I’m getting started on year-end fundraising strategy with many of my clients. For the ones that are in the healthiest shape, we’re having a conversation about how we can use the opportunity to fund something that’s been on the wish list for a while—for others, we’re just focusing on meeting our annual fundraising goal.

Here are a few questions we are asking; we found last year that answering these made a big difference (shoot me an email if you’d like to chat about your own EOY needs):

(1) What is our dollar goal?

Vague things like “help us close the budget gap” don’t help raise money. Having a specific amount does—if you can tell people you need $20,000 to do X (see more about X in #2 below), then two things happen. One, people can see how their dollar amount fits into the big picture, which can make them more likely to give generously. Two, you can start to break down that amount into subsets (see #3) so that smaller givers pitch in.

(2) What is our mission goal?

Having said that, for all but your strongest supporters, the dollar amount is a concern that’s secondary to the mission goal. What will you buy with that $20,000? What are your supporters helping you accomplish? If it really is closing a budget gap, talk about your mission, programs, and vision for next year. But if you can relate it to something more specific, especially something more human, your supporters can sink their imaginative “teeth” into it a lot better.

(3) What’s your narrative arc?

Unless you are so good at your constituent engagement that most of your followers are up to the minute on your news, and on the edge of their seats in terms of interest, chances are you don’t want to go straight from zero to 60 and start asking for money. Use October, November, and December to remind them who you are, what you do, stories that bring the year to life, and what you’re trying to do next—preferably unified by a single, compelling theme, phrase, or message—more or less independent of an explicit ask. If a donor reads a letter, opens a couple emails, and sees a few pieces of social media content between now and my first Christmas party, she should get a cumulative picture that YOU want her to see—the story that’s going on inside your walls; the underlying reason why her gift will be important. Use this time to convince her you are worth supporting this December…without ever actually saying so.

(4) How are we segmenting our audience and our asks?

Try going to someone capable of a $100 donation and telling him you need to raise a million dollars. More than likely, he won’t give—because he sees his capacity is insignificant in the grander scheme of things. Likewise, you can bombard those one-star Mailchimp subscribers with nineteen emails begging them for money, and all they’ll do is unsubscribe. On the other hand, if you go straight for the people who have already written you three big checks this year, they might just start to think they’re your only donors and get scared off. So how are you intelligently breaking down your list so that you’re reaching the right people with the right ask? People who appreciate what you do but have limited capacity should be able to see how their small gift (or monthly pledge for next year) adds up to a big difference—especially if they get their friends on board (or give on their behalf in lieu of Christmas presents). Large givers, lapsed givers, people clustered in a specific area, people who have indicated a clear interest in one part of what you do…there are lots of ways to slice and dice. Make sure people are getting a message that resonates with them and an ask that matches their abilities and interests.

(5) How are our different communications media complementing each other?

Snail mail letter. Email “drip campaign” from Thanksgiving to December 31. Personal phone calls from volunteers, staff, or leadership. And that mysterious beast, social media (which you should not use as a free way to send out boring “DONATE NOW!!!” posts every day). Make sure you’ve got the plan and the infrastructure so that those segments (and your general audience) are getting that narrative arc; that cumulative picture—and so people are getting the message via the media they prefer to use to connect with you. The last three days of the year are the biggest online giving days of the year—but that also means you’re competing with a lot of other messages. Make yours compelling. And don’t forget, most of your best year-end givers are your most invested supporters, so make sure they feel personally valued and thanked!

(6) How is our campaign building our audience?

Spending a lot of time and money trying to get first-time gifts in an end-of-year campaign is usually a waste—people gravitate towards their favorite charities at the end of the year. That said, you’re creating all this material for social media anyway, and if you’re spending those social media ad dollars intelligently, a lot of new people are seeing your content. Use the opportunity to mix in some clever introductory content and ads so that you go into next year with some new followers or subscribers (and make sure you have that automated follow-up content ready so they get into the flow of things!).


I hope these questions help you spend your time and money wisely. Done right, you shouldn’t have to spend much time on snail mail, email, or social in December—schedule it out in advance, and spend your time in December engaging with donors personally in person, on the phone, and on social…and spending time with your family.