Wisdom Wednesdays: Closing Year-End Gifts — the Countdown to December 31, Part Two

by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE

Last week in the Part One blog we discussed why donors tend to give at the end of the year, your yearly goals, analyzing trends within your donor base and assessing the strengths of the organization.

Miller-Dawn-webTime is ticking away so let’s move on to creating specific year-end gift strategies.

Every organization will want to consider a variety of year-end fundraising initiatives — in other words, how will your organization reach your donors and raise funds?  Solicitation vehicles may include:

  • Pre-solicitation postcards
  • General direct mail appeals
  • Special direct mail appeals with handwritten notes from key organization individuals
  • Phone calls
  • Online giving and website
  • Special events
  • Face-to-face interaction

A great place to begin is by drafting a timetable/calendar of activities:

  • First, write down your timetable/calendar!  This may seem like a common sense step, but I can’t tell you how many folks have “it all in their head” (i.e., an unwritten plan).  Involve the appropriate staff, board members, etc. in the planning to encourage buy-in into the process, goals and outcomes
  • Post the timetable/calendar in a place you, your staff and your leadership can regularly review the information, responsibilities and deadlines.  This helps to hold everyone accountable and keeps the solicitations moving forward
  • Have weekly staff and leadership meetings to stay on task
  • Make it a friendly competition — challenge each other to reach a specific weekly or monthly goal.  Consider a small prize as an added bonus — maybe a small denomination gift card to the local lunch diner or the staff member receives an afternoon off
  • Don’t forget to include stewardship in your planning

– Phone calls — not just from staff members, but from leadership (President, CEO, Board Members, etc.)
– Acknowledgment letters with handwritten notes within 24-48 hours
– White papers and briefing letters (no solicitation, only information and updates)
– Thanksgiving and Christmas cards/e-cards are great!

  • Always have a Plan B and be flexible if the gifts are not coming in as you predicted.  Consider the following:

– An e-appeal at the end of December to drive web traffic and online donations
– Small donor segments for follow-up, and highly personalized, direct mail appeals
– Christmas/Advent announcements
– Use social media to help bolster response — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.

Always make donating easy and an enjoyable experience for your donors:

  • Is it stress-free to donate through your website?  Test the number of clicks it takes to make a gift.  Are you losing donors along the way?
  • Can the donor contact a specific person to make a gift over the phone?
  • Do you offer EFTs?  Credit card options?

In January 2014, send a 2013 calendar year tax letter:

  • This provides more face time with your donors
  • A tax letter is an opportunity to share an update on how a donor’s gifts were used/will be used
  • Donors will remember your organization once again and tax letters can help set up future giving
  • It’s the nice thing to do for your donors!

A quick peek at the calendar shows that there are 63 days left until December 31.  So, are you focused on your organization’s year-end giving?

Look for Part Three of “Closing Year-End Gifts — the Countdown to December 31” next week for more tips and strategies.

Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE, is Director of Consulting for Fund Development Services at Zielinski Companies in St. Louis, Missouri.  She can be reached at dmiller@zielinskico.com (800) 489-2150Zielinski Companies is an ALDE Resource Partner. 

Founded in 1957, Zielinski Companies helps nonprofit and religious organizations address their financial, management and planning needs.  The firm has a broad range of consulting service areas, including: Fund Development and Mission Advancement Consulting; Audit, Accounting and Tax Services; Property and Facility Planning; Organizational Management and Planning; Long-term Care, Facility and Staffing Consulting and Cash Management and Credit Card Services.  For more information, please visit www.zielinskico.com.

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Wisdom Wednesdays: Closing Year-End Gifts — the Countdown to December 31, Part One

by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE

It’s mid-October … that can mean only one thing in the fund development world: fundraisers are in the midst of their year-end giving initiatives!

At least fundraisers should be — and here’s why …

Many development offices receive 30-50 percent of their annual donations in the last three months of the year.  In fact, it is not unusual for a nonprofit organization with a July through June fiscal year to achieve 75 percent or more of its annual goal by December 31.

Miller-Dawn-webSo why do donors give so heavily around the end of the year? A few thoughts:

  • Donors are “trained” to give around the holidays (think about your own personal giving cycle and the gifts you give at year-end)
  • Donors are bombarded with messages of giving, hope and thoughtfulness (via mainstream media) and they are hoping to do the most good in their community
  • Some donors are looking for tax deductions before December 31
  • Donors may have year-end bonuses or unexpected funds to contribute
  • Many people are in the “mood” to share with others — resources, money, friendship, etc.
  • If fundraisers have done a good job of sharing their organization’s story throughout the year, then donors are often waiting to be asked before the end of the year

If you haven’t already begun your year-end solicitations, start today! Begin by assessing where you currently are relative to your yearly goals, analyzing trends within your donor base and assessing the strengths of the organization. Some tips:

  • Create a baseline of where the development efforts currently stand by running database reports by segment:

– Current Donors (0-12 months)
– Lapsed Donors (13 months and beyond)
– Prospects/Non-Donors
– Planned Giving Donors
– Corporations
– Foundations
– Board and Committee Members

  • Run reports that compare and contrast the past three to five years of giving (FY trend line as well as the CY trend line):

– Examine October 1-December 31 trend lines: Look for any anomalies or outliers, i.e., one-time gifts, bequests, memorial gifts, etc.
– Chart the trends for a visual benchmark that is easy to understand

  • Make a list of the unique aspects of your organization that may provide opportunities for year-end donations:

– Unique segments: alumni, grandparents, ad hoc groups, etc.
– Unique activities: events, special campaigns, etc.

Now that you understand where you are compared to your goal and how much you need to raise between now and December 31, what are your next steps?

Stay tuned next week for Part Two of “Closing Year-End Gifts — the Countdown to December 31,” where I’ll share specific year-end strategies.  Enjoy the rest of your week!

Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE, is Director of Consulting for Fund Development Services at Zielinski Companies in St. Louis, Missouri.  She can be reached at dmiller@zielinskico.com (800) 489-2150Zielinski Companies is an ALDE Resource Partner.

Founded in 1957, Zielinski Companies helps nonprofit and religious organizations address their financial, management and planning needs.  The firm has a broad range of consulting service areas, including: Fund Development and Mission Advancement Consulting; Audit, Accounting and Tax Services; Property and Facility Planning; Organizational Management and Planning; Long-term Care, Facility and Staffing Consulting and Cash Management and Credit Card Services.  For more information, please visit www.zielinskico.com.

Wisdom Wednesdays: Finding Donor Centricity and Theology in a YouTube Rabbit Hole

by Joe Lindell

Looking back at the 11 ALDE International Educational Conferences I’ve attended since Kansas City in 1998, there are a handful of keynote speeches I can still recall.  I happily look back at talks by Tony Campolo (author, speaker, pastor), the late Jim Wacker (football coach) and John List (the economics professor, not the mass murderer).

Now — hold that thought, I’ll get back to a keynote speech eventually.

For years, I’ve been receiving an email newsletter from direct mail expert Tom Ahern.  I’d include him on my short list of direct mail gurus, along with Mal Warwick.  If you want to understand what donor-centric communications look like and learn how to create donor-centric pieces, he gives it away for free, in a consistently excellent email newsletter and website.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good YouTube Rabbit Hole?

Lindell-Joe-2013In Ahern’s September 25, 2013 newsletter, he was explaining why he is committed to giving to PBS, even though he and his wife don’t watch it — because it “matches [their] values.”  He is grateful it exists.  To express his joy, he links first to a video of the Hallelujah Chorus.  The article concludes with links to his two favorite videos of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, sung first by Jeff Buckley and then (he and his wife’s favorite), sung by K.D. Lang. Before the end of the newsletter, Ahern can’t help going further down the rabbit hole, with links to two more versions, “Intense and oddball actor” John Malkovich, and a live performance by Cohen himself.

I immediately remembered a tremendous moment from one of the 2011 ALDE conference keynote speeches in Portland.  Theologian, church historian, pastor and author Leonard Sweet shared what has become, perhaps, my all-time favorite YouTube video: Hallelujah (Free Hugs).  The video combines the wonderful Leonard Cohen song, sung by Alexandra Burke with Free Hugs — in a beautiful Italian piazza.

Don’t watch it yet—hang on!

I couldn’t help myself.  I sent him an email:

From: Joe Lindell
To: Tom Ahern
Sent: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 1:30 pm
Subject: My favorite Hallelujah video

Hello Tom,

Thanks for the newsletter. I always appreciate your ideas. You’re helping our organization become more donor-centric. Even our President and CEO thinks about donor-centricity now when evaluating her own writing.

My favorite Hallelujah YouTube wasn’t mentioned, so I’ll include it here. Watching it is a two-step process.

1.    Find a box of tissues.
2.    Watch “Hallelujah (Free Hugs).”

That first step is very important.  You might want to watch it at home, to avoid awkward workplace conversations about why you’re weeping.

A Metaphor for Grace

I don’t remember Sweet’s exact point, but there’s something sublime about combining the song and the unexpected joy on the faces of the people receiving hugs that gives me hope for the future.  Sharing hugs with strangers is an apt metaphor for God’s abundant grace.  It fits nicely into Lutheran theology as well.  Just as you need not be ordained to serve God, you don’t need a special permit to share God’s love and grace with others, whether they’re strangers or your best friends.

As a development professional, I aim to bring joy to donors.  Ahern often says, “Put the donor in the center, as the hero.”  Who doesn’t want to be the hero?

Twenty-two minutes later …

I received a reply. He thought it was “brilliant.” (He also was grateful I included step one). That was cool.

Then, in his next newsletter, October 9, 2013, there was a little note on the side:

On the YouTube beat…
One more time

In the last issue, we got a little “Hallelujah” festival going, with a bunch of videos of that great Leonard Cohen song. Joe Lindell wrote to point me toward one more version, his favorite. He warned me, “Find a box of tissues.” He was right. See for yourself.

ALDE Changes Lives

Without ALDE:

  • I probably never would have seen my favorite video
  • I wouldn’t have shared it with a stranger
  • That stranger definitely wouldn’t have sent it out to all his subscribers

Thanks to ALDE, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Sweet and Tom Ahern for spreading the joy and sharing a little with me!

Joe Lindell is Annual Giving Manager at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul, Minn.  He and his wife Anne live in St. Louis Park with their two sons.