Proven Responsive Year-End Fundraising Strategies

The season of giving has arrived, so you’re likely in the weeds of year-end fundraising strategy. Unlike years past, nonprofits are feeling the pressure to outperform last year’s year-end campaign due to the decline in giving seen in the previous year.

2022 became a token year, going down in history as one of the four instances that giving has dropped within the last 40 years. The three other times that giving declined were 2008 and 2009 due to the Great Recession, as well as 1987 during the Black Monday stock market crash.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a shift in the way donors give to the charitable organizations they care about. The information overload that we now have access to, thanks to technology and innovation, has created a widening gap between nonprofits and donors. Research from the “2023 Edelman Trust Barometer” finds that trust in nonprofits has fallen behind that of for-profit businesses.

Nonprofits are stuck at a crossroads and must figure out how to regain that trust. At a time when there are so many things competing for your donors’ attention, how can organizations mobilize their communities and re-activate donor generosity during the holiday season?

Virtuous recently partnered with CauseMic on a webinar on year-end fundraising campaign planning. We’ll walk through key insights in this blog, but here’s the video replay for those who want to watch the webinar in full:


Forge Meaningful Connections Through Responsive Fundraising

When you foster trust among your donors, the longer they’ll stay with your organization. Data from “Solid Gold: The Nonprofit Marketer’s Guide to Trust” finds that 34% of donors continue giving to high-trust organizations for seven or more years compared to low-trust organizations. Similarly, donors at high-trust organizations have a higher lifetime value, with more than a third of donors giving more than $1,000 in totality vs. 12% in low-trust organizations.

Building trust among your donors means that you have to put in the effort to establish meaningful connections with them. However, this doesn’t mean that you attempt to strengthen those relationships once a year during year-end fundraising. This once-a-year communication reinforces transactional relationships, and donors will lose interest quickly. It’s a surefire way not to meet your fundraising goals.

To achieve the type of connection with donors that inspires ongoing support year after year, it’s essential to take a responsive approach to fundraising, which—at its core—means that you’re working on that relationship year-round, not once in a while.

The Responsive Fundraising Framework

The Responsive Fundraising Framework was born because traditional fundraising models no longer resonate with donors. Donors lack personal connections to the causes they care about due to a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t speak to the donors, their interests, or their passions.

Donors are looking for connectivity through personalized experiences and donor-centric communications. But instead, they’re receiving organization-centric messaging that doesn’t account for the donor in the story.

Your donors are tired of receiving impersonal mass communication clogging up their inboxes. Responsive fundraising is built around four pillars: listen, connect, suggest, and learn.

Equipped with modern technology, data intelligence, and donor-centric giving experiences—nonprofits can now create personalized donor journeys at scale. By becoming responsive, nonprofits can personalize communications with donors to strengthen relationships that lead to higher engagement, increased activism, and greater giving.

The Responsive Fundraising Framework
The Responsive Fundraising Framework

How to Build a Responsive Year-End Fundraising Campaign

Building a successful year-end fundraising campaign is a multi-layered process that involves careful planning, effective communication, and strategic execution.

While you might have an iron-clad plan on marketing your campaign and engaging existing and potential donors at year’s end, you’ll likely fall short of your goals if you don’t have a strategy to get there.

“A good plan means little with the proper execution and vice versa. Using the right structured frameworks, both can occur for exponential growth.”

Matt Scott, CEO of CauseMic

As you’re creating plans around your year-end fundraising campaign, Abby Caschetta, Growth Consultant at CauseMic, offers three critical questions to answer:

Building an effective nonprofit year-end fundraising strategy.
  • Is it memorable?
    What will make your campaign stand out from others? The experience is becoming a more integral to making deeper connections with donors. This is where you can become more responsive: personalizing the donor experience with the data in your nonprofit CRM.
  • Is it manageable?
    You should always consider bandwidth and resources with any new campaign launch. You can have the most elaborate plan, but without an attainable execution strategy, you’ll likely miss your target. To help you along the way, lean on marketing automation tools, like Virtuous, to scale efforts like sending gift acknowledgment letters, personalizing communications with merge tags, or entering donors into a workflow specifically during the year-end giving season.
  • Is it measurable?
    Like for all of your campaigns, having a way to measure key performance indicators is a requirement; it’s how you set your organization up for campaign success. As you make your campaign goals for year-end, set distinct success metrics (e.g., website traffic, conversion rate, dollars raised). This is where your responsive nonprofit CRM can track donor engagement and offer suggestions for the next steps for donors to take, ultimately helping you devise an action plan to reach your goals.

“If you want to track, do you have the tech stack support that enables you to do that tracking? You can plan to track and measure the number of new donors or the revenue from different channels but to ensure you have the proper tracking in place, we want to make sure we’re not overlooking [the tech to] get the answers that we’re looking for,” Caschetta explains.

Key Year-End Fundraising Campaign Elements

While there are several moving pieces when planning out your year-end giving initiatives, three core elements are pivotal in shaping your campaign and maximizing its outcomes.

Key campaign elements for a year-end fundraising strategy

Campaign Brief

The campaign brief will be the primary document that acts as the foundation for your year-end fundraising campaign. Your core messaging and communications calendar will be built from the information in your campaign brief.

This document is the first step in the campaign-planning process and should outline six key components:

  1. Objectives and goals
  2. Campaign concept
  3. Campaign timing
  4. Key messaging
  5. Audiences
  6. Channels

Even after figuring out the finite details of the components above, what will turn your year-end plan into an iron-clad strategy is the execution that comes with it. Effective and thorough execution transforms your plans into goal-smashing outcomes. The ability to implement the campaign across various channels, engage with donors through compelling narratives, and leverage personalized communication is what will make your campaign soar.

To support the execution of your campaign, plan out what creative assets you need ahead of time so your team isn’t scrambling last minute at any point during the year-end giving season. A few must-haves for your campaign include on-the-ground photography, impact videos, social media graphics, print and/or digital ads, direct mail pieces, branded merchandise for upcoming events, etc.

Another thing on your year-end priority list is fine-tuning audience segmentation. At a minimum, you should be segmenting out by giving level, audience, and channel. If you want to kick it up a notch, consider adding in supporter type (like recurring donors or major donors) or opportunity type (like those who work at companies that are eligible for matching gifts).

Part of the Virtuous suite of marketing tools is the ability to create donor segments, allowing nonprofits to send the right message at the right time to the right people. You’ll want to avoid sending one version to everyone in your donor base when sending campaign communications. We recommend brainstorming ways to segment givers and creating different versions for each segment so that the communication the donor receives is tailored to their unique experiences and preferences.

For nonprofits like Catholic Extension, combining the ability to parse down their donor file into very specific donor segments with clear analytics and improved tracking provides the team with full visibility into campaign performance and enhances the way they are able to engage donors.

“(With Virtuous) it’s easier to extract information, find information, and see information across the system. Being able to move through the system very seamlessly is of high value to every user.”

Madeleine Marchaterre, Senior Manager of Development of Catholic Extension

Marchaterre continues, “The overview page means every user is aware of all touchpoints on a donor from what segments were mailed, visits made, gifts received, contact info changed. A holistic snapshot of a donor is right in front of your eyes with one click and that’s a gold mine in a CRM.”

Virtuous screenshot of a contact record overview
A sample contact record from Virtuous Software.

Core Messaging

There are likely many different people working on your year-end fundraising campaign. From fundraising, development, and donor relations teams to marketing, communications, and data teams, creating a core messaging document ensures every touchpoint has aligned branding, voice, and tone—regardless of who is working on the campaign.

Everyone on your team has their reasons for connecting with your nonprofit’s mission, so not having a central document that includes grab-and-go items can cause disparate messaging. Andrew Hansen, Senior Account Manager of CauseMic, explains, “This is where we capture a narrative. This is where we capture what we’re going to say in such a way that everybody who is involved in this process—even if you’re a team of one—is pulling from the same storyline.”

Here are a few tips to help you build your case for support:

  • Context statements:
    Within your core messaging document, include five to 10 supporting statements that provide context around the problems your organization is committed to solving.
  • Supporting statistics:
    These can be internal or reputable external research to support the context statements above. Pro tip: Pull impactful data from your nonprofit CRM from last year’s marketing campaign to show donors how much of a difference they can make collectively this year.
  • Calls to action:
    Create a series of five to 10 statements with a call to action to give, linking to your online donation form. Also, don’t forget to feature the impact your donors will make possible. If you have a matching gift or partner, include that language, as it’ll help encourage last-minute donations. 

Communications Calendar

With documentation for your campaign brief and core messaging complete, the last step of successful year-end fundraising campaign planning is finalizing your communications calendar. This document will include the cadence of your communications, the breakdown of donor segments, and the channels you’ll focus on.

Are you still pondering what information should be included in your communications calendar? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The who, when, where, and what:
    Your communications calendar doesn’t have to be fancy; it can be done right in a shared spreadsheet. In the document, map out your communications by audience: what communications they’ll receive, when they’ll receive it, and on which channels.
  • High-level messaging only:
    Focus on the purpose of each communication at a high level. You don’t need to figure out the intricate details just yet. Make it easy on your team by distilling consistent messaging for each donor segment, like one-time donors, monthly donors, major donors, fundraisers, event attendees, etc. 
  • Discern what to include:
    When determining whether a communication is needed, ask yourselves… “Will this communication add value to the recipient? Value is also determined by your ability to pull off this communication well.

“You need to be delivering your message on three or more channels and seven to 11 touchpoints throughout the campaign. What you’re building with the communications calendar is a project plan to task out all the work. You’re specifying the audiences, the segmentation, the preferred channel, the interest,” Caschetta further emphasizes.

Your communications calendar serves as a day-by-day guide of what tasks need to be done and who on your nonprofit team is responsible for executing those tasks. It keeps everyone aligned on roles and responsibilities and takes the guesswork out of what marketing pushes are in the queue.

Mapping a Year-End Fundraising Donor Journey

The sum of your year-end fundraising efforts is to deepen connections with donors, unlock year-end gifts by projecting a sense of urgency, and make progress toward supporter longevity. The foundation that lays the groundwork for your year-end campaign is mapping donor journeys. It’s your key to embodying true responsive fundraising.

Remember, interactions with existing and prospective donors aren’t a one-and-done type of deal—it requires a consistent effort that spans across the entirety of the donor lifecycle.

Here’s your snapshot to mapping out your year-end donor journeys:

Mapping a donor journey for a year-end fundraising strategy.
  • Create personas:
    Build out personas using data in your responsive nonprofit CRM. Key data points like donor involvement, intent, and interests in your organization can help you deliver messaging that resonates with donors and inspires action. Plus, it’ll help you perfect messaging for donors of all engagement levels. 
  • List out action steps:
    With an intuitive platform like Virtuous, you can track trends in current donor behavior and identify the next steps likely to move the donor to a conversion.
  • Match actions to your messaging:
    When crafting communications to send during year-end, ensure the content is relevant to the call to action you want donors to take. Remember, the purpose of your communications is to compel the donor to take action.
  • Create connections:
    Like the above, listen to your donors via surveys, phone calls, and data in your donor management system so that you can deliver relevant content donors want to engage with. This will, in turn, deepen connections with donors, encouraging them to look forward to future communications from your organization.
  • Make suggestions:
    After you’ve fostered trust with your donors by listening and connecting with them, you can then offer suggestions for them to take. Suggestions don’t always have to be a financial ask. It’s essential to diversify your suggestions, like making an annual donation, volunteering their time at an upcoming event, or raising funds through a peer-to-peer campaign.
  • Review and learn:
    As you embark on your year-end journey, remember to perform a campaign health check now and then. Your nonprofit CRM will identify which fundraising efforts are paying off and which need to be adjusted. Responsive fundraising is an iterative process that will continuously evolve as you learn more about your donors and what they are looking for.

“I’m a huge fan of multichannel. I think the opportunity to hit multiple different levels in communicating and visiting donors where they are is important. Who’s the right person? Where’s the right channel? That’s the core intent of responsive fundraising. It’s listening,” says Erik Tomalis, Director of Business Development of Virtuous.

A multi-channel workflow are essential for a year-end fundraising strategy.

Take the next step: If you’re ready to start mapping out responsive donor journeys but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. “The Donor Journey Guidebook” offers ready-to-use templates that you can use for your upcoming year-end fundraising campaign.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

If you know another nonprofit pro who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via Email, Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.

The Responsive Maturity Model
5 Steps to More Personalized Donor Experiences
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