The year-end ask: Has your nonprofit scheduled all 6 steps?

Last week we introduced Laurence Pagnoni’s notion that “Fundraising is a practitioner’s craft. It requires the intuition of the artist and inquisitiveness of the scientist.” The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution author adds there is no one-size-fits-all method of fundraising; every organization has a unique mission and strategy for supporting its mission.

Don’t ignore what you can’t see

While each fundraising program is different, what remains consistent among celebrated revenue results is the connection to a strong organizational culture. You might be asking, “Why are we talking about culture when this is a post about Pagnoni’s book on fundraising? He says, “Ignore organizational culture at your own peril because you won’t get depth in the fundraising program unless the culture is aligned with the fundraising goals.”

Pagnoni asserts, “Your organization will do better by seeing itself as a multifaceted entity with fundraising entrenched firmly at its center. Why? Because the barriers to better fundraising performance are, so often, the same obstacles to organizational growth.”

After giving you some essential guidance on the conversation you should be having with leadership about fundraising’s role in the organization, Pagnoni focuses on the organizational connection with tactical strategies for improving your advanced fundraising efforts in constituency building, face-to-face cultivation, challenge gifts and other tools, year-end giving, social media, leadership councils, corporate giving and major gift campaigns. In short, the book leads with the importance of organizational strength for optimal fundraising and closes with a punch on fundraising strategies.

This week, I wanted to highlight year-end appeals because it’s never too early to think about when we raise the most funds: December.

Year-end giving

One of every three dollars is donated to nonprofits in the month of December due to income taxes, financial planning and the holiday season. Hopefully, says Pagnoni, you have contacted your donors eight times that year to prepare for the year-end ask.

Here are the steps in a successful year-end drive in chronological order:

Thanksgiving Thank-A-Thon: Board members, staff and volunteers call to thank donors, personally connect and answer any questions a week before Thanksgiving either on a weekend afternoon or weekday early evening.

First year-end appeal letter mailed out the week of your Thank-A-Thon: Customize to include the giving history of each donor. Include emotional stories about beneficiaries as well as numbers served and numbers of those who will be served in the future. Ask for a 50 percent increase from the last donation and include a reply envelope and pledge. You can use a mailing house to organize all these items. You can also target lapsed donors. Make sure you have updated your donor database. The author provides a list of resources that can help gauge your donor’s giving potential, such as Blackbaud for prospect research. In addition, post your appeal letter on your website so donors can contribute online as well. Tell your donors how much you appreciate them and how they can make a specific difference and be transparent about how you spend the money.

Second year-end appeal letter mailed between the first and third week of December: Add new highlights and do not send to donors who responded to your first letter. After 30 days, send a “Haven’t Heard from You…” postcard. Let them know what you’ve accomplished but also how much more needs to be done and the cost.

Last four days of the year online: Email your donors every day for the last four days telling stories about your organization. Remind them of the December 31 tax-exemption deadline.

January follow-up: Thank the top 20 percent of your donors and send out tax receipts. You can survey donors, too, on how they would like to be contacted.

Donor meetings to discuss major gifts: 80 percent of your funding typically comes from 20 percent of your donors. Segment your donors to set up personal meetings with the top 20 percent.

We asked Laurence Pagnoni about the most common objection to linking culture and fundraising:

CausePlanet: What is your most common objection to the prerequisite of great culture for effective fundraising? What has been your response in the past?

Pagnoni: So many objections, it’s hard to say which is the most common! One could easily say, “People don’t want change.” Maybe. I often hear, “We don’t have the funds for that,” but even when they do, many clients have stayed stuck. If I had to pick one objection, I’d say it’s not understanding that the vision of where we want to be really does start with me, whoever I happen to be in the organization, whether the janitor or the CEO. Without a vision the people perish, so says the Proverb.

Choose a vision for your year-end appeals and consider one or more of Pagnoni’s six-step process. Better yet, have the conversation about culture and create a climate for your appeals to succeed.

See also:

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Fundraising the SMART Way™: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website

The Essential Guide to End-of-Year Fundraising

Image credits: Amacom books,,

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