Part I: 7 Strategies for Successful Year-End Fundraising

year-end fundraising strategies

Yesterday was National Philanthropy Day, and I was fortunate enough to attend AFP’s 6th Annual Conference—learning from the likes of Tom Ahern, Simone Joyaux, and Dr. Adrian Sargent.

What better way to kick off the season of giving than to announce my collaboration with renown nonprofit management expert Cynthia Russell. Today, we’re excited to bring you the first in a three-part series dedicated to best practices in year-end fundraising.

Over the next three months, we’ll cover everything from planning and implementation to donor relationship management to analytical insights.


It’s that time of year again, where the holiday bustle is in full swing, and you’re already starting to plan for the coming year. The last sixty days of the year are the most crucial time for year-end fundraising. Follow these seven strategies for the most successful annual appeal season.

1. Have a Plan and Timeline

Your year-end fundraising can potentially determine what you will be able to accomplish in the coming year, so it’s imperative that you plan it out accordingly.

• First, you need to figure out what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’ll go about achieving those goals.
• Make sure you’re targeting communications to a specific audience and determine which channels you will use to reach them.
• Figure out the resources you’ll need to get the job done, who will be involved, and how you’ll measure success.
• Once you figure out all of the moving parts, set an overall timeline with individual milestones for each function.

2. Review Previous Results

As one of the first steps in your planning, you should review the results of previous year-end fundraising. Determine what worked and what did not. Brainstorm ways you can improve the fundraising process. Do you need to target a different audience, or do you just need to reach them through a separate channel? The easiest way to see your results is to segment your donors into various categories. Adjust your previous fundraising plans to incorporate this year’s statistics and next year’s projections to make the most of this season’s year-end fundraising.

3. Know How to Describe Your Funding Model

Your Funding Model is your methodical approach to building revenue for your organization’s primary programs and services. When you are searching for donors, you have to be able to describe your funding model in such a way that is easy to understand, answers their questions, and is short enough that you don’t lose their attention.

• Know where your funding comes from.
• Know the amount that each donor gives, but more importantly, know how long they’ve been giving.
• Know how much funding supports each aspect of your organization.
• Know how much funding you need to meet your goals for next year.

Understanding and being able to explain the answers to these questions clearly will help you get the funding you are searching for.

4. Know Your Donors

It is vital that you understand who is donating money to support your organization. When crafting your letters, make sure that all of each donor’s information is correct, especially their name and contact information, regardless if they are small or major donors. These are often like job applications, where you do not have a chance if the recipient’s name is spelled wrong. It makes it look like you could not take the time to ensure the accuracy of the information, and could make the donors feel like your organization isn’t worth their money. Knowing what is essential to each donor, and appealing to those interests, can result in more significant donations.

“One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is not knowing enough about their donors”, notes Cynthia Russell of CrossSector Partners. “Simple things like verifying who should receive the annual appeal and to whom it should be addressed can make a huge difference in retaining donors. It is much more compelling to the donor if she or he receives a personalized salutation, but if the letter is addressed incorrectly you have wasted the opportunity to make a connection.”

5. Customize Appeal Letters

Customize each appeal letter to the specific donor. Major donors should get a different letter from new or potential donors. Frequent and consistent donors should get a separate letter than a lapsed donor. Include accurate information about each donor, recognize their interests, and appeal to what is important to them in each letter. If the donors can relate and feel strongly about your cause because it touches on an emotional trigger for them, they’re more likely to support your organization. Regardless if they actually give you any money, thank them for their time and consideration. You never know if their budget just doesn’t allow for donations this year. Staying polite and sincere will leave an impression, and that may turn into future contributions.

6. Make a Compelling Ask

When asking for donations, tell them how that money will be used. People like to help, but they usually want to know where their money is going.

• Make it clear how those gifts will help you achieve your mission.
• Appeal to your donors’ interests to compel them to want to donate to your organization.

7. Make it Easy for Donors to Give

People like to help out organizations that have a good cause, but can be turned off if it’s just too hard to donate. To ensure that you get every possible donation, make sure that your donation process is seamless. Accept as many forms of donation as possible and in as many ways as you can: online with multiple payment options and recurring monthly gifts, as well as checks. The easier the process, the better the overall experience, and the more people will be willing to donate.


Cynthia Russell is Principal of CrossSector Partners, a management consulting firm that helps new and emerging nonprofits develop fundraising strategies, create strategic plans, and improve operations. Cynthia has worked with hundreds of nonprofits to develop growth plans, raise funds, and steward donors. Prior to launching CrossSector Partners, Cynthia held executive leadership positions with nonprofits in the fields of education, community development, the environment, and health care. She currently serves on the board of several nonprofits and is a frequent speaker on effective nonprofit management practices and philanthropy.

Author: Kelly Campbell
Kelly Campbell is an Agency Growth Consultant based in New York. A former digital agency owner for 15 years, she helps creative and tech agencies transform—focusing on people, positioning, pipeline and profitability. Kelly is also an IA/SEO consultant to Facebook and NASA. She writes for Website Magazine, speaks at digital marketing and agency growth conferences across the U.S., and has been featured in The New York Times, Woman Entrepreneur and Forbes. She is the host of THRIVE: Your Agency Resource, a bi-weekly video podcast sponsored by Workamajig that helps agency owners navigate growth.

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