The end of the year is fast approaching and, since nearly 30 percent of all annual giving happens in December, this is an important time for any nonprofit organization.
You’re probably in the middle of planning your year-end giving push. Perhaps you’ve already designed and printed your direct mail piece and are starting to segment your donor list. Every donor on your list is valuable, but during this time of year, it’s important to pay special attention to three segments of donors: major donors, your board, and other special friends.
Each of these segments should be approached with slightly varied tactics to make sure that you maintain the close relationship while maximizing the amount each donor can give.
Tactic #1: Board Giving
Of course, you’ll want to ensure that each board member makes a gift every year. This typically requires more than a simple reminder at the end of the year.
First, it’s important to lay the groundwork. Build a board agreement that it’s important for everyone to participate. If your organization doesn’t have a board job description that includes an annual gift, you should consider creating one and get the entire board’s approval of the job description. This builds consensus among your board members and sets expectations for prospective members so they know what required of them before they sign up.
Simply because everyone knows what’s expected doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get 100 percent participation right off the bat. Reminders at board meetings about the need to participate is a good start, then board members ought to receive a special end-of-the-year letter, signed by the chairperson.
Those who do not respond should receive a follow-up email or phone call with a simple message such as, “We’re almost at our goal; there are just two of you who haven’t responded.”
Be sure to make a big announcement once all the board gifts are in. If you don’t get 100 percent, announce as much at your next meeting. Ninety-five percent board giving is still something to celebrate and it also sends a not-so-subtle message to the outlier about causing the missed goal.
Tactic #2: Personalized, Thoughtful Letters
Another group that deserves personalized correspondence includes those who give large gifts on a regular basis. These major donors should not receive a pre-printed direct mail piece, but instead should receive a special letter at year end. The letter should thank them for being a dedicated friend and source of support for your organization. It should remind them of what they gave last year and ask for a specific amount this year.
This is another place where paying attention to details makes a donor feel special. Is the donor close to the Executive Director? Are they acquainted with the Board Chair? Have they worked together on a project with program staff or helped on a campaign with the Development Director? Reference their unique relationship with your nonprofit in your letter to these donors. Making the request for donations feel personal is an effective strategy for building a deeper relationship.
It’s possible you may have other close friends, loyal volunteers, or long-time donors for example, who have the potential to make a nice annual gift but haven’t made the donation. If you are using wealth screening to rate your donors, you can look for those long-termers who have a high capacity for year-end giving. You already have a close relationship with them, why not take the time to send them a special message and invite them to increase their annual participation?
Tactic #3: Face-to-Face Requests
Finally, there are those truly special friends; those who give especially generous gifts. For those donors, you might consider something more than a letter. A nice lunch with the Executive Director, an invitation for a tour by the Director of Development, or a visit to see a program can all provide an opportunity for you to personally make the ask for a donation. A recent Harvard study showed that in-person requests are 34 times more successful than email. As you can see, there’s nothing quite as effective as a face-to-face request to repeat last year’s gift or even increase it.
Before you send out your year-end giving letters, be sure these special groups are correctly coded in your donor relationship manager and excluded from the direct mailing list. Remember the 80/20 rule. You should spend 80 percent of your time on the top 20 percent since they will in turn provide 80 percent of your results.
Susan Packard Orr is currently Chairman of the Board at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and is a trustee of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health and the Packard Humanities Institute. In the past she has served on a number of other boards, including Stanford University and Hewlett-Packard Company. Susan holds an M.S. in computer science from New Mexico School of Mining and Technology, and both an M.B.A. degree and a B.A. in economics from Stanford University.