Stop the Scramble: Planning for Year End Nonprofit Fundraising Campaigns

If you work in the nonprofit sector, you know that at least 30%  of giving happens in the last month of the year

Between Giving Tuesday in November and year end giving in December, these final months provide a significant uptick in gifts to nonprofits, which is essential to make sure you’re hitting your financial goals.

It makes sense then, that most nonprofit organizations sit down far in advance — like during summertime — to proactively plan out end of year campaigns and make sure you have plenty of time to create videos, gather photos, write copy, design landing pages, build direct mail campaigns and set up ads. Right?

Unfortunately, no. Many organizations don’t start all of the heavy lifting for end of year marketing campaigns until closer to Q4. So instead of putting the finishing touches on campaigns and making sure you can accurately track metrics, you’re just getting started in the Fall. 

That’s way too late. Planning end of year fundraising campaigns in Q4 leaves your development and marketing teams scrambling and totally burned out by the end of the year. 

Once Q4 hits, it’s time to execute your campaigns. The best time for strategizing and planning, as well as creating the assets you’ll need to effectively execute your year end campaigns, is in the Summer. If you wait until Q4 to get started, all that happens is you end up foregoing or skimping on the strategy and using the creative assets that are easiest to gather, but perhaps not the most effective. And by December 31st you find yourself limping over the finish line, burned out and a little underwhelmed by the results. 

Because the end of the year is arguably the most important giving season of all, it deserves plenty of time to review, plan, and strategize so that you are putting your best foot forward to bring in the most revenue possible each year.

While nonprofits should be planning for end of year giving at least 6 months in advance, an even more strategic approach to your annual giving campaign would be to work on your campaign year round.

A Year Round Approach to End of Year Giving

Here is what your nonprofit should be doing in each quarter of the year to ensure you have a well rounded, strategic, and effective year end giving campaign.

Q1 – Review and Reflect

At the beginning of the year, it’s important to look back at the previous year’s campaign—the one that just finished—and assess what went well and what didn’t.

Where were your wins? What created the most struggle?

Take some time here to really think through the high and low points of your campaign and to review data from your website, giving platform, social media, email marketing platform and other sources. 

It’s important not to rush this step. Taking the time to dig in to how things went will allow you to make necessary adjustments and outline clear goal posts for future campaigns. It’s ok to admit defeats or trials from your recent efforts. Acknowledging them will help you avoid them in the future.

Once you’ve made a thorough assessment of your previous end of year campaign, it’s time to set your goals for the next one. Make your goals clear and achievable based on your evaluations, and communicate them to your team.

In what ways will your efforts be stronger than last year? Where do you hope to end up? What steps will it take to get there? Once you’ve set clear goals for your next campaign, you’re ready to move on to step two.

Q2 – Dream and Collect

The second quarter is for dreaming. What would a perfect end of year campaign feel like? How much money would it bring in? What would you do if you had twice as much time and twice as much budget? What would you do if you had half as much time and half as much budget?

Figuring out how you would expand or contract your campaign can help you assess what’s really important to the organization and can help new ideas to emerge. 

Q2 is also for gathering stories. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat across a Zoom screen from a client in Q4, working on their end of year campaign, and asked them to gather 5-10 stories that we can tell throughout the campaign only to hear that they don’t think they can get any interesting stories in time.

Gather stories all year long. Throughout the year, think about the types of stories you want to tell so that you have a punch list of the stories you’ll need. Collect them in Q2, and keep them handy so that when it’s time to create, you’ll be ready. 

Q3 – Build and Create

Now it’s time to build your campaign. You’ve assessed, planned, set goals, and collected stories—now you get to put them to work.

This is the time of year for you to do the majority of the heavy lifting. This is when you write the copy, create the videos, design the graphics, write the blog posts, organize the events, and get the PR machine humming.

During these three months, your team will be busy and productive. The goal for Q3 is to put the entire campaign to bed by September 30th so that when the clock strikes midnight and Q4 is upon us, you are in execution mode, not creative mode.

Q4 – Execute

With all of your assets created, your stories ready to go, and your plan ready to be put in motion, Q4 is about seamless execution and gathering data on what works and what doesn’t.

The years of a crazy last quarter—of you relentlessly creating all of the campaigns and assets during the last few months of the year just in time to stumble across the finish line—are over. 

By having everything prepared and ready to go, you free up time to make those critical phone calls to donors, to work with corporate partners to make sure they look good at year end, and to focus on achieving outcomes rather than struggling just to get it all done.

Your team will thank you, your donors and strategic partners will thank you, and you will *hopefully* have a wildly successful end of year giving campaign.

Then Q1 hits again, and we begin again. 

Strategic Support for your Annual Giving Campaign

There you have it! Year end is such a critical time during a nonprofits annual giving campaign cycle and to do it well requires the time and attention it deserves.

If you’re looking to quit your end of year scramble and find some support to get all of this done with a strategic approach, having a fractional CMO can help.

At Wayward Kind, we bring greater visibility to the work of purpose-driven organizations that are designing a more just future. If you are interested in finding out more about what it would look like to work with a human-centered marketing strategist as your fractional CMO, contact us and let’s get to work.