Guide to Year-End
Nine Steps You Can Use Now to
Raise More Money in December
Alia McKee Scott, Eric Rardin,
Sea Change Strategies Care2
designed by in partnership with seachangestrategies.com
7409 Birch Avenue | Takoma Park, MD 20912
Congratulations — you are an ofﬁcial year-end
fundraising overachiever! You get a gold star!
Y ou know that a majority of your online fundraising dollars come in
during December, and you’ve already started thinking about how to
improve and maximize your strategy and tactics this year.
You also know that year-end fundraising doesn’t just happen in Decem-
ber. It takes months of list building, inspiring donors, cultivating them, test-
ing, and analyzing metrics to make the absolute most of year-end opportu-
Finally, you get that online giving is more than online transactions. A vast
majority of fundraising-related visits to your website are for research pur-
poses. That is, many of your ofﬂine donors (who will also be making year-
end gifts) will have looked over your web presence as part of their personal
due diligence in deciding whether to become a donor.
The good news is that you’ve got several months to get your website and
online communications strategy in tip-top shape for year-end.
This Guide — a companion to the Procrastinator’s Guide to Year-end Fund-
raising — outlines nine concrete action steps you can do now to raise more
money in December.
So let’s get started.
The guidance laid out here is based on more than 20 years of focus groups with donors, including
more recently with online donors; a review of best practices and testing, mostly derived from the
commercial sector; a smattering of research conducted by non-proﬁts; and anecdotal experience with
more than a dozen current and past fundraising clients.
The illustrations provided are not necessarily our work — we drew from the collective brilliance of
the hard-working men and women who toil in the vineyards of non-proﬁt online communications.
Our thanks to all of the organizations highlighted.
page 2 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
Nine Steps You Can
Do Now to Raise More
Money In December
I. Do what your mother taught you
II. Make your website an email collection &
III. Test your forms
IV. Take your site for a test drive
V. Review your trafﬁc
VI. Get to know your supporters
VII. Grow your list and welcome them warmly
VIII. What’s your story?
IX. What’s your year-end plan?
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i. Do What Your
Mother Taught You
Your mother gave you sage advice that holds doubly true with your donors:
always say your hellos and thank-yous.
We know — welcoming new donors and thanking them is such an obvi-
ous step that you might be asking yourself, “Why the heck would they start
the guide with something so obvious?”
We’re glad you asked.
Here are ﬁve compelling reasons this step is number 1:
1. An un-welcomed and un-thanked donor won’t be a donor for long. Period.
2. Lead generation and acquisition are expensive. Remember to invest in
your current donors so you keep them donors.
3. Saying hello and thank you is a relatively cheap and easy thing for you
to do online.
4. It’s important to thank donors throughout the year — not just right
before prime year-end fundraising season. Your donors will notice.
5. Despite these facts, we are surprised at how frequently this step gets
Because you are an overachiever — and are reading this Overachiever’s
Guide now — you still have several prime pre-year-end months to get your
page 4 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
Here are some concrete ideas you should implement right now.
1. Give new donors a special welcome.
You’ve spent tons of time and money on lead generation. You’ve sent an appeal
that has struck a chord. You’ve touched a prospect so much so that they’ve
given you a gift. Magic new donor conversion happens.
Now what? Many organizations and causes send a bounce back email that looks more like a receipt
than a big warm hug. Then, it’s into the house ﬁle the new donor goes.
For just a little extra effort, you can make a big ﬁrst impression.
First, make your auto responder something special.
working on the campaign-speciﬁc issue to which the new donor responded.
your organization in action, or show them donor testimonials relating why others support you.
This is an opportunity to stir passion for your cause again, not just give a donor their tax receipt.
Next, send a second thank-you message.
A bounce back thank-you is just that, a bounce back. Your donors know this. So send another thank-
community (in your data pull, keep in mind
that some new online donors might have
given to you before through other channels).
survey and ﬁnd out what their speciﬁc inter-
ests are. Use their feedback when appropriate
to show that you are really listening.
zation. This could be a brief donor-focused
Q&A with your executive director or a video
from your staff saying thank you.
not against trying to get a second gift quickly,
but your thank-you message isn’t the place for
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2. Add four thank-you messages (with no asks)
to your donors from now until year-end.
Stop right now. Look at your email calendar through calendar year-end. Add
four thank-you messages to your donors. For example:
report back on how you did, and how you will use the money raised.
3. Don’t just thank your donors — thank your
super activists too!
Some of your most super engaged support-
ers might not have given you a gift… yet. But
they’ve shown their support by taking action,
telling friends and signing petitions.
more than 3 actions with you in the last year and thank
them too! See the very well received example from Envi-
page 6 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
4. Bust out your pen or telephone.
Yes, we live in a wired world. But wired communications are ﬂeeting and noth-
ing beats the personal tone of a handwritten note or telephone call.
on your behalf (provide adequate direction, of course), or do it yourself. You can also pick up the
And heck, sometimes break out this tactic for repeating low-dollar donors, monthly givers and the
5. Find out how it feels to be your donor.
You think you know what your donor experience is. But do you really know?
Try being your donor for the day.
Make a gift to your organization. Make sure you cover all channels — online, ofﬂine and social
change that too.
page 7 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
ii. Make Your Website
An Email Collection
& Donation Magnet
It’s a great big online world out there. There are tons of wonderful shiny tools
for us all to use to reach supporters and build passion for our causes.
But among all these tools, your website and your email list are still the two
biggest online fundraising powerhouses. Are you maximizing them?
Make the trafﬁc you drive to your website count. Here are some
ideas that you can implement now to blaze trails to your email
sign-up and donation forms.
1. Ideally, there should be at least two or three
email collection tools on your homepage. You
can approach this in a variety of ways.
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2. Use a website hijack
On high-web-trafﬁc occasions when your cause is in the news, put a temporary overlay page — we
affectionately refer to it as a hijack — on your website. This page can either call for email sign ups
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3. Promote sign-ups on your sub pages —
above the fold
Make sure you have a consistent call to sign up on your sub pages. And make sure it’s above the fold!
4. Have multiple donate links on your home
page that go straight to your donate form.
5. Use consistent language for
donation buttons and links.
throughout the donation process. Asking people to join is problematic unless membership is truly
giving to many would-be donors.
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6. Use social networks
Social networks are a great place to engage in multi-way conversations with
your online community and to build brand awareness. But also remember to
leverage them to build your list and drive donations.
And remember to welcome your new donors and new subscribers
warmly. See Steps 1 and 7 for more details.
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iii. Test Your Forms
Direct mail fundraisers spend years and years testing every detail of the reply
form that goes into a direct mail package. E-commerce giants like Amazon
likewise test and reﬁne their shopping cart and checkout process on a con-
But very few nonproﬁts test the donate forms on their websites. With donor
dropout rates approaching 98% in some cases, we must test. And don’t assume
that everyone else’s results will mirror your own. It’s important to test for
Because this is the Overachiever’s Guide, you have time to do some A/B test-
ing of your form in advance of year-end.
Change one element on your donate form and keep it live for a few weeks or
months, depending on your trafﬁc, to measure if the conversion rate increases
(or decreases). Here are a few ideas to get you started.
horizontal gift string outperform a vertical gift string?
to low gift string increase average gift size?
Sustainer ask on the form — will putting a sustainer ask on
the page increase the number of sustainer gifts without sup-
pressing one-time asks?
2-column form vs.1-column form — will a two-column
form outperform a 1-column form?
particularly if you have low web trafﬁc or a small email list. Fac-
the greatest impact and test them over a longer period of time.
page 12 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
In addition to testing, here are some best practices that you
should consider for your forms.
1. Suppress global navigation.
The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that giving
like offering 31 ﬂavors of ice cream when really you only want to sell vanilla.
Of course, when removing your global navigation, don’t forget to keep a link back to your home
2. Make sure people can tell that the form is a form.
ter, you need to redesign the page to get some of those ﬁelds visible above the scroll line.
3. Do not ask for any information you don’t need!
heard about you? Be ruthless—if you don’t need it right away, don’t ask for it.
4. Provide your mailing address, phone number and email
address on your donate page, all fundraising-related pages and
your home page.
Your mailing address, phone number and a general email address should be on every page of your
for an email address, mailing address and phone number. Focus group participants say they look for
a phone number as reassurance that there is someone to call if a problem arises with a transaction.
This is an easy ﬁx and not doing it is throwing money away.
5. Consider adding third party endorsements.
quotes from experts, spokespeople or celebrities, as long as they are consistent with your brand.
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6. Add a “Secure Transaction” graphic and a link to your
policy, even if no one reads it, the presence of the link will reassure would-be donors.
7. Make sure error handling doesn’t suck.
then get some sort of weird error message that sounds like it was written by a programmer overdos-
8. Do not require would-be donors to create an account to make
You might as well just provide a link to another organization’s donate page.
9. Develop a “why donate” or “case for giving” page you can link to
from your form.
dozen or more donor-visitors who are researching a potential gift but who will complete the gift via
full ﬁnancials —while 99% of people will never read them, they assure donors nonetheless.
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iv. Take Your Site
For A Test Drive
Seeing is believing. And while we strongly encourage A/B testing and best prac-
tices as outlined in Step 3, nothing substitutes for watching a real live subject
navigate your site.
A small amount of time user testing your donation and sign-up forms can
help you avoid big pitfalls now and at year-end.
1. Recruit three test subjects.
Friends and relatives are ﬁne, but they shouldn’t be too familiar with your web site.
2. Conduct the test.
of their web browser. (You’ll be amazed.)
b. Take an action or sign up for your e-newsletter.
3. Ask your subject to verbalize their thoughts and reactions.
4. Ask for feedback once they’ve signed up and made a gift.
Chances are, three good tests will surface as much as 80-90% of
the major usability speed bumps. Now that you know what they
are, ﬁx them!
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v. Review Your Trafﬁc
In Step 2 you made it really easy for visitors to your site to sign up for your
emails and donate. Now it’s time to think about where these visitors to your
site are coming from, and how to increase the ﬂow from your best sources.
Knowing how people are ﬁnding you will help you take smart steps in pre-
paring for year-end fundraising by increasing quality trafﬁc and making the
most of those new visitors.
Be a trafﬁc sleuth!
Channels or another media outlet?
engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing? (To help you prioritize, Google still
has 64% market share as compared to Bing’s 12% and Yahoo’s 18%.)
Analyzing your trafﬁc can help you answer these questions. But how?
page 16 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
Most content management systems include analytics tools that allow you
to view the sources of inbound trafﬁc. And Google offers a great tool for free.
4. Are we beneﬁting from these visitors? Once they are on our site, do they sign up, make a gift, or
get information we want them to have? [See Step 2]
out spending any additional money you can get better results from the people who are already
looking for you, and you can better take advantage of moments in the news, mentions from blog-
gers, and of course that celebrity endorsement on Twitter from Ashton Kutcher.
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Here are ﬁve steps for optimizing your trafﬁc:
1. Set up an analytics program to measure your current trafﬁc.
2. Optimize organic search.
See where you appear when you search for your organization’s name and related key words in major
This means making sure you’re using words your prospective donors will use when searching for
environment are used liberally throughout your site.
3. Experiment with paid search or Google grants.
for applications to get approved — aren’t you glad you are an overachiever?).
4. Focus on where your trafﬁc already is.
in maximizing that trafﬁc. However, if you are getting more trafﬁc from other sites you might want
to focus your energies there.
5. Leverage new and old media.
Any communications strategy designed to generate earned (unpaid) media coverage of your organi-
zation or issue should integrate your online resources. That means including mention of your web
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vi. Get to Know
Our close friends expect us to know if they are vegetarian, enjoy scuba diving,
or like cats. Knowing these things proves we’re close — and that we haven’t
been zoning out watching the NBA playoffs instead of listening.
Your donors have come to expect the same. But how do you get
to know your donors?
1. Listen through online metrics.
ing kittens, but not when it’s about rescuing horses? Target them with kitten appeals — or at least
appeals with pictures of kittens.
Knowing which of your members respond to what type of appeal can help you communicate with
them in a more personal manner.
address, even if they only give online, enables you to segment by geography. Knowing a supporter’s
gender can help you reﬁne your content and tone. Knowing a supporter’s birthday lets you send a nice
note. Explore the ways you can make your content more relevant through personalization.
page 19 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
3. Think about appending data.
An email append to your ofﬂine donor database can help you build a more rounded relationship
with your donors. Even those who only give ofﬂine tend to give more if they are hearing from you
across channels. Further, an email thanking your donor for their recent ofﬂine gift shows them you
have your cultivation house in order.
1. Mailing address
3. Email address
4. Social network presence
want to ensure that donors are giving you permission to email them.
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vii. Grow Your List And
Welcome Them Warmly
No charity can survive without acquiring new donors. Some new folks will
come to you on their own because you are on the ground in Haiti, mentioned
on CNN, or their daughter cribbed her entire paper from your site. But new,
organic donors usually aren’t enough to replace churning donors.
Enter in paid acquisition.
If you want to increase the number of your online supporters by year-end
fundraising season through paid acquisition, now is the time to get started.
End-of-year acquisition mailings are common, and often (relatively) suc-
cessful in the ofﬂine world. But going straight to the donation ask (think cold
call or one-night stand) is an approach that doesn’t work as well online.
Most organizations that engage in paid email recruitment send their new
supporters a series of messages to welcome them to the organization and
begin building what they hope will be a long-term relationship.
Here is your list growth action plan.
1. Maximize organic trafﬁc.
Before spending any money to drive trafﬁc to your site, review these steps again and make sure you’re
getting the most out of those efforts.
2. Set your goals for list growth.
How many new contacts do you want to recruit in time for year-end fundraising, and how do you
plan to do it?
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3. Understand list growth options.
tainty in terms of number of people versus budget, because you know up front what each lead will
email lists; you often get what you pay for with super cheap options.
4. Do the math.
How many people will need to become donors for this acquisition to be a net positive investment, and
how soon do you need this to happen?
How will you convert these new contacts into donors? Having a welcome series of emails is an impor-
tant ﬁrst step.
How will you integrate these new contacts into your other channels? For example, many online leads
donate ofﬂine and integrated multichannel marketing has proven to be a strong way to convert online
supporters into donors.
5. Track and measure.
No matter how you relate to these new contacts, make sure you keep track of where they came from,
which of them gave, and through what mode. Next year, go back to the sources that worked best, and
drop those that didn’t.
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viii. What’s Your Story?
Do your online communications make your donors and prospects feel more
connected to your cause? For many non-proﬁts, the answer is no.
So how do you overcome the inspiration gap? You do it by re-connecting
donors with the passion and vision that inspired them to get involved with
your cause in the ﬁrst place. And you do that with emotion.
A tale of two minds
Many organizations are afraid to tap into emotion. They worry that emotion will make them appear
less intellectual, less effective or overly dramatic.
mind. Both sides compete for control, but the emotional mind typically wins.
So what’s the deal with these two minds?
- For more speciﬁcs on rationality
tional mind is inﬂuenced by intuition and impulse and social inﬂuences like peer pressure vs. emotion, see the Sea Change
Switch Strategies and Network for
wants a great beach body; meanwhile, the emotional mind is reaching for the Oreo cookie. Good eBook Homer Simpson for
Non-Proﬁts: The Truth About How
To successfully navigate these two minds, the Heath brothers recommend you ﬁrst appeal to
People Really Think and What It
someone’s emotional mind — and then quickly tell the rational mind what it is you need it to do.
Means for Promoting Your Cause.
Here is an example of a rational and emotional appeal going head-to-head.
an emotional appeal
a rational appeal with clear directions
Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more Rokia is a seven-year-old girl who lives in Mali
than three million children. And in Zambia, in Africa. She is desperately poor and faces
severe rainfall deﬁcits have resulted in a 42% a threat of severe hunger, even starvation.
drop in maize production from 2000. As a Your donation will change her life. With your
result, an estimated three million Zambians support, and the support of other caring
face hunger. sponsors, [Organization X] will work with
Rokia’s family and other members of the
Make a gift and help [Organization X] provide
community to help feed and educate her, and
the people of Malawi and Zambia immediate
provide her with basic medical care.
page 23 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
gon, has studied the rational vs. emotional paradox
he found that people donated more than twice as
the true scope of the problem we should give more
money, not less. But according to Slovic, statistics
don’t activate our moral emotions – which lead to
engagement and connection to the issue at hand.
vidual, emotional stories that exemplify larger issues
in a compelling way.
So what are your stories? And do they appeal to reason or to
1. Be an emotional story detective.
Track down those emotional stories! And work to shift your organization into a storytelling culture.
Here are some tips.
Ask volunteers why they are volunteering — there is probably story gold in them hills.
At each staff meeting, ask one person to tell a story about how your organization helped change a
life or make a difference.
Keep a library of stories that people can easily access and add to throughout your organization.
big statistical populations.
Be clear these stories are emblematic of your work, but don’t create an impression the donor’s con-
tribution was speciﬁcally earmarked for that individual (unless it is).
2. Provide crystal-clear direction.
what you need it to do. You may think you’re encountering resistance to your call to action when
in fact you’re encountering confusion. So much of nonproﬁt work stumbles due to poor, unclear or
switch light bulbs.
3. Tell your stories across channels.
Once you have a good story and a crystal-clear action, share them through every channel you have at
your disposal, including email, website, social networks, and ofﬂine channels including events and mail.
page 24 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising
ix. What’s Your
Okay, now that you’ve completed steps 1-8, it’s time to put your year-end plan
1. First, outline your big-picture campaign strategic objectives.
Potential ideas include:
Use advanced segmentation
Use video when appropriate
2. Next, identify your goals and your pathway to achieving those
Upgrading current donors to a higher giving level
3. Then, identify tactics that will help you achieve those goals.
Are you launching an optimized donation form to increase gift conversion?
Are you incorporating a donation–based website hijack? (See Step 2 for an example.)
Are you upgrading donors by landing them on appropriate forms with higher gift string suggestions based
on their highest previous contribution?
Are you targeting non-donors with a low-dollar ask or a special acquisition campaign?
Are you targeting mid-dollar donors with a high-dollar circle ask?
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Are you targeting monthly givers to ask them for an additional year-end gift?
4. Next, what is your theme or narrative arc?
that sustains the campaign?
5. What is your messaging calendar?
6. Finally, relax, knowing you are an overachiever and have
started this planning process in advance. You have plenty of
time to get steps 1-10 done and have a blockbuster year-end
page 26 The 2010 Overachiever’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising