A Year-End Guide to Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | September 2022

Illustration of book and jar of money.

As the year winds down, this is the perfect time to close the year on a strong note. The holiday season is one of the most lucrative times to fundraise. According to DonorBox, 31% of annual donations are made in December and 12% come in the final three days of the year. Here are a few strategies to help you maximize your fundraising efforts.

The Importance of an End-of-Year Strategy

As mentioned earlier, the final weeks in a year are especially crucial for nonprofits. Ending the year on a good note will provide a smooth transition into the coming year. The funds from the end of the year will then be available for projects and campaigns in the new year.

Many donors are eager to make tax-deductible gifts before the year ends. Often, people start thinking about the coming tax season at the end of the year. This is their last chance to make deductible donations.

Determine a Fundraising Baseline

To set appropriate goals, you need to determine a baseline. Analyzing your data can help you identify patterns. This information can predict reasonable goals to aim for.

Calculate your cost-per-dollar-raised (CPDR). While it's rewarding to see the amount of money raised, you must also know how much a fundraising campaign costs. To find this number, divide expenses by revenue after each fundraising campaign. This will give you a better sense of how much money you've actually raised. 

Another metric that can help you stay on top of your progress is donor acquisition. A nonprofit needs to both recruit new donors and keep existing ones. You should keep an accurate measurement of both of these metrics. 

Next, you need to have a good idea of the average donation size. Some donors may only give $5.00 while others may contribute over $100,000.00. Tracking the average gift amount will give you a good idea of a typical donation and how this number changes year-over-year.


Set SMART Goals

It's not enough to only have general goals. Your goals should motivate you and be easy to track. 

SMART goals are:

  • Specific: You need to be clear about your goal. 
  • Measurable: The goal must be measurable. What is the dollar amount that you want to raise? If you can't measure a goal, you have no way of knowing your progress. 
  • Achievable: Goals should be ambitious but realistic. Consider your resources, history, and current conditions when setting goals. Do you have reason to believe that you can reach this goal?
  • Relevant: Make sure your goal will actually help your organization in the long run. In this case, it should relate to a fundraising goal, whether that's a dollar amount or number of donors.
  • Time-based: Every goal needs a time frame. In this case, it may be December 31st.


Some examples of SMART goals include:

  • Raise $50,000 by December 31, 2020.
  • Gain 200 new donors by December 31, 2020.
  • Raise this year’s total donations by 10% over last year.
  • Reduce this year’s CPDR by 20% compared to the previous year.

Even when you set realistic goals, you won't always reach them. The real value of SMART goals is to provide you with focus and something concrete upon which you can focus. When the deadline passes, it's important to review the results and adjust for future goals. 

Mobilize Your Team

Once you set goals, you need to make sure everyone is on board and knows their role in achieving them. As a director or manager of a nonprofit, you may have both volunteers and paid staff. Communication is essential so that everyone knows the value of their contribution.

  • Keep everyone informed using various channels. Phone, email, and social media are all useful. It's best to send every important message using at least two channels.
  • Share the urgency and reasoning for goals. Don't only assign tasks. Explain the reason a certain task is so important and why it's crucial to reach deadlines. Rather than asking employees to make 100 calls in a week, explain how these calls will help to meet your goal. 
  • Make sure everyone is accountable and checks in at regular intervals. This is most important when people are likely to be working at home from different locations.


Create a budget

Any fundraising effort needs a budget. You can use your experience as a guide to estimate costs. Expenses you'll need to calculate may include:

  • Advertising for a fundraising event or a direct appeal for funds
  • Office expenses
  • Donor prizes or gifts
  • Paid staff
  • Outsourced tasks, such as video, website design, or marketing

Organize and clean up your mailing list

An online mailing list is a valuable fundraising asset. Requesting donations from existing contacts is a low-effort and low-cost way to fundraise. For the best results, keep your mailing lists organized and up-to-date. This will only increase your results.

  • Track email metrics such as open rates and clicks.
  • Ensure that your emails have a clear Unsubscribe link to avoid spam complaints
  • Clean up your list by removing invalid emails to reduce the bounce rate. A high bounce rate could get you blacklisted as a spammer.
  • Send re-engagement emails to subscribers who haven't opened your messages in a while. Remind them why they subscribed in the first place and invite them to re-engage. Some may do the opposite and unsubscribe, but this is another way to clean up your list. 
  • Send end-of-year emails to keep subscribers aware of your fundraising progress

Send direct mail

Sending direct mail, such as a brochure, is still a valid way to connect with donors. You can use a similar approach for managing a physical mailing list as a virtual one. Though in this case, you don't have to worry about spam complaints. Make sure to clean up invalid addresses so you don't waste money on postage when sending out mailings.

Update your website

A website is one of the most important resources for engaging with and attracting new donors. When people land on your website, their first impression will determine what they do next. Take a close look at your website and look for areas that need improvement. You may only need to make a few tweaks or, in some cases, completely redesign your website.

  • Ensure mobile-friendliness. More and more people are accessing the internet using mobile devices. Ensure that your website is responsive and accessible to visitors on any device. 
  • Improve accessibility. In the nonprofit sector especially, it's vital to be as inclusive as possible. Many nonprofits serve marginalized communities, other cultures, or those with special needs. Inclusive design ensures usability and a great user experience for a wide range of users. It takes into consideration that users have different abilities, genders, languages, or cultures. Examples of accessible design may include closed captioning on videos for those with hearing impairments or alt text on images for those with visual impairments.
  • Decrease page load time. If visitors have to wait too long for pages to load, they are likely to abandon your site.
  • Include clear calls-to-action (CTAs). Each web page should have a goal, whether for users to donate, sign up, submit a form, or register for an event. No matter the goal, everything on the page should serve as a step toward encouraging the visitor to take it.
  • Fix broken links

Stay active on social media

Social media can play a powerful role in your year-end fundraising efforts. Your actions on social media should complement your communication on all other channels. 

  • Connect with followers using the latest features, such as Facebook and Instagram Stories. These will help you gain attention. 
  • Use Facebook and Instagram ads to reach people outside of your immediate network.
  • Create a Facebook group to discuss your projects. Don't use it as a channel to ask for money, but as a source for networking and information. You can mention upcoming fundraising events.

Host a virtual fundraiser

Live events aren't always practical anymore. But, you can raise at least as much money from virtual events. You even have the potential to do better as you can connect with donors from all over the world.

  • Model your online event after your live events as much as possible. Think of creative ways to turn in-person activities into virtual ones. For example, if you can't host a lunch or dinner, then invite guests to prepare a meal and enjoy it while attending. You can even suggest a dress code. 
  • Create a landing page for the event. That makes it easy to send attendees to the page via email, direct mail, social media, and more. 
  • Arrange guests, such as speakers or entertainers, who can broadcast via livestream. This allows guests to enjoy the entertainment from anywhere.
  • Plan ways to raise money for the event. People can always donate, of course. You may also sell merchandise, or hold a virtual auction.
  • Look at what other organizations are doing. For example, Zoomtopia was a successful virtual fundraiser for the World Health Organization. The high-profile event attracted celebrity speakers such as Mark Cuban and Marta Stewart. Any nonprofit can organize a similar event on a smaller scale.
  • Consider a live benefit concert. Use a platform such as Facebook Live, Instagram Live, or Twitch. As with other virtual presentations, you're able to recruit performers from any location.
  • Create a video of your event. Depending on the length, you may want to edit it down and feature highlights. You can use this video later on to raise money from people who didn't attend the live event.


Show your appreciation

If you want to attract loyal donors, you need to make them feel appreciated. Thanking donors isn't a one-time or occasional responsibility, but should be consistent. Remember that any donation a person makes could be the last.

  • Be mindful of the words you use in donation appeals. Begin any request thanking donors for past donations. Avoid any implication that you take it for granted or that they have an obligation to donate again.
  • Provide details about how you will use the funds. Describe your plans for the coming year and how it will benefit the people that you serve.
  • Give gifts to donors. While exchanging gifts for donations decreases net gains, it also increases donor motivation. Donors don’t give to receive something in return, but everyone enjoys getting gifts. Also, branded products like mugs, tote bags, and t-shirts help promote your organization.  

Maintain a positive focus. When asking for donations, it's tempting to go into crisis mode and talk about why you need money. While you shouldn't hesitate to mention problems, balance this with accomplishments and victories. If the appeal is negative, donors can get burnt-out and less likely to donate.

End the year on a positive note

The end of the year is a crucial time for nonprofit organizations. Closing this year on the best note will allow you to focus on next year's goals. Whatever your strategy includes, this is the time to get started.

ArcStone is a full-service digital agency specializing in serving the needs of nonprofits. Check out our web design, digital marketing, virtual events, and hosting services.

Topics: Nonprofit Help