How to Win Your End of Year Campaign


It’s the end of the year! For fundraisers, the end of the year starts the day after Labor Day and goes all the way until midnight on December 31. It’s the most competitive giving season of the year, but if you plan and execute right, you’ll stand out, grow your donor base, and achieve your goals.

Start Close to Home

100% of your board should have given by now. If they haven’t, you need to solicit them before the end of September. Get your board president to help. Have a board you can’t ask, or have a president you can’t count on? That’s an issue for another time, but it’s one you should address.

Ask your board and top donors to contribute towards a match: a special fund that will motivate new and increased giving. What’s the right sized match? Think about a sum of money that could match a 5-15% increase in donations. This is largely a gut check, but right now the economy is booming in many places, so I’d tend toward bullishness.

Mail Still Rules

You should be sending mail. I have read too many articles that call mail “old school.” Mail isn’t “old school.” Mail has the highest response rates, some multiple of email, and it allows you to put an experience in the hands of your donors. Response rates to mail have been growing significantly, with one recent study putting the rate at more than 40% per year.

Donors who give you $250, $500, $1,000—whatever amount you consider the bottom end of significant—should receive a personalized, special piece of mail. Once you have more than 500 individual donors, I think all of them should get a piece of mail telling them you appreciate their support and asking them to increase their giving to the next level.

There’s a statistic that I like to quote which is probably long out of date, but which will help you to think about your audience: 70% of mail in America is opened by a woman, in the kitchen, over a wastebasket. I tell people: “you have to get past her.” Make your mail stand out with an envelope that is an odd color or size, a hand-written address, and a real stamp.

This will get the mail opened. Inside, you should have a surprise that delights. I suggest a moving story, and photos of peoples faces. More handwriting also helps. You want the piece to be as engaging as possible. Give your donor something to touch and feel.

All letters should have a specific ask. Reference past giving and thank them. Then suggest that they renew or increase to a new amount. Let them know they will be matched (if you have a match) or if there are any additional benefits they will receive for their increase.

How Many Can You Personalize?

Of course you can’t send a hand addressed piece of mail to all of your donors. So who should get this? Well, if you have a staff, more. If it’s just your board, fewer. Decide how many you can handle. It takes a couple of days for one person to process 200 pieces of mail. If you have a group of six, you can probably knock out 500 letters in a long afternoon. It’s all about your capacity. Once you’ve decided how many you can personalize, segment your list accordingly. Other donors should be reached through a mail house or via email.

Email and Facebook Too!

Mail is essential, but it is not enough. You need to reinforce your mail efforts with email and social media. These channels are really good for carrying short, engaging stories with pictures or video that share the meaning and importance of your work. Focus on telling stories. You have already asked, these emails and social media posts are just reminders that you exist. Put your work first, share the stories of your successes, and the money will come.

Make the Big Asks Personally

Your top donors should get a personal ask, whether face to face or over the phone. This lets you reinforce your relationship, it gives you an opportunity to share a warm thanks, and you’ll hear important feedback from your closest supporters. You need to be willing to make the ask for a specific amount of money. The easiest way to make sure you ask is to let the donor know you want to talk about support. They know why you’re calling. They know who you are and what you do. They are participants in the culture of philanthropy. Ask them.

Finish Strong

Every year, more money gets given in the last week. The time between December 25 and December 31 is not the time to back off, but the time to move forward. People are making their decisions, and you want to be top of mind. I used to recommend one email between December 25 and 31, now I generally recommend three or four, and I think multiple emails on December 31 are appropriate. These emails should report your progress toward your funding goal, showing that you have broad support. All that’s missing is them. Creating the inevitability of community support will drive results.

Want to talk about your end of year campaign? Email Josef at [email protected].


Josef has 18 years leadership and strategic experience at top arts and human services organizations, including Actors Theatre of Louisville, ACT Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and Banchero Disability Partners.

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