Tag Archives: Year-end

What to Do As the Year Winds Down

By David A. Mersky

Sand dropping in Timer

The year is nearly over. At this point, you have done absolutely everything you can for your direct response and mid-range donors. 

So, what do most organizations do? They send everybody home between Christmas and New Year’s.

Yes, you may still be calling some of your most important supporters. But everything else that will enable you to finish 2022 successfully is fully baked. 

Or is it? Remember that 50% (not a typo) of all online giving happens in the last week of the year; 21% occurs on the very last day.

Now is the time to be especially vigilant — making sure that online forms are functioning, checks are deposited, records are updated, and acknowledgments are sent with a personal note that tells the donor how valued they are. 

The mail and email may be scheduled (at least three emails should be sent on the last two days of the year), but this is the time to be sure the mail is opened, online gifts are processed, deposits are made, the CRM is updated, and acknowledgements are processed for those who make their gifts as the final page of the calendar turns.

A Time for Planning

The close of the year is also the time to start planning for the next. What will you track?:

  • Who gave in 2022 who had not given in 2021? Did an action you took trigger the gifts (e.g., a match, an impact report)?  
  • How can we increase the number of people who have supported us in the past, skipped a year, and then came back?
  • Who increased their gift in 2022 from what they had given previously? How can we get them to do it again and encourage more to join them?
  • Who did not give in 2022 but had given in 2021? How do we revive their affection and dedication to the work that we do?
  • Who gave for the very first time in 2022? How do we ensure that we retain their support and get them to give again?


In fundraising, as in marketing, the ultimate objective is to create segments of more and more homogeneous groups. Doing so allows you to develop what will feel like deeply customized approaches that connect with your donors and that encourage them to invest in your community generously and continually.

Resume your analysis with a review of the tactics used this year and the results realized:

  • Who responded to your snail mail solicitations?
  • Who was invited to join your sustainers society and became a monthly donor?
  • Who was asked to consider a legacy and informed you that they had made provisions for your organization in their estate plan?
  • Who came to a special event — a small wine and cheese in a home, a major gala in a hotel ballroom, etc. — and how did they behave philanthropically differently than they had previously?

These are just a few examples of questions that you should prepare to ask after all the results for the year are received. Overall, your objective is to understand which tactics had the highest return on investment with which segments, in order to do more of what worked in 2023.

As you sit in your office these next two weeks considering all that you and your hardworking staff have accomplished in 2022, keep in mind that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over and next year is just around the corner.

Is Analyzing Year-End Numbers For Your Nonprofit Just A Distraction?

This is another strange January. Just as we thought we were out of the worst of the pandemic we are living with more cases of Coronavirus in our lives. We are all impacted by the surge whether it is in our immediate family (I hope you and yours are all well) or simply that buildings are closed, and we are back to days filled with Zoom meetings.

I find that it is sometimes hard to set aside blocks of time to concentrate on higher level projects. I think of Dug, the dog in the Pixar movie, UP, that gets distracted mid-sentence by squirrels. For me, the “squirrels” (read: calls/emails/kids/Apple Watch alert/dog/noise outside/truck passing 3 streets over/idea that I may have to reorder coffee/etc.) that I used to be able to ignore, now grab my attention faster than I can blink. But I still need to get things done. Things like analyzing year-end numbers before the end of January.

Here are some statistics to create for your nonprofit if you are analyzing year-end numbers.  And something to return to when you realize you have spent too long looking out the window at the squirrels.

Understanding annual fund trends are essential when planning for the next year. How can you create realistic goals or targets for segments if you don’t know where you currently stand. Now is a good time to calculate:

  1. Your month over month for 2020 vs 2021. Yes, 2021 was unusual. But so was 2020. It’s unclear when we will have the next “normal” year. It is time to plan for the unexpected each and every year. And you should start with your actual data.
  2. What percentage of your donations came in during December? I think it is a valuable data point when analyzing year-end numbers.
  3. Your basic donor statistics including: * If you are unsure how to do this get in touch
    • Percent of donor retention
    • Number of donors who increased their gift
    • Number of donors who decreased their gift
  4. How did your letters, emails, phone calls, social media posts, etc. impact your donations? Was one letter more successful than another? Did one topic or aspect of your end-of-year campaign attract a higher response? Has your social media affected your site traffic?
  5. Your major donors year-over-year including:
    • How many major donors did you retain? You want it to be higher than your average donor retention rate since you are spending more time focused on this group.
    • How you interacted with each donor to upgrade/ retain the gift and whether it had an impact (a good contrast is to pick someone who didn’t get the same love and attention without judgements. It’s hard to reach everyone with limited time and resources)
    • What you should plan for this year based on what provided a great return on your time/energy investment and what did not. Be honest. You may have loved your social media reminders but did they help increase results?
  6. What big projects you want to accomplish in 2022.
    • Are you thinking about a capital/endowment campaign?
    • Was your annual fund all it needed to be in 2021?
    • Do you need to talk to MJA about your needs (I thought I would throw that in here since it is our blog)

If to you, this blog was another squirrel, as a distraction from doing something else, it can be justified. Use it to help you analyze your year-end results.

If you want a real distraction, here is the first scene from the Pixar movie, UP, that started the squirrel meme.

Five End-of-year Segmentation Strategies

End-of-year Segmentation Possibilities

This week, I have been considering the importance of end-of-year segmentation for the next 2+ months of Daily Table solicitations. I don’t mean personalization which should always be used to highlight previous giving and specific asks. I mean separating out different segments of a nonprofit’s donors and prospects to send tailored letters.

How many ways should an organization segment their end-of-year campaign? Is segmentation just for letters? Emails? Social Media? What is the time trade-off in this all important and extremely busy season? Which way should I go?

I thought I would share the potential end-of-year segmentation strategies I am considering. Possibilities include:

  1. At the minimum, use the CRM to separate current, recurring, lapsed and recent donors. This is a no brainer and will only require minimal changes to the letter. It is a bit more work than sending the same letter to everyone, but well worth the effort.
  2. Should my emails have the same or alternate end-of-year segmentation strategies as my snail mail? Segmenting is easy in email if your CRM is set up well. And probably even if it’s not set up that well. You can take out previous donors prior to each email. You can add special incentives or matches on the fly. You can encourage one group over another – i.e., if you realize that your LYBUNTs are not responding at the same rate as in previous years, you can alter the message for the rest of the campaign. NOTE: This means you must build evaluation and campaign restructuring into your timeline. Marketing and approvals can take hours or days. And do you want a few days delay in December?
  3. Can you segment social media? Yes. Cross posts between Facebook and Instagram or LinkedIn and Twitter are easy enough with a few clicks. But should you just do it automatically? While you can’t send different messages to different Friends on Facebook without groups, you can consider the specific audience on each social media platform as a different segment. If your audience is younger on Instagram – what would they like to hear vs the parents and grandparents on Facebook? What do you want to say to the business-focused crowd on LinkedIn? Would additional stats help? In other words if you are going to use social media – use it well.
  4.  Pull donors who have recently given during November and send them an additional thank you instead of an additional solicitation. This may seem counterintuitive when we are all focused on asking donors and prospects multiple times in our end-of-year campaigns. But development is a long game. We need funds for this year, but we never want to compromise donations for next year (see #5, below). Ask yourself whether a solicitation within weeks of a donation is more likely to get you another gift or an annoyed donor. Note: If you do decide to use this strategy for segmentation, let them know that they are receiving the thank you instead of the solicitation. And in the P.S. offer a way they can donate if they want to give again.  
  5. Add a cumulative giving to my end-of-year segmentation. If a donor has given for 5, 10 or 20 years – at any level – an organization can list their lifetime giving in communications. Lifetime giving is a key measurement of donor value. Someone who gives $50 for 5 years can be worth more than a $250 donor. Of course, Daily Table hasn’t been around 10 years. But that doesn’t mean cumulative giving shouldn’t be considered for the loyal supporters who helped get us off the ground and continue to give.

Want to look at it by type of donor or prospect? Check out our previous article on 17 Ways to Segment Lists For A Year-End Appeal

If you have additional strategies that you have used successfully (or you are considering this year) let me know. I am always open to learning from the MJA community.  

Which is Easier? Getting a Teenager into College or Getting New Donors in December?

Getting into college or getting new donors?We are starting the college process with my 16-year-old twins. What is amazing when you look at the 3000+ colleges in the country is that there are 3,000+ colleges in the country. That means that if a child wants to go to college, there are plenty of options. And not every child wants to go to an Ivy League or an NCAA champion. In fact, there are thousands of other schools that are better matches for millions of students.

Stay with me here.

Your child will not, in all likelihood get into every school they apply to. The school will not get every student they want. And yet, 3,000 plus schools will have amazing freshmen classes starting each fall.

Just as a university only wants the students who want to be there, you only want the donors who want to give to your nonprofit. If they don’t feel connected students, and donors, will leave for a place with a better fit.

Getting New Donors

At this time of year, it feels as if everyone is talking about getting new donors. Whether they are focusing on end-of-year giving or strategizing for next year, the obvious path forward always seems to be about getting as many people as possible to write checks for any amount.

You may want to increase the number of donors in 2019, but you may not.  

I would suggest that instead of searching for 50 or 100 new donors to your organization, you consider deepening the relationships with the donors you already have. If you are anywhere near the average of 45.5% retention, you will have to find 50, 100 or more first time donors. But those new donors usually give lower amounts than long-term donors, so you will have to find 50, 100 or more first time donors each and every year to replace those you are losing.

You can raise more money if you focus on retention and increased giving. Unlike colleges, you will not have millions of people looking for new organizations to donate to. So, in all likelihood, if you are finding 50 new donors, they are coming from other nonprofits who did not engage them beyond the first gift.

So the real question about getting into college vs. getting new donors might not be which is easier, but which will help you find a better connection(s). Over time, you will raise more money, with less volatility, when you have stronger relationships with the people who want to give to you. You may never have millions of donors, but retaining hundreds of donors year after year will help you fulfill your mission. And that is the idea, after all.


* I suspect that this will be the first of many columns that will reference this fact. Why? When I learn, I like to share that learning. And so many skills learned outside of fundraising can be used inside of fundraising (e.g. timely thank yous, telling people you appreciate them, keeping in touch beyond when you are asking for something, etc). I hope it doesn’t give you PTSD or scare you. If it does, please let me know and we can talk about therapy sessions we offer. 


It’s Time for You to Evaluate Donor Retention For the Past Year

Last Minute Ideas for #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday Ideas

I think this #GivingTuesday will look different than previous years.

Many nonprofits will be asking for money and often forgetting basic fundraising rules – you know, like making it about the donor or telling a story.

Instead, consider some ways to up your game during a crowded time period and excite your donors.

  1. Lead up to #GivingTuesday as an event. Remembering that the goal is still to make the day about the donor – not just your nonprofit. What would interest them in a trickle campaign? – How about a “Have a poll/naming game” for a mascot, new lounge or title for a new program? Silliness, creativity, and/or something useless that intrigues people will play well because they know that you are trying to engage them and have fun – not just ask them for money. Announcing the results on #GivingTuesday with an ask will give people a reason to open your email (instead of the 50 other emails and social media asks).
  2. Ask people to give something besides money on #GivingTuesday. Whether you need volunteers to fill backpacks with winter necessities or people to work at an event during the holiday season – asking for something besides donations can be a strong strategy for deepening your donor relationships.
  3. Use peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising. The easiest way for you to get people’s attention might be to ask others to help. Facebook will help by matching donations and eliminating fees, so make a plan to creatively encourage your donors to fundraise on your behalf.
  4. Don’t have your act together for this year? See if you can figure out a giving event in December or even January, that you can promote on #GivingTuesday.
  5. Team up with another nonprofit for a challenge. While in theory, you are all competing for donations, in reality, there is more money being donated than either of you are getting. Embrace the giving season by working together to create something fun, engaging and somewhat connected. It can be a contest to see who can get more people to like a picture, donate a pair of socks (or some other small but valuable to your organization donation that can be given in person or online), or write something nice on an online “wall.” And, you guessed it, the winning organization and the results will be announced on #GivingTuesday.
  6. Thank donors before #GivingTuesday. I worry that nonprofits will have low open rates on the actual day. This is not based on fact, only on the huge number of organizations that will send me emails, social media messages and posts. – Because it’s hard to break through the clutter, you have to be different if you want to stand out. If you are not geared up to do a huge campaign, consider that you can use the time to steward donors and encourage giving during December – when a disproportionate amount of giving takes place. Whether you thank them with a creative email, a small gift or phone call, the point will come across that you are giving on that day and not asking.  While it may be tempting to send that on #GivingTuesday, remember that they will only see the thank you if they open the email and don’t automatically hit delete.

And please let me know what you discover!

Why You Should Send 3 Year-End Solicitation Emails in the Next 18 Days

The most common reason nonprofits are hesitant to send multiple emails in December is fear of annoying donors.  I get it. However, nonprofits who send 3 emails in December will be noticed–that is the point of sending these year-end solicitations emails, isn’t it?

Afraid of unsubscribes?

You will increase unsubscribes, but you shouldn’t let that stop you.  While organizations, both for- and nonprofit use their list size as a success indicator, it’s time to look a little closer at those lists. I would suggest that it is better to have a smaller list of people who care instead of a larger list of peripheral folks who are always on the edge of unsubscribing.

The truth is, if they unsubscribe because you are asking for donations, they were not going to give a donation through your website anyway.

Side note: I know what you’re thinking, but they may give in the future and now we have no way of emailing them again. It’s highly unlikely that anyone on your list–including previous supporters–who unsubscribe would have donated to you again. That is, unless you create an engagement plan in effect that is far beyond 1, 2 or 3 year-end solicitation emails. (A plan to deepen the engagement of your list is a good idea for most nonprofits but that will have to wait for another blog post).

These easy un-subscribers may be friends of staff or board members, single event attendees from a few years back, or someone who thought you might be of interest down the line.  You would have continued to send them emails (and/or snail mail) solicitations for years to come but really, they were lowering your rate of return. If they value your organization, they would appreciate your fundraising efforts, not easily unsubscribe.

What are those 3 emails you should still send this month?

  1. As I mentioned in a previous article on #GivingTuesday, 1/3rd of giving in December happens during the last 4 days so make sure you send at least one email during that time. Keep the email simple, offering a way to give before the year ends. This is a reminder for those already interested in giving, not an introduction or detailed update.
  2. Send one today or tomorrow with a variety of donation options and a clean, clear ask button. Some people wait until the end of the month, but as people consider their gifts for the year, you want to make sure you are top-of-mind. And make sure those donation options paint a picture for the prospect, i.e. “Your gift of $150 will help provide 50 kids with new books.”
  3. The third email should be sometime next week with an update of where you are in your year-end campaign, other ways to give like volunteering or in-kind donations, or a way to thank previous donors for their support. The donate button should be obvious (see the trend?) and the message should be simple, but this is more about increased visibility during this giving season.

So, don’t be afraid of the unsubscribes and keep sending those December emails! And let us know how it works out for you by replying to this email or via twitter @merskyjaffe