in mind:

  • You don’t have to be on every platform. Go where your audience is.
  • Don’t treat social media as a standalone task. It should be closely integrated into your communication/marketing plans — including your stewardship/thank you process.
  • We live in a culture of immediacy now; people expect quick responses. Nonprofits should make every effort to respond in a timely manner to those who are passionate about their cause and interacting/commenting/asking questions on social platforms.

Here’s an example from Earthjustice that includes some best practices in action. They’ve included a concise description of the issue, a call to action, hashtag, and a video for people to watch and really sell the campaign. You can see its effectiveness through the number of likes, comments, and shares.

SPLC utilized timely, relevant events to tie back to their mission and work and engage their audience with the content that matters to them. And engage they did – with thousands of likes and shares and over 200 comments.

4. Don’t Skip Out On #GivingTuesday

Sure, it’s just one day, but in the last four years, this event has proven to be more than just a fad. #GivingTuesday does not cannibalize on your year-end totals — it adds to it. Statistics from 2015 show:

  • It’s the third largest day for fundraising in the year
  • It’s the second largest day for number of donations (December 31st is the winner)
  • 700,000 donors gave online (which is why optimizing those forms is oh-so-important!)
  • $16 million was raised online by organizations that participated
  • 50% of all donors fell between the ages of 31-55

#GivingTuesday cannot be ignored – don’t sit on the sidelines and let other organizations reap the benefits of this all important day.

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Ok, we’ve talked a lot about what not to do during your year-end fundraising campaign, but are you feeling brave?

But as Jeff Brooks would say, “If it doesn’t scare you, at least a little bit, the fundraising probably doesn’t have the power it needs to succeed.”

So let’s be bold. This is a time of year when everyone is asking for support – how can you gain visibility in the sea of noise?

1. Make your donation form the first thing people see when they land on your homepage on December 31st. You can do this with a modal or a redirect to your campaign page.

Sounds aggressive — that’s because it is. But this isn’t a permanent change — you’re eliminating one more step for your users on the busiest fundraising day of the  year. You’ll know pretty quickly if people are annoyed and if you need to switch it back to your normal home page.

2.Use a popup to drive donations starting in November. If you’re amenable to adding a full-page modal/popup on the 31st, why not have a smaller one run from November through year-end? This can be an easy way to boost traffic to your campaign pages and ensure users don’t get lost along the way.

3. Promote posts. Maybe you don’t have a huge advertising budget to set up fancy banner ads or you don’t have connections to your local radio station or newspaper – but allocating a few dollars towards promoted posts on Facebook can be a good way to get the word out to potential donors, especially at this time of year.

4. Don’t discount the power of print. See if your local paper will give a discount to your organization for a full-page ad or an alternate space in their circulation.

I once worked with a food bank at the local level that took out a full page ad for #GivingTuesday, saying they had a goal of raising $10,000 on that day. Someone wrote them a check based on having seen their ad in the paper. I know for some of us, it’s hard to believe people still open and read a newspaper…but your high-dollar donors do.

So don’t cut corners this year — be brave, bold, and prepare. This is not the time of year to leave money on the table. Make the most of the opportunities you have!

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