Roll up your sleeves for year-end giving

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

The first week of October is when most nonprofits are knee-deep in preparing their year-end giving campaigns. Most studies confirm over 30% of all charitable gifts are given in December.

In light of the pandemic, these campaigns are especially important as many nonprofits have been unable to generate revenue in traditional ways such as in-person special events, admission fees, and the like. Here is a list of tips I have shared before and a few new ones to help meet or exceed year-end fundraising goals.

Writing a year-end appeal should be more like telling a good story about someone who has benefitted rather than a report, list, or form letter full of jargon and lofty phrases. Write a compelling story in everyday language that speaks to the heart to inspire people to give. Make it relevant to the current situation and keep the focus on who is being served rather than the organization. The ask must be about the mission, not the organization.

Avoid using this year’s letter to highlight the organization and its many accomplishments. Although results are important, asking for a gift needs to be about the donor and how they can change lives with a gift. If you are the person writing the request, put a sticky note on your computer that says “It’s not about us. It’s about who we serve and how donors can help.”

Direct mail fundraising is a science with many rules and best practices what impact results. Well-meaning board members and EDs may be hesitant to let go of “the way we’ve always done it” or “this way makes more sense to me.” If you are not a fundraising professional or have any knowledge of the principles direct mail, I beg you not to undermine the success of the year-end campaign by re-writing the letter and second guessing the person who does.

Written requests for donations are best made by a leadership volunteer or beneficiary rather than staff. Ask people who have served or who benefit from the organization to share their story to make the year-end request personal, relevant, and heartfelt.

Ask for gifts to fund a tangible need rather than the overall mission. I know nonprofits are skittish about this idea because restricted gifts can be a blessing and a curse. That’s not what I am suggesting. Use this opportunity to describe in specific terms how a donor’s gift will be spent on whatever your organization does every day.

Despite what you may think, direct mail is not dead even among millennials and should be integrated with email, social media, and online giving. Don’t get too caught up in the font, color, size and shape of the request, logo, or hashtag. Spend your time telling a good story and the list of people who will receive it.

Direct mail experts refer to this as the 40-40-20 rule which means 40% of a direct mail’s success with be determined by the list (who you send it to); 40% by the offer (what donors will achieve when they give) and 20% by the creative (design, font, etc.) In my experience, the most important factor is the list of prospective donors. The more people receiving the request they know and trust your organization, the more likely they are to respond.

I sound like a broken record when I say this but please write a new, fresh thank you letter and electronic reply for any gifts received. Continue the theme and message of the request. Make sure ‘you’ and ‘yours’ are more prevalent than ‘we’, ‘our’, and ‘us’. Avoid repeating the name of the organization too many times. Just like the request, the thank you should be about the donor and what their gift made possible.

Finally, if you are hesitant about asking and need a pep talk, heed these words from Snavely Associates in their video “Asking is the Answer” which boldly proclaims, “No answer is possible without asking. Virtually no goal, no dream, no great work is possible without asking. Asking is how the world changes. Asking is the life blood and electricity of philanthropy.” I love this description and could not agree more. Now is the time to ask with confidence!

If you are donor, I also encourage you to give as best you can. Tallahassee depends on strong local nonprofits to provide vital services and ensure health, well-being, and quality of life of the community.

Notes on Nonprofits is produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting and Kelly Otte, MPA, who is on sabbatical. Send your comments and questions to [email protected].

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