Forget Christmas in July, plan your year-end campaign now

By Anna Patty | Nonprofits Column

Once upon a time, we could spend Thanksgiving enjoying time with family and relaxing in the afternoon. Today, that’s often not the case. We rush through holiday celebrations and hurry to the store or online for Black Friday (now Thursday).

“Seriously,” we all ask ourselves, “Can’t we just get through one holiday at a time?” Alas, the answer is no.

The same holds true for nonprofit year-end fundraising campaigns. The industry has rolled out year-end campaigns earlier over the past decade, and they now tend to begin. I could give several reasons why this is the case, but the simple “why” is that it works.

However, dropping a year-end appeal before Thanksgiving is only a small piece of a successful strategy. There are several pieces that are part of the equation, including a strategic message and calendar, Giving Tuesday, delivery methods and targeted messaging. Roughly one-third of all charitable giving happens at year end. A planful year-end strategy is pivotal to the success of nonprofits. How do you make sure that your nonprofit is doing it right?

Make a plan

Start early (read: now) with a strategy and identify each person’s role. Each member of your fundraising team has an important role to play in the year-end campaign. If you have a taskmaster on your team, put that person in charge of making sure things happen. Start by putting all the parts to your campaign in a calendar, including writing, designing, editing, printing and drop dates.

Decide on a message

Look at your overall fundraising strategy and communications calendar. Each fundraising effort and communication piece should be connected in theme, message and brand. For nonprofits that run on a July to June fiscal year, the organization’s annual report is often a critical piece of year-end fundraising efforts, often released in early to mid-fall. For nonprofits on a January to December fiscal calendar, the annual report is not any less important, but its role shifts a bit.

I prefer to decide on an overall theme for messaging each calendar or fiscal year, something unique that ties to the organization’s core message. Using the annual report and year-end appeal in tandem, one option might be to use a continuation of a story you told in your annual report for the year-end appeal.

Paint a story

Your story should do one key thing: make the reader feel something. People give for many reasons, but they never give unless they can believe in the mission of an organization. A year-end appeal should uplift the impact of your work and the donors’ critical role in making it happen. Tell the story of one person, one animal or one group. Tell the details. It’s the little things like a homeless child being able to celebrate her birthday despite her living situation or a dog who was once afraid of people, snuggling next to its new owner. Photography and video can help your story, but make sure to focus on the narrative and telling a compelling story.

Make it happen

Execution is critical. Stick to your calendar for your campaign. Don’t get worked up by every shiny object in your path. For example, Facebook’s Giving Tuesday match in 2018 got a lot of hype followed by a lot of confusion and frustration, as the match was limited to $7 million worldwide and the max was reached within 30 minutes. Stay the course. Focus on holding to a well-rounded approach and focus your efforts on the communication methods that work best for your donors.

If you start early and hold true to your plan, not only will you have breathing room to pivot if something goes awry, you might get to enjoy Thanksgiving. •

Anna Patty is owner and doer of good at Be The Good Consulting, LLC a strategic and comprehensive marketing, fundraising, data management and public relations firm based in Cedar Rapids.