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A year-end pep talk for fundraisers

As the holiday season begins, many of us will spend more time with family, participate in holiday activities and consume scrumptious holiday food; but for fundraisers, this means it's time to have a year-end pep talk before the crazy starts. 

Most people wrap up projects and begin to plan for next year before taking off for a long break to celebrate with family and friends. However, a fundraiser comes in on New Year’s Eve just to make sure there aren’t any last-minute donors banging down the door.

We all know the statistic that nearly 30% of all gifts come in during December. The end-of-year appeal is probably the single most important fundraising initiative for most nonprofits. This means there is a lot of pressure on the development staff to come through with operating dollars for the next year. For big shops, major gift officers are talking to donors about stock gifts and tax implications and event staff are scrambling to collect all the stragglers out there that still have checks to turn in. If you are a small shop or one-man (or woman) show, just getting a mailing out the door might be a huge accomplishment.

Fundraising is hard. When it comes down to it, it is a very personal act and, sometimes, you can do everything right and still not come up with a big gift. This is true for your year-end appeal, too. You can segment your list, tell a compelling story, include eye-catching photos and plan a comprehensive social media/e-newsletter accompanying campaign – and the checks just don’t come in.

This can be pretty disheartening. Add on executive directors and board members who don’t know a lot about the profession of fundraising, and a less than stellar appeal can quickly make a development person feel like they are in the hot seat.

There are a few things you can do to be a little easier on yourself and make your executive director and board feel more optimistic.

If you know me or have read any of my blogs, you know I like to have a plan. For instance, here’s one on planning fundraisers, annual fund plans, individual giving get the gist. I didn’t plan on doing a list in this blog, but I’ll just give you a few little things that can make a big impact on your fundraising.

Take a look at your LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs

LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs are donors that gave to you at some point, but for some reason have decided to no longer support your organization. I think of these as low-hanging fruit for a development professional. They already were compelled to give before – you just need to figure out what happened and bring them back into the fold.

Check your data

If you don’t send your mailings first class, you won’t receive undeliverable and bad addresses back. Maybe you are actually sending to a bunch of people that aren’t even receiving your information. Contact a mail house to have them run your list through the National Change of Address registry or check to see if you already pay for something like this through your database software.

Think like a donor

One of the biggest pitfalls I think fundraisers fall into is thinking like a fundraiser and not like a donor. Look over your materials, website, social media and any other messages people are receiving from you. Are you telling a compelling story? You know what you do and the amazing impact you make so make sure you are telling people about it!

Also, ask a friend who doesn’t know a ton about your organization to read through one of your letters ask them – honestly – if they would give you a donation. Or even ask them what they think your organization does. You might be surprised by their answer.

It's hard out there for a fundraising officer. Budget and resources are shrinking, while needs seem to be only getting bigger. Add in a pandemic, economic fluctuations and an aging donor population, and hitting those goals can be very hard to do. There is a reason that the average tenure of a fundraiser in one job is about 18 months. Unattainable expectations can send someone straight to the for-profit world.

Hang in there, fundraiser! You are doing important work and although it may not seem like it, your organization is better off with you there. Trust me. 

Here’s to a successful end-of-year fundraising campaign and a happy holiday season!


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