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Downes Murray International News

How one organisation doubled its year-end fundraising

This non-profit, which had one full-time fundraiser on staff, had been sending out year-end appeal letters, by snail mail, for the past eight years, with mediocre results. My first step, obviously, was to make sure that year’s appeal letter was the best it could possibly be.

But – and this is important – the organisation’s previous year-end appeal letters were pretty good. I figured we might be able to raise an additional 5-10% by making some small changes in that year’s letter... but we needed to raise far more than that.

What else could we do?
When it comes to raising more money during the year-end giving season, there are lots of ways to go about it, particularly for an organisation whose year-end effort was to simply send out one well-written snail mail letter appeal.

We could send a follow-up postcard after our snail mail appeal letter to remind our donors about making their year-end gift. I estimated that if we did that, and the postcard was well done, we could add another 2-5% to our year-end revenue. We could also send out an e-mail appeal to our entire e-mail list that complemented our snail mail letter, was well written, and asked people to make an immediate donation by clicking on a link in the e-mail. I figured that if we sent out one e-mail, we could raise an additional 5-10% through our year-end campaign, and that if we sent out two such e-mails, including one on December 31st, we might be able to raise even more... perhaps boosting our year-end giving by as much as 15%.

Social media push
Finally, we could really push our yearend campaign on social media. My best guess was that we could add 1-2% to our year-end revenue by effectively using social media. I provided all of those options to the non-profit I was working with... each were good options, and I have successfully implemented all three at various organisations.

I also presented them with a fourth option, what I call “The Mega Option” for yearend fundraising. I call this option the “Mega Option” for year-end fundraising because it is the one tactic that has the potential to massively grow your year-end fundraising revenue. No other strategy, with the exception of a well-written snail mail house file appeal letter, has the capacity to add so much income to your year-end appeal.

The “Mega Option” is to pick up the phone and make asks, one-on-one, to your best donors. It’s a strategy that is almost never implemented by non-profits during the year-end giving season. In fact, when I have suggested it in the past to organisations I was working with, several told me flat out that it simply was “not appropriate” as part of a year-end fundraising campaign. I was informed by those non-profits that yearend fundraising was primarily a direct mail affair, with perhaps some e-mails thrown in. Ugh. When it comes to fundraising, the proof of a strategy’s strength is its ability to generate revenue. Unless the tactic is unethical, if it raises more money than other tactics without hurting income in the long-run, you should implement it. Adding phone calls as a follow-up to year-end fundraising letters works – I have seen it time and time again. There’s nothing unethical or inappropriate about it.

And yes, it can be done without infringing on people’s holidays. You can call donors at the office. You can call them the week before Christmas. You can call them on December 30th. If you plan your appeal, you can make calls without making your donors feel angry or awkward. So why aren’t you doing it?

Thankfully, the organisation I mentioned at the beginning of this article took my advice and added phone calls to their year-end fundraising mix. They figured out that with the help of the development director, executive director, and board chair, they would have time to make calls to the top 15% of their donor base... which they did.

The donors were delighted to hear from the organisation. The phone calls were donor-focused, relatively short, and framed as a “thank you” for all of the past support and a follow-up on the vision for the coming year that was laid out in the snail mail appeal the donors had just received.

And, the best part: we raised 100% more during that year-end fundraising season than the year before. Simply by adding follow-up calls. It worked for that organisation, and it can work for yours!

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