How to run a successful year-end giving campaign

Chris Esh


The final two months of the year are a critical time for nonprofit fundraising. It’s a chance for a final boost of donations that benefits from feelings of goodwill around the holidays and the end of the tax year.

You and Everybody Else

The problem is you aren’t the only one trying to capitalize on this opportunity. Most other nonprofits are ramping up their efforts as well, and potential donors will be inundated with emails, social media marketing, and snail mail campaigns. So how do you get your word out amidst the noise?

Here are some of my tips for standing out and running a successful year-end giving campaign:

The Fundamentals

Tell a story

Your appeal needs to tell a compelling story that connects with your audience. Facts and figures are not memorable, but stories are.

Whether it’s a story about an individual you help, the movement you’re building, or an origin story of your organization, this is the most important piece of the whole campaign.

Make it emotionally appealing, concise, and consistent.

Make them feel directly involved

And don’t forget to include donors in your story! It doesn’t have to be explicit, but make sure they can make the logical leap between their donation and your story.

Real talk: most people donate money because it helps them feel good about themselves. When they browse your appeals, they’re unconsciously asking themselves, “How will I feel about myself as a donor of this organization?”

Never use third-person when talking about your organization—if donors don’t feel included in the story, they’ll get bored and move on. Instead talk about your organization as if it’s a community that they’re a part of, using “you” and “we” when appropriate.

  • Instead of: XYZ supported 1,000 families last year
  • Try this: Our network of donors, staff, and volunteers were able to support 1,000 families last year.

Focus on your core supporters

If you’re talking to everybody, nobody stops to listen. Instead, engage a specific somebody with your giving campaigns.

As I wrote previously, nonprofits should target their most passionate supporters, who will in turn help spread the word. Identify the people that come to all of your events, engage with you on social media, and donate/volunteer regularly. Then determine why they like you so much. This is your niche.

And chances are there are many other potential supporters out there looking for this exact type of organization. The more you home in on your niche, the stronger your network of support will become.

Make their donation tangible

Which is more appealing: giving an organization $250 or giving this lady a water buffalo?

Source: Heifer International

And if that brilliant story isn’t enough, the page includes tooltips that explain exactly how a water buffalo can change the life of a family by plowing and providing milk.

Keep it real

People crave authenticity. Use language that is warm and conversational. Avoid the nonprofit jargon that you seeped in daily and instead opt for a human tone.

Read your content out loud and pretend you’re talking to a potential donor. It should sound like something you’d actually say to a real person in a social setting. If not, go back to the drawing board.

Keep it positive

Remember those commercials where a well-dressed white person stood in a dusty village in Africa surrounded by undernourished children and then asking for a donation to help them?

Don’t do that. While it’s emotionally arresting, it’s not a sustainable way to get and retain donors. It’s too heavy, so they’ll change the channel, hide your social media updates and leave your emails unopened.

Instead of despair, promote hope. Present the vision of what the world could be in order to energize donors, rather than making them despair about the problems.

The Nuts and Bolts

Make a Timeline

Most people don’t donate on the first ask, so make sure you have a plan in place to tell a consistent story across multiple platforms throughout November and December.

Create a clear timeline that outlines how and when you’ll engage your supporters. This will include dates for sending out mass emails and letters, as well as events and social media posts.

Create the Content

Don’t just send the same request over and over with slightly different language. Tell a multi-part story that engages potential donors and makes them feel important.

Once you decide on the main story to tell with your campaign, find a creative way to approach it from multiple angles including stories, case studies, stats, and future goals.

Leverage #GivingTuesday

Use Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) as an excuse to contact supporters again. Whether you think it’s brilliant or cliche, there’s no reason to skip it.

Use a Multi-Channel Approach

Use all of your communication channels to reach your audience, including email, snail mail, social media, and live events.

But don’t just recycle the same content! Optimize each for their platform. Don’t just post the content from your e-blast on Facebook.

Be a Giver on Social Media

Social media is a great way to connect with your audience and tell a compelling story. You can ask for donations here, but do so infrequently and only after you’ve established a fun, engaging and helpful presence.

A good ratio is around 7:1. For every seven fun, helpful, or interesting posts, you can send one direct request for donations. Otherwise people will get tired and unfollow you.

Make Sure Your Donation Form is Optimized

Just because a user visits your donate page does not mean they will donate. You’ve worked hard to stir their passion and connect to their values so don’t wipe that out with a buggy, impersonal, or overly long donation form.

If you don’t get regular donations online, make sure to submit a test donation before sending out any mass appeals. You don’t want to realize after the fact that the form is broken.

Make the Campaign Unique

Don’t just send the same generic campaign you’d use any time of year. Make it fresh and timely. Whether that means tapping into holiday themes of goodwill, raising money in time for a big 2019 goal, or connecting with current events, campaigns that feel relevant and timely capture attention.

Last Word

This year, use your year-end giving campaign to tell a story that connects with your audience and makes them feel important. Try stepping outside the box, being bold, and closing this year’s fundraising out with a splash.

Photo credits:
Santa: Guilherme Stecanella, Unspash
Leaves: Chris Lawton, Unsplash
Little Tree: Scott Webb, Pexels


Join our email list!

Tips and tricks to bring your marketing inline with your values, delivered to your inbox.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.