Strategies for Year-End Fundraising Appeals

Another post this week inspired by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, with the article, “Charities Unveil Bold Year-End Appeals in Storm’s Big Shadow” in the November 15, 2012 issue prompting several ideas that might be useful for historic sites as they come to the end of the calendar year with its year-end fundraising appeals.  Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 federal election results are both affecting donations, with much attention given to disaster relief and to the possible limitation on charitable deductions.  Can your year-end appeals:

  • Emphasize your needs for storm-damage recovery or for disaster preparedness (e.g., roof replacement or repair, tree trimming, repairing gutters and downspouts, preparing a disaster plan).
  • Encourage major donors to give big gifts now, rather than waiting to discover Congress’ decision on charitable deductions.  As part of the package to avoid “sequestration” (aka the year-end fiscal cliff), there’s a possibility of capping itemized tax deductions at $35,000-$50,000 total, which may discourage charitable gifts.
  • Ask for larger-than-normal “transformative” gifts.  This year, Heifer International has moved far beyond the usual $24-$100 request to buy a chicken or cow for a poor family to buying herds and flocks for $25,000.  What size and type of donation would transform your organization?  Or will donations just continue and maintain what you are already doing?
  • Make it easy to give.  Be sure your website and reception desk reminds visitors of the impact of donations and that it’s easy and convenient to give (e.g., do you have a short and simple form ready? can donors give online securely? can they use a credit card?).
  • Be ready for last-minute donations.  Donations spike during the last two days of the year (that’s December 30 and 31) because donors are trying to get their last-minute tax deductions.  Are you ready and available?  Or closed and ignoring calls?  Consider how you can take advantage of this opportunity.  Can you send out a clever email reminder on December 29? Check your phone messages more frequently on New Year’s Eve? Add online donations to your website? (check out Paypal, which has special rates for non-profits).
  • Thank donors promptly.  Year-end gifts are typically larger and often attract new donors, so be sure to quickly thank donors and recognize their gifts (especially since they may need that documentation for tax purposes) because it may spur their generosity next year.  Last year, I sent year-end gifts to several non-profits.  All thanked me for my gift but one sent two letters, both months later.  I’ll remember that organization, but not for the reasons they prefer.  As much as possible, aim to respond with a thank you letter within one week (yes, seven days); some ambitious fundraisers aim for 48 hours.

And although it’s a bit distant from December 31, there’s an increasing effort to make the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving an annual day of giving, called #GivingTuesday (the emphasis on promoting through social media prompted a title with a Twitter hashtag).  So far, more than 400 charities, corporations, and other groups are participate in this year’s inaugural event and has already attracted 777,000 followers on Twitter and 455,000 Facebook friends (hmm, how are these numbers possible for something that’s barely started?).  Registration to officially participate closed on November 6, so you may want to see what happens this year and consider if you’d like to join next year.  For more details, see “400 Groups Sign Up for National Day of Giving” at the Chronicle of Philanthropy or visit

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