Top 10 Ways to Screw up Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign

There’s nothing more important this fall than your year-end fundraising effort. The next six weeks is the time when many nonprofits receive most of their contributions.

And there is so much at stake right now.

This year, more than ever, you’ve got to engage donors in your opportunity and ask them to join you – in a smart, effective and compelling way.

I first created this list in 2011 and am updating it now for 2012.

Please don’t make these mistakes!

Here’s my  top 10 list of ways to sabotage your year-end fundraising effort.

1.  Send a letter that’s hard to read.

. . . with ponderous sentences, long paragraphs and no white space.  This fails the “easy to read” test, which is the first hurdle for your reader, who is skimming your prose for the highlights only.

Check out my list of 153 Ways to Raise More Money by Mail for guidelines on writing an effective letter.

Ditch the lofty tone and be casual, friendly to your reader.

2.  Send a letter that’s all about you – not all about the donor.

Check out what a donor-centered letter really looks like.

3.  Bury the ask deep inside a paragraph.

. . . or at the end of a sentence. Your reader must be able to easily find out how much you are asking for and for what purpose.

Put your ask in a stand alone sentence so it stands out.

Make it plainly clear what you are asking for – and ask cheerfully!

4.  Don’t include a  reply envelope.

You’d be surprised how many organizations leave out this VITAL component – you have to make it easy for people to give.

5.  Don’t update your web site.

Studies show that donors – even those who give by writing a check and sending it in the mail – will most often check out your web site to research you before they give.

And your website MUST look professional and up-to-date! And it must convey credibility and legitimacy.

Donors will get your paper letter and then go to your website to give. Be sure they are welcome!

6. Only send out one appeal letter.

This is disaster for many campaigns.  Studies show that one letter will typically get a 15% response – NOT enough to make your year-end goal.

Other studies show that you can increase the ROI of your campaign by 20% by adding an additional appeal in a different media channel.

Your donors are too busy and need repeated reminders. And no, it is not tacky to keep reminding them!

7.  Don’t do phone followup.

Some consultants say that a followup phone call can possibly double your results.

8.  Don’t do an email push to non-donors the last two days of December.

A majority of on-line donors give in December and most of them are on the last two days of December.

NOW is the time to get your online donation process working smoothly.

9.  Don’t send a PROMPT, warm, personal thank you immediately to your donors.

And “warm, personal” does not mean “on behalf of the board of directors we thank you for blah blah.”

This impersonal bunk doesn’t warm your donor’s heart.

A warm thank you uses the words “we” and “you” and is conversational in tone – not institutional.

Penelope Burk’s all time favorite thank you letter begins like this: “You must have heard the cheers in our halls when we received your generous pledge.”

10. Don’t have your board members call donors to thank them.

They need to call within 24 hours of the gift’s receipt.

Penelope Burk’s landmark studies showed that when board members made this type of followup call, then subsequent gifts from the donors rose by 39%!

Bottom Line:

Avoid at all costs, these mistakes.

Create a dynamite year-end campaign that brings in the urgently needed resources you need!

And if you’d like my help to create a year-end appeal letter that will open your donor’s hearts and wallets – I can help you. Find out more here.

Leave me a comment and tell me what you think!

  • Pingback: Year-End Fundraising Do’s and Don’ts | Lori Jacobwith

  • Gail

    Sure – go right ahead!

  • Lori Jacobwith

    Gail: I’d like to use your list for year-end campaigns in my blog post today. Is that okay w-you? I can be reached @LJacobwith on twitter. thx.

  • Pam de Jong

    Thanks for the tips. Just starting out and learning tons! I appreciate it. Pam

  • Dr. Ruth Dial Woods

    Gail – Thank you for this informative advice…we really need it. All nonprofits are struggling and we often need a competitive edge in our fundraising. Your tips will give us exactly that!

  • Karen Chapman, The City Dash of Winston-Salem

    Dear Gail: I am the volunteer fundraising chair for a volunteer professionals’ group. Your tips have helped us so much. Keep the tips coming!

  • emily


    Thank you for the reminders! I always appricate you emails! this is great information I enjoy taking time to read!

  • Bob Kennel

    Gail, as usual very sound advice. I really enjoyed working with you on UDC. We need some more. Also, if Ruth Dial Woods thinks you are good, you are GOOD !!
    Bob Kennel

  • Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE

    Great list! And of course, most of these are reminders for all year long.

    A small nonprofit I know nearly doubled their year end dollars and givers by simply telling more of a story about what they were doing and why they needed the money. You can read that here.

    Another small nonprofit doubled its giving over the course of a year largely because they started following up with past donors who hadn’t made a gift in the last year. Amazing. It seems so basic. I’ve found that it takes at least four requests to those lagging behind to just reach 75% renewal rates.

    Thank you again for a really practical list.

  • Bunnie Riedel

    The return envelope! Not long ago I was asked why I put in a return envelope…uh…well…to make it easier to donate. Thanks for mentioning that simple thing it really does make a difference. Bunnie

  • Kris Hoots

    Great list Gail! We agree with Gayle that these are great reminders for all year long.

    One other thing that can definitely mess up the year end giving is to start asking new donors for more gifts before you’ve even properly thanked them or welcomed them.

    We’ve found that a donor is usually not a donor to your org until they’ve made 2 (or even 3) gifts. The first gift is just their opening bid, if you will. And it’s where they are testing you out or assessing fit. If you get a match, you could get a second gift. If not, then you may lose them nearly before you really acquired them.

  • Betsy Baker

    Timely advice, Gail. I hope that nonprofits will take heed of it. End-of-year giving can make or break a nonprofit’s year during these critical financial times.

  • Pingback: Resources for End-of-Year Fundraising | Arts for DC Kids

  • Polly Laurelchild-Hertig

    Gail, your tips are so clear, and make a lot of sense. Thanks to you I was able to get approval to do 7 things in our annual appeal instead of just our usual 2. (They always sent just one annual appeal, and 1 email to our whole list). This year, we are sending: 1. Segmented letter, with acknowledgement of past gift amount, copious thanks, and request for renewal. 2. Email that will echo snippets of 1, but specially tailored for web users (donate online, etc.) 3. Second mailing, with a storyline from a different angle. 4. Calls to members — we are debating how best to do this as some of our members have reacted poorly to calls in recent years. (Any suggestions how to make this a relationshi- builder instead of -breaker?) 5. Reminder email to all on Dec. 26 or 27. 6. Final “last chance to give in 2010″ email on Dec. 30. 7. January email around Jan. 15 or so… for those who love to give, and give again. There may even be 8, board member thank you calls. Thanks to YOU, Gail, for your many excellent tips to help us novice fund raisers know what to do!