Turn your season of giving into a season of gratitude
It’s true. People are more generous at the end of the year. So, a year-end fundraising goal and plan is important for nonprofits to take full advantage of donors’ kindness. In fact, recent research shows that a quarter of annual nonprofit revenue is raised in the month of December. But unfortunately, the average donor retention rate in 2022 was 42.6%, making it the lowest rate on record. That means most nonprofits are spending more time and resources bringing in new folks every year than they are keeping them.
After over 20 years of fundraising, consulting, and teaching nonprofits across the U.S., I’ve seen first-hand how building in simple and inexpensive donor loyalty strategies makes a huge difference in year-end giving success and your nonprofits’ long-term sustainability. No matter what size the organization or staff, building a culture of gratitude makes everyone feel more valued and connected to your cause.
So, don’t wait for the year-end season of giving to be over to start prioritizing appreciation for donors’ gifts and inspiring their continued support. To make this happen, here are some potential ideas you can put into practice immediately. But don’t feel like you need to do any or all of them, as the time and resources required to put them into practice vary. Instead, consider choosing a few that work best for your staff size, budget, capacity, and organizational culture.
- Lean into the spirit of gratitude by thanking your donors and volunteers for what their support made possible before you start asking for money.
- Before kicking off your #GivingTuesday (on November 28th this year) and year-end giving campaign, send fun social media posts, emails, or postcards thanking your supporters and sharing an impact story to remind them what their contributions made possible.
- Pull a list of lapsed donors that haven’t contributed over the last year and include them in your appreciation communications before sending them any season of giving appeals to try to get them back as an annual donor.
- Consider building regular check-ins with your donors, either via phone, email, Zoom, or in-person, to share updates about your work. For example, Candid’s development team aims to do this quarterly to strengthen our relationship with our funders.
- Bring your supporters together to build stewardship and celebrate the impact you make as a community.
- Host a holiday appreciation event—not a fundraiser—in the midst of Giving Season. I used to organize an annual “holiday tea” for our donors. We offered a light tea and lunch, had local craft vendors and hand-made wreaths for sale, and shared what we had accomplished for the year. This made for a nice afternoon of networking and stewardship. Even if they don’t come the first time, everyone appreciates an invite. The buzz about how great the event was will also spread in the future.
- If you don’t have a budget for that it’s OK. This is more about bringing folks together and not asking them for money. So, it doesn’t need to cost much or take a ton of resources and time. For example, consider hosting a virtual appreciation event and/or ask a board member or donor to host an inexpensive gathering in their home or office.
- Build appreciation into your year-end fundraising campaign ahead of time to ensure donors are thanked in a timely manner—but only if it’s not a burden on you and your team.
- Ensure all online donation sites have well-crafted automatic thank you emails.
- If you’re able, call donors within 48 hours of their gift. If they don’t answer, no worries. Leave a voice message thanking them for their gift and briefly explaining how it will help your organization.
- Prep thank you cards, so you can easily put them in the mail when donations come in. For an added touch, consider including a short, signed personal message from you or your organization’s staff, board members, volunteers, and/or program participants.
- Create a thank you video. I did this one year, and donors loved receiving a special video from the entire staff. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or time on this—just something special from you makes the difference. You can also consider creating quick, personalized videos on your phone that you can email or text to donors and volunteers sharing your appreciation for their support.
- Plan your post-Giving Season retention activities as part of your campaign—not an afterthought.
- Consider hosting a thank-a-thon in January. Invite board members and potentially other staff to call and thank all 2023 donors for what their support made possible. This can be an alternative to calling right after receiving a gift or an additional way to express your appreciation, depending on your staff and volunteer capacity.
- In February or March of next year, send all donors a 2023 donation receipt in preparation for tax season, so it’s convenient for them at tax time.
- When your 2023 annual report is complete, plan to email it to all your donors to let them know how their gift made an impact.
While we know this is an important time of year for fundraising, it’s also important that you are building donor loyalty strategies into your fundraising strategy. Generosity is reciprocal. The more you give, the more you get. So, it pays to plan for how you’ll show appreciation and encourage continued donations by helping donors see their role in driving positive impact.
Finally, in the spirit of expressing gratitude, thank you for all you do for your organization and the community you serve. Happy season of gratitude to you and your team!
Have more ideas? Please share your favorite ways to incorporate gratitude into your donor loyalty strategies in the comments below.