John Thompson, Chief Creative Officer  ●  7/30/2019

9 Tips to Plan Your Creative Strategies for Year-End Fundraising


This article originally appeared in DMAW Marketing Advents July 2019 issue

The lights in your neighborhood twinkle with holiday cheer. Soft snowflakes drift down in the chilly night sky and settle on your eyelashes. From somewhere, the comforting aroma of a wood fire reaches your nose …

Wait. It’s 95 degrees, the smog is thick and you’re sweating like a linebacker in pre-season training camp.


However, it’s never too soon to start planning creative strategies for your year-end fundraising. Why is early planning so important?

  • Because you have 6 short weeks — over three major holidays — to capitalize on a general public focus on philanthropy, with a “hard stop” of December 31
  • Because most organizations recognize this as the year’s most critical revenue season
  • Because every other organization that competes for your donor’s financial support will be jamming mailboxes and screens with appeals that command the attention of your prospects and donors alike


So, turn up the A/C, sip a cold beverage, and read on. Here are 9 quick tips to jumpstart your year-end fundraising:

  • Tip #1: (This may be the most important tip of all!) View your year-end multichannel direct-response fundraising as a continuum composed of individual campaigns. For instance, Thanksgiving + Giving Tuesday + December Holiday + Year-end. Obviously, each organization uses their own variation of these campaign topics.

    From your donor’s point of view, this is one continuous conversation. Therefore, before moving on to tactics, consider the voice, stories, offers, and asks that your donors will receive from you — in order and in all channels — as one coordinated stream of messages. These guided contacts need to resonate in donors’ hearts and demonstrate in donors’ heads the value of their support, and should consistently impart your brand and purpose as you make your appeals to them.
  • Tip #2: Establish a single strong sub-theme across all or most of your year-end campaigns. For example, a holiday wish list. Subsequent campaigns cross items off that list — like food for two families or a gift for a child — as the campaigns progress. Sub-themes help tie various elements together to make your voice sound consistent, even if the channels, tactics, offers, and timing change.

    Alternatively …
  • Tip #3: Change the voices telling one campaign story, repeated over a few months, but with different points of view. Think of a doctor POV, followed by a patient POV, then a nurse POV, finally a mom POV, all in support of one story of healing and hope.
  • Tip #4: Instead of trying to get a gift, flip your approach and give a gift to donors in at least one of the contacts in your year-end cycle. It could be a gift of thanks. A gift of praise. A video clip of a family saying thank you or singing a song to the donor. De-emphasize or even eliminate the appeal for a gift from the donor in this instance. Use the spirit of the season as a reason to strengthen your donor’s relationship with you.
  • Tip #5: Just as holiday appeals may trigger heartfelt giving, in contrast, your year-end tax-deductible gift appeals (with a strident December 31 deadline) should break out from the ongoing conversation as a very transactional and urgent message, without the bells and whistles or even the stories that drove your other year-end campaigns. And yes, despite changes in tax laws, donors still do respond to the year-end deadline, though perhaps not in as large numbers as in years past.
  • Tip #6: Don’t forget to build urgency into your messages with proven tactics that grab attention, like deadlines, countdown clocks, fund drive thermometers, goal amounts, and matching funds. You can even challenge donors to match their own best gift of the year, or use social proof to encourage giving at a donor’s highest possible level.
  • Tip #7: Capitalize again on the spirit of the season to reach qualified 13+ month lapsed donors by phone, reminding them how important their support is and how much impact they could have during the holiday season. The holiday season is a great opportunity to contact good donors who have been silent for a while in a much more intimate channel than direct mail or email. This technique has met with eye-popping success as a reactivation tactic at year-end.
  • Tip #8: Competition for space on social media skyrockets around the holidays, not just from increased nonprofit pushes, but from retail and e-commerce, as well. Purchase social media placement earlier in the season in order to take advantage of lower costs-per-action during a less competitive timeframe, while also increasing brand awareness before the really big pushes in the final weeks of the year.
  • Tip #9: If December 2018 results were any indication, nonprofits are, more than ever, at the mercy of the stock market and political issues. Starting your year-end digital advertising campaigns in October makes great sense financially, as well as strategically. Spread your digital marketing and advertising investment throughout the entire fourth quarter to minimize your revenue risk, rather than focusing your spend on a limited run solely in December. It will have direct impact on how many ads you invest in, obviously, and when you will deploy them. This, in turn, will have direct impact on your integrated year-end online and offline creative strategies.


Most organizations agree that success with year-end fundraising more often than not predicts success for the year. Competition for share of the donor’s wallet is fierce. Mailboxes are full. Demand drives channel and media costs up. It’s a crowded competitive landscape, all vying for attention in a compressed period of time. For so many reasons, the stakes are higher than ever.

That’s why it pays to start early. It also pays to rethink traditional campaign strategies that end up looking so much like every other fundraising appeal in the season. Challenge your teams to take a fresh look at your year-end giving creative strategies, across all channels and media.

So, finish up that cold beverage and get to work.




Get More Insights Into:


Read The Latest Posts

Heroic Fundraising wordmark

This blog provides insight and expertise to turn your donors into a force for good. Subscribe to have the latest fundraising news delivered to your inbox.

Stay in the know when you get monthly updates