Retail ads begin promoting Christmas sales weeks before Halloween. Holiday decorations appear in stores shortly after Labor Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday bookend the weekend following Thanksgiving. There’s no doubt consumerism spikes in the last few months of the year. But so does generosity.

Year-end fundraising campaigns account for between a quarter and half of total yearly donations for 28 percent of nonprofits organizations, and between 11 percent and 25 percent for more than a third of nonprofits, according to Nonprofit Hub. The Network for Good reports that about a third of the year’s total giving through the organization’s online system occurs in December, and in 2013, 10 percent of all donation dollars came in on the last three days of the year. A study by the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana State University found that nearly 43 percent of charitable donors who earn more than $200,000 annually donate more during the holiday season.

Those statistics likely underscore what you already know to be true: your nonprofit organization’s end-of-year fundraising campaign is the most important one you’ll stage all year. Are you prepared to maximize all your end-of-year opportunities? Do you know how to ask for donations in effective ways that will motivate your donors?

Opening the end-of-year window

The final weeks of the year represent a singular opportunity for nonprofits. In order to throw that window of opportunity open wide, your nonprofit needs to understand the factors driving the increase in donations in the last quarter.

For individuals, who account for the lion’s share of all donations made every year, the giving spirit of the holiday season plays a significant role. During the holidays, people become more aware of others in need and are more willing to include charitable donations in their holiday spending. Some are also looking ahead to tax day in 2016, and know that in order to reap some tax benefit for 2015, they must donate by the end of the year.

Whether you’re seeking individual donations, contributions from businesses or both, your end-of-year fundraising campaign faces some common challenges, including:

  • Competition for cash – More than 1.5 million tax-exempt nonprofits operate in the U.S. and most stage end-of-year fundraising campaigns.
  • Competition for attention – Consumers have a lot on their minds at the end of the year, including holiday planning, shopping, tax planning, entertaining and more. In November and December, it can be hard to grab donors’ attention.
  • Evolving communication – Nonprofits have more communication channels than ever before, and that’s both good and bad. While more ways to communicate with donors can mean more opportunities for winning their hearts and dollars, knowing which channels are best for talking to your donors is key – and not always obvious.
  • A need for greater efficiency – Nonprofits have always had to do more with less, and it’s even more critical to optimize efficiency at the end of the year. The less you spend on your campaign, the more you will have to put toward programming that supports your organization’s key objectives.

Effective, relevant and engaging communication is the solution to these challenges. All communication channels must incorporate compelling visuals, clear messaging, a call to action and multiple ways for people to donate. In its e-book “Year-end Fundraising Survival Guide,” the Network for Good says nonprofits should:

  • Set specific, measurable, realistic, achievable and timely goals.
  • Segment initiatives according to target demographics.
  • Craft a strong, specific, simple and personal appeal that shows donors exactly who their donation will help and how.
  • Act in a timely manner.
  • Be mobile friendly.
  • Appeal to emotion rather than intellect alone.
  • Provide multiple ways to donate, especially online.

Leveraging digital communications

Your website, email and social media are the most impactful, cost-effective ways to reach the greatest number of donors with your end-of-year fundraising campaign. Depending on the demographic you’re targeting, your potential and existing donors may well give far more attention to an email than they would a direct mail piece or even a solicitation phone call.

Effective email campaigns

All the recommendations Network for Good makes to overall end-of-year campaigns apply to your email efforts. Every email you send should be clear, concise, visually appealing and emotionally engaging. It must contain a clear call to action and give the reader multiple routes to donation.

Additionally, employ these proven tactics to maximize the effectiveness of your email campaigns:

  • Segment mailing lists. Different groups should receive different emails based on how they’ve donated in the past, their likelihood of donating in the future and their current life circumstances. Segmentation ensures the message you send is relevant and engaging to the recipient, rather than some type of formulaic email that doesn’t capture attention or tug at the heart strings.
  • Create engagement with good visual designThe colors you choose, the images you include and the layout of your email will all affect how donors respond to your request. Your emails should be visually engaging while also clearly communicating your brand identity. It’s important for donors to be able to tell immediately who’s soliciting them. For example, animal lovers will be more willing to continue reading an email if they recognize the logo of a popular animal advocacy group at the top of the email.
  • Measure the effectiveness of every email. Look at the open and click-through rates for every email you send. Both numbers can help you measure a campaign’s effectiveness. If people are opening the email but not clicking through to your website’s donation page, your pitch may not be powerful enough. If they’re not even opening it, you may need to refine your segmentation or improve your subject lines.
  • Use automation to create consistent follow-up and enrich relationships. Auto-responder emails trigger when a recipient takes a certain action, or no action at all. Automated follow-up emails can boost open rates between 30-40%. Nonprofits can use automated emails to remind past donors of upcoming campaigns or events, prompt people who may have opened a solicitation email but took no action, immediately thank donors for making a contribution and keep them engaged throughout the year by sharing your organization’s progress.

Superior social media

The hugely successful Ice Bucket Challenge illustrated the power of social media in fundraising. The campaign was also an example of how fun and innovation, combined with a great cause, can engage a large number of social media users.

These steps can help you maximize your social media reach and leverage its power to promote your end-of-year fundraising:

  • Learn where your donors are socializing and sharing. Just as you segment and tailor your email marketing, it’s important to know where your potential and current donors are on social media – and tailor your messaging for that channel. For example, while Facebook users span all age groups, more than a third of Twitter users are in the 18-39 age group and more than half of those on Instagram fall in that age range, according to Pew Research.
  • Personalize and customize your messaging. Establishing a personal connection is key to attracting donations, so be sure your social media efforts are relevant and emotionally resonant with the group you’re targeting. Make it personal by using social media to thank donors, in addition to asking them for donations.
  • Focus on making it shareable. It’s important you provide users with content they want to share, and equally vital that you make it easy for them to do so. Social media outlets make sharing easy, but go the extra step and include sharing buttons on your website’s donation page so that when someone makes a donation, he or she can instantly get credit for it and encourage others to join them.
  • Use social media to refine your email listIn addition to providing engaging content, social media is an opportunity to grow and refine your email list. You can prompt users to share their email addresses in a number of ways, depending on the social media platform you’re using. Social media can help ensure your email list includes more valid emails of people who are truly interested in your cause.

Winning websites

Most of your digital efforts will funnel prospective donors back to your website where they can make a donation. Your website should feature the donation page prominently or at least make it easy to navigate to from the home page. Text and images should clearly convey your key message.

As you approach your end-of-year campaign, take a critical look at your donation page and ask these questions:

  • Is it mobile responsive? A study by the website npENGAGE found that people were 34 percent more likely to make a donation when the website donation page they’d reached was mobile responsive. The functionality should be intuitive, with “donate now” options that are impossible to miss.
  • Does it clearly convey your nonprofit’s brand identity? Your logo and signature colors should be featured on the page to help users understand they have reached the right page for donating to your organization.
  • Does it make it easy for people to donate? Are you able to accept a range of payment options through your online portal?
  • Is it brief yet compelling? If you’ve gotten them to the donation page, people are primed to act. Don’t delay them with unnecessary information.
  • Does the donation form include the minimum number of fields required to gather the information you need? No one wants to fill out long forms, not even for a good cause. Gather only the required information, such as name, address, email address, phone number and payment information.

Conclusion:  A lot rides on your nonprofit’s end-of-year fundraising campaign – not only the financial well-being of your organization, but the well-being of all those it helps. Leveraging digital channels effectively can help ensure your nonprofit maximizes donations during the most important giving season of the year.

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