End of Year Giving Campaigns

November 16, 2015 Marc A. Pitman

Every year, headmasters and development directors ask me about why their end of year appeals aren’t getting the results they want. It really takes strong leadership for successful fundraising. You need to go beyond what seems “logical” and lead into what works for fundraising.

Here are three tips for making your year-end appeal successful. I like the way Mary Cahalane wrote about a similar topic so I’ll use her structure and add my commentary.

If you want your year-end appeals to work:

  1. Repeat, repeat, repeat

    You need to keep repeating your message. Ideally you’ll have two or three direct mail letters. And you’ll follow this up with coordinated email appeals. I even have a client who’s board is making phone calls to their people to follow up the direct mail.

    It’s important that you communicate more than you’d expect. As Mary says in her post, you’re not “bothering” alumni and parents with increased communication if you’re communication is interesting. If your nonprofit is only talking about itself, then yes, it will be a pain. But if you’re talking to the donor, entering into her conversation, making her the hero, then increased communication is actually welcomed! The school is something she values and is excited to be part of.

    I’ve heard organizations that send up to 20 communications in a year without seeing any negative impact on giving! So two or three letters in the next few months should be fine.

  2. Make it ridiculously easy

    I like to say that it’s our job to make it “ridiculously easy” for donors to give. Talking with another executive director today, she said she’s found that the less information she asks donors for, the more donations she gets. That’s been the case for many of my clients.

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why schools insist on sending letters to alumni or parents and them making those same alumni and parents fill out their address on the reply device. If we’re mailing them a letter, then we know their address. So we can just print it on the reply device when we’re printing the letters!

    The same goes for the web form. While it might be nice to have answers for every database field in our donor’s record, each additional field adds friction to the giving process. As Mary states in her post, “Don’t ask for her life story…Keep [the process] emotional and simple.” Plus, if they’re our alumni, we should know quite a bit of their story already.

    Your parent or alumni should be able to click a link in an email and be taken to the page where she can put in the credit card information. Remember: each additional step slows down the giving process and risks the donor’s giving up.

  3. Your school needs to recede into the background

    As stated above, a big key to fundraising success is letting your donor be the hero of the story. Not your school. We’ve seen organizations that learned this a the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference double and even triple their fundraising results from this one change! Mary gives this great exhortation: Remember: your organization is simply a means to an end.

    This can hurt our egos but it’s solid fundraising advice. Connecting the alumni or parent with your great impact your school is having will make your school’s year-end appeals much more successful.

Good fundraising takes strong leaders

Chances are your team is trying to make the fundraising appeal about your nonprofit. The hard truth is that your nonprofit is only a means to an end. A means to the donor’s end. Counter-intuitively, fundraising appeals work better as your nonprofit recedes into the background of the story.

It takes a strong leader to give her staff permission to write this way. Obviously it helps if the head of school is on board with this approach because this goes against our natural instincts of “proving” our school is worthy of their donations.

But test after test shows that making the alumni or parent the hero is what brings in money. If you’ve tried this, let us know how it’s worked for you by leaving a comment below!

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