The Year I Didn’t Have to Worry About Year-End Fundraising

year-end fundraising
Not too long ago, I didn’t have to worry about year-end fundraising – and I’m not going to lie, it was pretty glorious.

It was the year I worked at a tech firm on a social media publishing and listening product. Turns out Fortune 500 companies don’t do a lot of year-end fundraising.

And it was the first year in 10, maybe 12(?) that I wasn’t making last minute changes to copy and constantly refreshing numbers to see how appeals were performing for my clients.

Aside from a little break, the year that I wasn’t responsible for crafting or sending out a TON of fundraising appeals, was also a chance for me to gain some perspective about how year-end fundraising must look to someone who doesn’t do this for a living.

Now, keep in mind I had culled my inbox A LOT at this point….but here’s a snapshot of my inbox the last week in December that year:

Jenn Smith's Gmail Year-End Fundraising


If I was signed up for the normal amount of email from organizations I’ve worked with and loved, this image would probably be three-times the size.

Before you run screaming that you can’t compete with that much email in someone’s inbox at year-end, know this – you pretty much have no choice.

If you are a 501c3 organization who relies on individual donations to raise money for your programs and services, December continues to be the month where you have a better than normal shot at bringing in critical dollars.

So let’s use a little perspective to help you make the most out of your year-end fundraising campaigns this year.

The sprint at the end of the race is more successful when you’ve trained all year long.

While everyone focuses on stand-out subject lines and stand-out creative to compete in that jammed in-box, the real truth is that the work you do all year long to communicate, engage, and build loyalty with your donors and supporters is what helps trigger that extra tax-deductible gift in December.

If you haven’t been doing your best to engage with your donors or if you never had a strategic plan in place to do this well, it’s time to make a change. Even if right now, you have to stay focused on your year-end fundraising campaign – make time in January to sit down with your team, your consultants and other stakeholders to talk about how you can better serve your constituents throughout the year next year. And remember this – the better your work is during the year and the better experience you provide for your donors – the more it will pay off next December.

Yep, you should still send a lot of email in December.

You saw that crowded in-box right? The fact is I saw every single one of those messages hit my inbox….and I didn’t open a whole bunch of them. It wasn’t because of subject lines or content or message. It was more like each message was a reminder – “oh yeah, I should give before the 31st!” And each reminder made me feel a liiiiiitle bit more guilty. Add that good guy guilt with a hard deadline (midnight! December 31!) and I was ready to make my gift.

Please make it easy to give.

You know what helped me when I did finally get it together to make my donations? When the organizations made it super simple and fast to do just that. I was taking care of business – and I wanted it done fast. I didn’t need convincing, I just needed it to be easy. That means less fields, less distraction, less COPY and way more “thank you’s” after I’m done.

Best practices are best practices for a reason.

There seem to be 101 blog posts that go into depth on one or all of these things, but here’s a quick year-end fundraising best practice review!

    Do have a compelling subject line – and do as much A/B split testing as you can possibly handle!
    Ask your donors to do one damn thing (ONLY ONE) and that’s make a gift.
    Get personal, why does it matter – to you, your staff, the people you serve – that I give you a gift? How will I make a difference for you?
    Optimize those landing pages. It’s worth repeating… make it easy to give. How’s your donation page look on mobile? Is it easy to give there? Have you cut down your fields and your copy? Is there anything that might distract or slow someone down who wants to contribute to your cause?

It’s a crazy time of year for organizations and the consultants that love them.

Remember what this all looks like from the perspective of your donors and try not to get too wrapped up in the stress-ball hell that year-end fundraising can bring. Treat your donors well, make things easy for them, and give them even more reasons to love and be a part of all the awesome ways you are changing the world.

Jenn Smith

About Jenn Smith

As an executive for Donordigital and the Watershed Company, and a Senior Social Strategy Consultant for Adobe, Jenn has helped many organizations. A marketing and fundraising professional with 10+ years experience in lead generation, management and donor acquisition, Jenn’s in-depth strategic planning has developed creative communications and marketing campaigns for mission-driven organizations to help build relationships with clients, community partners, and diverse audiences.

One comment

  1. Bre-Lyn Cober Wong

    Great tips!
    (though I’m happy to be just a year-end donor this year…)

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