By Sarah B Lange under Uncategorized on December 19, 2023

12 Ways To Boost Your Year End Fundraising

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.

Hey everyone, I'm Sarah Lange and I'm here to spark the philanthropy revolution. The word philanthropy means love of mankind. My show is all about the ways we can open our doors and hearts so we can do more good.

Hey everybody, happy December. I cannot believe it's the last month of the year and I don't know about you, but my work life is crazy right now.

End of year push for everybody, trying to wrap up the year for both our clients and also our team and start to get ready for 2024. So a lot of moving parts right now. So if you're with me live today, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day. And if you're not and you're watching the recording, thanks for joining me. 

I'm Sarah Lange and I am both a philanthropist and a fundraiser and I've raised over a hundred million dollars and I've worked with over 200 nonprofits to boost their revenue. And I have a very holistic approach about that. I mean, you'll be learning more about that in January and February when I launched my new program called the High Impact Nonprofit. So stay tuned.

Today I thought it would be good to focus on the fact that we are in the giving season and give you 12 tips to boost giving in the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas. Also acknowledging that not everybody celebrates Christmas, but it's the theme I chose. So here we go.

I don't know if you guys know this, but last year, there was $499.33 billion given away. 30% of that came in during December and 12% came in on December 29, 30 and 31st. So don't give up. There's way more time to raise money. We're only halfway through the month and it ain't over till the ball drops in Times Square. So you can go ahead and implement some of these tips this year and you can implement some of them next year during your year end season.

The first thing I want to suggest is personalizing your year end appeal. So nothing turns me off faster than seeing “Dear friend,” or “Dear donor,” at the top of the letter. So it doesn't make me feel seen, recognized, warm, fuzzy. Donors know that they're not the only person receiving your appeal, but they still don't want to get what feels and reads like a canned letter. So you definitely want to try and personalize your approach and at the very least get their name in there somewhere, if not several times. So personalizing your appeal in a number of ways demonstrates that you know and value your donor. Now, remember, we can lose up to 30% of our donor base every year and this is part of the reason why. Our donors are not just names on a list or ATMs. They're the people who care about our missions and they are also the people that we serve. So adding a personalized element to your appeal can remind them of that and make it easier for them to instantly connect with your letter. So obviously you're gonna use your donor data that you're storing in whatever CRM you use to make the salutation unique to each person. And you also want to make sure that you personalize it somewhere else in the letter, maybe at the end.

The other thing is you want to make sure that your letter is personal. that you get the salutation correctly. So for example, I was doing an appeal letter earlier this year and there was an address, a letter addressed to Mr. Susan at last name. Well, we all know Susan is not a male name and we know that she's probably not going to be happy to be called Mr. So you just got to make sure that when the data goes into the system, it's clean. I really recommend to everybody to do a donor data dump at least once, if not twice a year, to make sure that the data is correct and that the salutations are also lined up. The other thing to think about in terms of personalization is the “ask” amount. Now we all have what I call an ideal gift. For your organization, maybe that's $100. For another organization, maybe that's $200. But you do have an ideal gift that you want somebody to give you. You want to make sure that you ask for that gift in your letter. And you also want to make sure that you're moving people up the giving ladder. So you don't want people to just hang out at the $25, $50, or $100 level. You want them to increase their giving over time. And so if you don't ask them explicitly to do that, a lot of times they're just going to give you what you got last year, which is fine. But if they can give more and we ask for more, it reminds them that we could use more money because I don't know about you, but I see costs going up across the board. So you want to make sure that you're asking them to move up to increase their giving. And worst case, they'll leave it at the same level they gave last year. But best case, they'll give you more. So that's always a good thing to include in your letter. And then during the closing portion of the letter, you always want to sign your letter personally. And if possible, you should add a handwritten, postscript, or a note from a board member. This is a great way to get your board involved. Even if they just say the same message on the bottom of each letter, it's still going to convey that personalization in that sense that somebody in your organization is actually taking time out to connect with the donor rather than just sending a generic letter that came hot off the printer.

The second tip is to focus on your donor. So it's really important that we use “you” language in our letters. So instead of listing our own accomplishments, we want to frame the letter so the donor is actively responsible for our impact. Because honestly, they are. If we didn't have donors and supporters, we wouldn't be able to carry our mission out. And so even though the staff is the one obviously doing the day-to-day, it's the donor that makes it possible. So you want to position them as the hero. You also want to reference any past involvement.You want to show them that you value their generosity by specifically referencing what they've already done for your cause. And this is particularly important for your monthly donors. They really need to be recognized. And that's why I like to do a donor data dump so we can recognize who those people are. So you can either reference their most recent gift or the sum total they've contributed to date. And sometimes it's fun to show them how much they've contributed to your cause. I know, I recently got a letter like that and I was like, “wow, I had no idea I'd given you so much of my money.” But it made me feel good. It made me feel like in a way, I'm a more significant donor for them because I have given consistently over the years and I've given a certain amount of money. So that made me feel really good.

You also want to emphasize the value of their support. So you want to remind them that their donations, their volunteer efforts, and their advocacy is what makes your mission possible. because this increases the chances that they're going to get involved again. And that's what we want. We want repeat business, right? So we want to make sure that we're making our donors and our volunteers feel good and want to come back for more.

Here are some examples of donor-centered content. “Generous supporters like you provided over 10,000 meals to our community last year.”, “Thanks to your generous gift of $250 last year, we've raised, oh sorry, five low-income children received after-school care.”, “Because of your ongoing financial support, we've raised $100,000 for families in need.”, “Without hardworking volunteers like you, we couldn't keep our shelter running. Thank you.”, “Here's how you can extend your impact and continue making a difference in your community…” And there, that’s where to put in like a ‘call to action’, like “make your donation today”, “You can help making lasting change for homeless youth. We can't do it without your help.” So you can see where each one of those phrases puts the focus on the donor and their contribution. And it makes a link between the accomplishments and the donor's activity. So those are just some samples you can adapt for your own use.

The other thing you want to do is you want to give them a range of giving option. So you want to provide them with a link to donate online, or you could use text to donate. 75% of people are looking at content on their phones. So text to donate is becoming more and more important. You can also use peer-to-peer fundraising. You can ask them to share the love for your cause with their friends and family through social media or in person. Here's the fact. 63% of people give to organizations recommended by family and friends. So if you can get your existing donors to sing your praises to other people, that is going to result in more donations from different parties, and it'll help you bring in new donors as well. So I often encourage my clients to do a peer-to-peer campaign and sometimes even have a contest to see which donor can bring in the most new donors and then give them some sort of prize. You know, it doesn’t have to be a big prize, but people like to compete so you can do that as well. You can ask them to make it a recurring gift. Research shows that people give more when they can spread out the payments. So why not ask them to make a monthly gift? And if we're not asking them to make a monthly gift, we're actually leaving money on the table because most people who care about your cause are going to be willing to give you $10, $20, $30 a month. And it's kind of like that gym membership we set up last year. And then forgot about it, right? So the money just comes out of their account and they're not really paying attention. So it's a great way to generate consistent revenue for our cause as well. Excuse me.

The other thing is that recurring donors can be up to four times more valuable than a one-time donor. So with year-end fundraising being the biggest giving season of the year, we want to increase the rate that donors become recurring donors because it can make a huge impact on our revenue, not just during year-end, but moving forward as well. So if you look at some of the studies, you can see that the number of donors may not increase, but the amount increases. So again, reach out to your existing donors, especially those that have been giving to you for three or more years and ask them to make a recurring gift.

The other tip I want to share is that, you can use matching gifts to increase giving. So a lot of companies have programs where they match gifts made by their employees to eligible nonprofits. So if you want to prompt your donors to make matching gifts, you want to make sure that you put a link to the matching gift database on your donation page and in all your year-end communications. You could use it as like a PS in your letter if you want, but I would actually suggest doing it perhaps as a follow-up email, maybe the next day and say, “Hey, did you know you could possibly double your gift” and then give them the link to the database because again, it's another very easy way to double your revenue and you didn't have to do any of the work. 

The other way to use a matching gift is to create a matching gift of your own. So for example, there was a small music organization who really wanted to increase their appeal and so what we did was we brought together a group of their five top donors and we said, “Hey, if you guys make the same donation you made last year, can we pull it together and use it as a match?” And they all agreed to that. So we went out to the rest of the donor pool and said, “Hey, we have this generous opportunity. They're willing to match your donation up to XYZ dollars.” And they were going to give us that money anyway. So it wasn't like suddenly they were giving more out of their pockets, although that's another strategy you could use. And not only did this organization bring in the match, they made three times more during that appeal than they had the previous year. So it's a really good strategy. Even if a donor doesn't come to you and say, “I want to make a match”, you can go to your donors and say, “Hey, we want to create sort of a match challenge. And would you be willing to be part of that?” And most of them are going to say yes, because they love you and they're already giving you money. Right. So they're not going to think of it, but you can suggest it to them.

The other thing is you want to visually emphasize your desired gift amount. So social proof is a strong factor in influencing your donors. Remember that 63%. So one simple way to leverage social proof is by doing some kind of graphic around the donation option that you want people to do. So for example, on your donations, or on the donations page, you could have like a little red star and say “most popular”, right? So people tend to fall into patterns and follow the crowd. 70% of people describe themselves as followers. So why not take advantage of that and put some sort of graphic next to the amount that you want people to give and say something like “most popular”, “frequently picked”, or something like that. You don't have to make it fancy. You could just make sure the ideal gift amount stands out from the others. Emphasizing your desired gift amount can lead to more than 20% increase per visit per donor. I'll say that again. This can lead to an increase of 20% per visitor. So don't leave money on the table. Use a little graphic to show them that it's the most popular. Even if you do everything in 12-point font, but you put that one in like 14 or 16-point font with like an exclamation point and a smiley face next to it, that's enough to make it stand out and draw people's attention to it. So you want to make sure that it's slightly higher than your average gift size. So again, you're looking to generate more revenue.

Another tip is that in this day and age, we want to make sure that our donors know that their gift is secure. So as someone who just had her wallet stolen in September, I can tell you that I am super cautious about where and how I use my credit and debit cards now. So I, in particular, anybody that's run into having their credit card or debit card number hijacked or their wallet stolen is going to be looking for you to assure them that their donation is being made secure. Usually, the pay tools we use offer that security. So you could actually just look at the security from your provider and then, you know, maybe in the fine print saying, “you know, here's our guarantee of security.” So you probably already have a secure donation page, but that doesn't mean that your donors know and feel that their information is secure. So you may want to set aside their most sensitive information, like their credit card fields in a shaded gray box or by putting a padlock icon next to those fields. So not only is this good stewardship to letting them know that you're thinking about them and their money and their security, but it increases donations by more than 10% because you've now boosted donor confidence. So again, make sure that your donors know that their gift is secure.

The seventh tip I have for you is to use a countdown clock. So we want to convey a sense of urgency. So this is why having a countdown clock at the top of your donations page can be useful, particularly as the campaign wears on. So for example, it's December 14th, we've only got so many days left. So you might want to put a countdown clock on your donations page now, right? Because time is ticking till the ball drops. So two weeks to go is usually a good time to do it.

Another thing you can do, tip number eight, is using a progress bar to show people how close you are to reaching your goal. So it helps tap into the bandwagon effect. So again, remember, 63% of people give to organizations that are being supported by friends and family. So what I want to say is do not use a progress bar and a countdown clock in the same graphic. You could use them in different emails, you could use one on your donation page, one on your Facebook page, and vice versa. But don't use them together because it can confuse people. So you want to make sure, especially the last three days of the campaign, that if you're this close to reaching your goal, you tell everyone, “oh, we're only $12,000 away”, “we're only $8,000 away”, however much it is you need to raise, a progress bars are really good to use towards the end of your campaign.

Nine may seem very obvious, but you should use social media and use it well. So you want to use social media until 11:59 to leverage every dollar you can from supporters. There's nothing wrong with using social media to ask for people's support. But you also need to mix up the ways in which you ask for their support. So here is some suggestions. You can use content from your appeal letter. I'm a big fan of reducing, reusing, and recycling. So why not use some of the verbiage that you came up with your appeal letter and put it out there in emails and social media. Tell stories of transformation and hope. “You guys are doing magic every single day. And that's why I love what I do because I get to work with people like you who are doing amazing work every single day and changing the world.” So inspire them. You guys have so many inspirational stories. Share them. Use video. Keep it short and sweet. You could do something like a “day in the life of…” It could be a video from your board chair, from a service recipient. It really is unlimited and it's up to your imagination. And you don't have to do a professional video. People don't trust professionally the way they produce content, the way they choose, you know, trust authentic user generated content. So just get out your phone, hit video and start recording. And a lot of times you don't even have to edit it because people don't care. They want to see the flubs and the mistakes. It makes you more human in their eyes. So use video. It's a great way to cut through the chase and reach people's hearts. You could use photos. Or other graphics, infographics, like if you have a very strong kind of like before and after story, then graphics are really a great way to do that. That was one of the things I did earlier in my career was I wanted to give people a sense of the transformation we were having. I used to work at a community development corporation and we didn't just do bricks and mortar stuff. We also did things like cleanups and playgrounds. And so I did a before and after graphic sheet and used that as the basis for our annual appeal, showing people what a difference we were making in the neighborhood in different areas. So cleanups, affordable housing, youth programming, those kinds of things. So some of the before and after pictures were pretty dramatic. So that it made for a good story. And I didn't really have to say much other than show them pictures. So graphics, you know. They say a photo, a picture launches a thousand words. No. A picture tells a thousand, story of a thousand words. I am clearly not up on my metaphors. But anyway, you know what I mean. So photos and graphics can really get the point across. Oh, Chris, thank you. A picture is worth a thousand words. Thank you. Rescued by my producer. I appreciate that, Chris. So you could take a quote and turn it into something visually appealing. I use Canva. Some people use Word Swag. Neither one of those is terribly technical. So you could just put together a really nice looking meme and throw it on social media and use a quote. It could actually even be a quote from one of your clients, which would be really, again, a really great way to show people that you're making a difference. You can also update people on how the campaign is going. And again, you could use one of those thermometers or a progress bar, and you could do some shout outs to donors, you could remind people to tell their families, friends and coworkers about your cause and encourage them to share your posts. And you could offer free downloads if you have them. So if there's some sort of informational document that you have. So, for example, one of my clients is in the field of domestic violence and they sent out an email and there was a download on signs and symptoms of domestic violence. So the whole theme of their letter was, you know, one in four women are suffering some kind of assault and you may not even know. And so that's a pretty high number. So they wanted to tell people this is how you can some signs and symptoms that somebody might being abused. So it kind of fit in with the theme and we actually got a ton of people who were downloading it. So that was really great. And then. We put together like a whole follow up campaign for people who did the download because clearly they had expressed in a whole another level of interest in the cause. So we wanted to make sure we had a separate follow up with them. But if you have some kind of download, you can send it to them. 

The other thing you want to do is make sure that you let your donors know they need to donate now, not later. Don't put it off. The urgency is now. The year is running out. We want to make sure we get as much revenue in by the time midnight comes on the 31st as we can. So just have to remind people.

Another tip I want to share is make sure that you send out story postcards and you could do this digitally as well. So I have one client that's doing this this year. Both digitally and sending out paper postcards because they know they have a lot of baby boomers in their donor pool. and baby boomers respond really well to paper. So we're doing both. So it's a really simple thing to design. On one side, you can use bright imagery, a high quality photo, and you want to make sure that you're telling a story. So the way we designed the postcard for these people is on the front was a picture of a woman and this woman does not look well. She's actually not well. She's suffering from the disease that they helped cure. And on the flip side is a testimonial from her talking about not only did they help cure the disease she was suffering from, but they provided support to her entire family. So, you know, she was a mother of three kids, you know, that's really hard to have a really devastating illness when you're trying to be a parent. And she had issues with having to leave her job on medical leave. And then they ran into trouble with the disability insurance. It was a whole thing, right? And this organization helped her every step of the way. So not only did she get a cure for her disease, but she got a lot of love and support along the way. And so we are about to drop those in the mail right now because we want to remind people over the next couple of weeks to get that gift in now so you can help make more stories like this possible. So I love using story postcards. You could put a URL or a QR code on the postcard again so that people don't have to do that much work to go directly to your donation page.

Tip number 11 is get your board involved, right? So we need to engage our board in boosting year-end revenue because after all, they're the ones who are going to be getting on the staff's case if you don't reach your goals. So enlist them as the supporters that they are supposed to be. It's really up to the staff to outline the roles and responsibilities. And then we need to make sure we give them the training and information that they need to be able to succeed. So, you know, we all want our board to be fundraisers, but spoiler alert, they're not. I mean, very few board members are actually professional fundraisers. I know I get to be asked to be on boards all the time because I am a professional fundraiser. And I'm like, “no”, I'm kind of like the cobbler's kids, right? My kids, I make shoes all day. My kids are not going to get the shoes I make at night, right? By the time I'm done with my day, I'm done with my day. Give them the information they need, as well as a deadline for completion. They can thank people who have already donated. They can write handwritten thank you notes or add notes to letters. They can call lapsed donors. They can call existing top donors. There's lots of different ways they can get involved, but it's up to us to give them everything they need to succeed, including and most importantly, a script. They may not use it, but they're going to feel better having it. So again, they can thank donors. They can connect with major donors. They can either meet with them one-on-one to educate them on the cause and persuade them to become part of the mission or to renew their commitment to the mission. They can promote year-end giving. They can use their community influence to inspire year-end gifts so they can share your posts on social media. They can host their own little fundraising parties. I know one organization, their board is actually hosting a little get-together at a local restaurant and they're just having people meet them at the bar and they're going to try and raise a whole bunch of money. They have a goal in the back of their head in terms of how much they want to raise. They're just inviting everybody they know to this bar. I mean, it's a restaurant, but they're going to be in the bar section, and they want to try and boost their revenue by getting people in the same room. So there's lots of different ways you can get your board involved and hopefully they will get involved.

The other thing is, and this is the final tip and this is critical, is follow-up. I know we are all so busy right now, but we need to follow up. And you didn't just do all this hard work to land a donor only to lose them at some point in the next 12 months. So again, we could lose up to 30% of our donor base each year. And that's because people need to know that their gift matters. And if we're not doing follow-up, they can easily start to feel like they and their gift don't matter. And let's remember that philanthropy is a heart-centered activity. If I care about the cause, say you're doing something about homelessness or domestic violence, or you're promoting a the arts, there's nothing I can do necessarily to further your mission as an individual. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to take my hard-earned money, I'm going to make a heartfelt gift to you. And I'm going to say, “there's nothing I can do to promote this cause that I care about, except entrust you with my money and know that you're going to do good works with it”, right? So when people don't get the follow-up and their gift just went into a void. It's kind of like having a crush on somebody that ends up like ignoring you, right? So if that happens, sometimes people choose to go to another organization and there's 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. So there are plenty of donor options out there. So follow-up is really, really, really important. So the first thing we can do is confirm the donation. So we want to send an acknowledgement email that confirms their donation and provide that tax receipt, especially at year end. And they're going to need this information for their financial records. So you're going to want to automate those messages so they get out quickly. Then you actually want to thank your donor. So that's different from the confirmation of that you've received the donation. A thank you is really something that comes from the heart. It shows donors how much you appreciate their gift. If you can personalize it, please do. Because again, nobody wants to be treated like or thought of as an ATM. They need to have that personal touch. If you can send a handwritten note, that would be great. If your board member can sign it, even better. So one of the things I used to do all the time was I would have a group of volunteers come in once a week on Friday and we would crank out the thank you notes for that week. So I would give them a typed out, computer generated list of things they could say. And then they would sign it, their name. And then they would say, I'm a board member, I'm a volunteer, I'm a neighbor. So whatever their identity was. And then we would just like plop them in the mail. And this went on all the way through early January. It made my job a lot easier as the director of development. And it made everyone feel really good that they were thanking people and had this opportunity to share a little piece of their heart because they knew that the people who were supporting us, made their neighborhood a better place to live in. And they were genuinely grateful. So you don't necessarily have to write all these thank you notes. You can get other people to do it who also care about your cause. 

The other thing I would really suggest is calling unresponsive donors. So if a donor doesn't respond to your first or second appeal, it may be time to follow up over the phone. And you can coordinate this with volunteers to call a list of donors all at once, or you can segment your list by the gift amount and have board members follow up with a high quality prospects first. So if one of your donors that used to give you say $250, $500 a year suddenly has stopped showing up, you want to call. And first of all, the first thing we want to ask is, “are you okay?” Because maybe they're sick, maybe they're in the hospital, maybe they died. I've run into that once. It was super awkward, but also important to know. So just give them a call. Let them know that you're thinking about them, that their support matters, that you're hoping they're still going to support your cause. They may not answer the phone because I don't answer the phone unless they recognize the number, but you can still leave a very nice message for them. So you want to call those unresponsive donors.

And then you want to make sure that you're updating your donor database. So you want to make sure you've got their data accurately stored within your CRM. And if you need more data than your giving form collects, you can send out a follow-up email a few weeks after their gift to request more information to fill out their donor profile. Again, not everybody's going to respond, but those that do are going to help you have a more robust set of donor data to work with. So you also just want to stay in touch with them all year long and let them know how their gift was put to use, the difference that they're making, and the lives of your service recipients and how much you appreciate their support. Gratitude does not end with a thank you note. We need to express gratitude as frequently as possible to our donors. And it's not that they're a bunch of egomaniacs that constantly need to have strokes, but they're the ones making our work possible. And so I am always so grateful for donors. I was working with one organization and they raise $300,000 a year from 375 people. Do the math. Right? That's a pretty deep level of support. And they've gotten to that level because of their relationship with their donors and their level of gratitude. And so we want to make sure that we're expressing gratitude and appreciation year round and that your donors know that they make a difference.

Those are my tips. I hope they were helpful. I would encourage you to employ as many of them as you can during the last two weeks of the year-end giving cycle. Remember, 12% of over $500 billion is going to be donated on the 29th, the 30th, and the 31st. So don't give up. Keep pushing the pedal to the medal straight till the end of the year. And I wish you all the luck with your year-end fundraising.

I really appreciate you joining me today. Let's bring in the bucks this holiday season so that we can start off 2024 strong. And if you've got questions, you can drop me an email at [email protected]. Chris can drop that. Thank you, Chris. And you can also follow me on social media.

And the other thing I wanted to say is that I'm going to be doing a lot of work with you. I talked about a lot of different resources for today's show. So the countdown clock, the instant donations page, and I have how to use a pop-up prompt on your one-time donations to encourage recurring gifts. And there's a donation landing page optimization link. I'm going to share a matching gifts database and the 10 top giving tools. So sorry, text to giving tools. So I am going to put those all in the show notes. But if you are not already on our email list, you want to drop me an email and let me know that you want these resources and we'll get the show notes out to you. So the show notes are obviously going to go to everybody who's already on our list. But if you're watching this and you're not, drop me an email, tell me you want the show notes from the 12 tips episode, and we'll make sure to get them to you. So you have the links to some of the tips I mentioned.

Thanks for joining me. I will be back on the 21st of December. And then we're going to be talking about how to create an annual fundraising plan. So I'm going to share with you the template that I use with all my clients to make sure that we have the highest level of coordination across the organization around fundraising initiatives. So join me on December 21st. I'm going to be doing a how-to workshop on that. And until then, have a great week. See you in two weeks, guys. Bye.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Got topics you want me to cover? Organizations you want me to showcase? Let me know. Also, I'm here to help you revolutionize philanthropy at your nonprofit. If you want to talk about what that looks like, drop me an email.

You can watch the full episode on YouTube or listen to Spotify.


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