Easing (and improving) the year-end email fundraising onslaught

December means the end of the year is upon us and for nonprofits (or, more notably their members and email subscribers) it’s high season for email traffic. The end of the year is a critical time for fundraising. By some measures, up to 30% of donations (online, at least) come at the end of the year. For example, Network for Good has reported that over 30% of their annual online donation processing happens in December. Online gifts in December tend to be larger. These are just a couple stats in Network for Good’s recent Holiday Guide for companies partnering with organizations (worth the read – PDF).

Woman fighting email with sword - How to avoid email fatigue in December and still raise money.
Avoid email fatigue in December and still raise money.

You will see more email than ever this December, especially the last couple weeks of the month, as organizations try to cover all their bases and leave no stone unturned. It can be overwhelming for subscribers but, like political ads on TV, lots of email works. People give to organizations they love AND know about. If they don’t think of you when making those year-end donations, even if they like what you do, you will miss out.

How do we build awareness (and passion), increase the tempo of messages and make people happy, not grumpy, about all this email?

Point out Successes

You’ve had a great year and been a fabulous steward of your donors’ gifts. Remind people of that. The end of the year is the perfect time to sum up what’s happened with the investment made by donors. Your organization has a theory of change and/or business plan. Show results.

A trick here is to not just tell people you succeeded. Show them. Include testimonials from beneficiaries of your work. Use the video and words of partners and community members that you’ve helped. Don’t rattle of lists of numbers and places – tell a story about your achievements.

Highlight Donors

December is all about the donors. Show your existing and potential donors that they are not alone but rather part of a community that together is doing amazing things. This is another opportunity from testimonials. Ask donors to talk about why they give. What is the experience that prompted them to get involved? How does supporting your organization make them feel? Share those words and emotions with your prospects. Show your donors that they are part of something larger.

Thank Donors

Rarely do organizations do all they could to acknowledge contributors. Express your organization’s gratitude. Do it right away. Go overboard.

Include testimonials from real people that are recipients of your organization’s services. If yours is a conservation organization you could have a talking tree giving thanks (clever) or bear (people love bears) but a human voice is perhaps best. In the end, tie the gift to tangible activities that will produce real change and progress towards your mission.

Today’s online fundraising tools make it easy to send an automated thank you email. This is great but can easily come off as impersonal. Be sure to customize your thank you to the ask, the donor, the amount and the coming year.

Treat people as people. If your Grandma sent you a check for $50 you would call her, thank her and talk about how things are going. One to one. Bring the personal gratitude and story to your thank yous. It will help ensure the donor remembers you next year or when you ask for money in the Spring or launch a monthly giving campaign.


Use a lightbox/screen overlay on your homepage at year end. It works. For most organizations, this is the only time of year when many or most people are coming to your home page to make a donation. Make it as easy as possible. In the past, we have done lightbox testing before the last week of the year using Google Website Optimizer and other landing page tools. If you have the capacity, it doesn’t hurt to test elements of your year end campaign (lightbox, donation page, email content, photos and more) before the final week.

Integrate Social Media, Video and Mobile

Use your social media channels to help tell the story. Put your appeals on Facebook. Highlight a success (and/or a donor story) every day. Intersperse it with photos and video of the challenges facing the organization in 2012. Every day. A recent post from Return Path has some good advice about integrating social media at the year end when your email quantity (and web visits) are going up.

Thank donors via social media. Ask donors to say that they donated/supported your organization at the end of the year. Donors telling friends they made a donation not only tells them about your organization but it reminds people to make year end donations in the first place.

Use video. This is hardly a revolutionary bit of advice but video can be a great way to say thanks, wrap up the year and talk about coming challenges or opportunities. Get some of your beneficiary and donor testimonials on video. Don’t limit video to the website.

Use mobile as a reminder. If you’re running a mobile campaign year-end is a good time to use it to remind people about you. Don’t assume your mobile subscribers are reading your emails. If you have good mobile-optimized donation forms then definitely link to them. If you can take donations via mobile through SMS and phone bills then consider that (though be careful about doing this with good prospects/known donors as these donations tend to be small).  There’s a lot you can do with mobile but one power it has in the context of year-end fundraising is being another channel to get the word out.

December can be tough on your email subscribers. Show gratitude. Make them part of the community. Use your email, web, social media and other channels to make December about them and the power they hold through their investment in your organization. Celebrate the donor through all your channels and you’ll have happier (and more fiscally supportive) subscribers.

Leave a Reply