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It's Not Too Late to Be Ready for the Most Charitable Time of the Year

It's never too early to tweak or fine-tune your year-end campaign (and with the Internet, it's not yet too late to start planning and executing it). A new study from JupiterResearch and Convio shows that not being ready to engage donors on-line would be a huge mistake: more than 89 million on-line consumers plan to use the Internet to give to charity this holiday season.

You can take advantage of this season's high-volume on-line giving and make it easier for your donors to give when time and funds are short by building an on-line year-end or holiday campaign. Here are a few fail-safe strategies to get you going.

Holiday Campaign Tips

  1. For starters, send an appeal! Some 35 to 42 percent of all on-line giving happens in November and December, yet many groups don't actually ask their supporters for contributions during that window.

  2. When you send an appeal, use a multi-part message that includes:
    1. A main ask.
    2. A stewardship/season's greeting piece (think e-card around Christmas or Hanukkah).
    3. A last-chance-to-give, literally sent on December 31.

  3. Leverage the messaging, look, and feel of your direct mail appeal(s). No need to build an on-line message structure from scratch if you have a look and feel from direct mail that you can use.

  4. Test your messaging for better response. Try different subject lines and content, then use the elements that perform best in the final message.

  5. Consider implementing a thank you or year-end celebration. Capture interest this holiday season by thanking donors for their support or celebrating program success; such a message can include a simple year-end ask. Then in January, start nurturing supporters for 2009 gifts before and during the holiday season.

Ten Tips for End-of-Year Success

And finally, here are some general best practices to keep in your bag of tricks throughout this year's holiday season—and beyond.

  1. Resend your e-mail appeals. Three to five days after you send the initial message, send a second e-mail to people who did not respond. You'll get a better response rate, because you'll reach the donors who never opened the initial e-mail. (Don't resend to those who did respond.)

  2. Optimize the donor conversation on your home page. Let visitors to your Web site know you are doing a campaign and invite them to participate. Match the design of your donation form to the look and feel of the campaign.

  3. Integrate off-line and on-line communications. If you are doing a direct mail campaign, invite recipients to visit your Web site for special content. Collect their e-mail addresses at events and on all reply devices, including direct mail. Make sure all telemarketing, direct mail, and television appeals have an on-line option by providing an easy-to-remember URL.

  4. Put a human face on all of your communications. Highlight specific goals, recent successes, and inspirational stories. Use images and photos. Don't make appeals about hard economic times but instead thank your donors for helping with mission-critical projects.

  5. Send a special appeal. If you have a special project (such as disaster relief or a holiday drive), send your donors an update via e-mail.

  6. Don't forget to cultivate. Even when times are tough, allocate funds for simple activities such as coffee with the board or handwritten notes and thank you calls from the staff. Don't give up on donors who can't give monetary gifts right now—they will rebound. Offer alternative ways for expressing their support, such as volunteering their time, donating supplies, or forwarding your e-mail communications to their families and friends. (Remember, 15 percent of on-line consumers said an e-mail from family or friends would make them more likely to give.)

  7. Go live with a Web site and keep it current. Your Web traffic will be highest during November and December. Be prepared, even if your site is just a few pages that tell the story of your organization. Be sure to update the copyright year on your site so that people will know your content is current. Even if you aren't set up for on-line fundraising, at least make it possible for donors to give through your Web site. It could be as simple as setting up a PayPal account (

  8. Implement a few simple e-mail best practices.
    1. Personalize the "from" field in your e-mail. Consider using the name of an executive, recognizable spokesperson, or celebrity (if available), followed by your organization's name. Using such a name will help your message stand out in the recipient's in-box.
    2. Pay attention to the subject line. Personalize it to the recipient by mentioning something he or she cares about. Make it timely by leveraging a topic that's already in the press. Create a sense of urgency to give donors a reason to open your message now. Keep it short, ideally under 55 characters. Say what you need to, but remember that fewer words perform better.
    3. Keep the voice of your communications consistent with your organization's brand, but try using humor or controversy in the subject line to grab donors' attention.
    4. Make the body copy shorter than a direct mail piece, ideally three to four paragraphs. Be direct and use bulleted short sentences with lots of friendly white space.
    5. Only hotlink a few meaningful phrases for clarification, and avoid using "click here."
    6. Include a prominent Donate/Give Now button. The button is critical. Ideally, insert it "above the fold" (i.e., so that readers do not have to scroll down in the message to see it) and make it stand out visually with graphics. Also provide multiple text links to overcome the suppression of images in e-mails. When you can, suggest giving levels that align with your typical donor history.

  9. Play up your credentials. Give new prospects the information to help them make the right decision. Leverage your organization's ratings by charity watchdogs and link to your current information on GuideStar. (Some 10 percent of on-line consumers use these sites to help them decide which organization to support.)

  10. Continue the conversation. Think beyond a single gift. Take steps to profile your donors and understand their true affinity with your organization.
Even in times of slowing economic activity, the year-end/holiday giving season is important to your fundraising success. Be extra attentive to your donors—all of them. Now is the time to keep in touch by communicating your appreciation for them, along with the value and needs their contributions and your organization serve.

Most people try to maintain some level of giving even in times of recession. Make it easy for consumers to choose you. Make sure your Web site and communications are donor friendly, make sure your off-line appeals have an on-line giving option, use the Internet to build lists for future cultivation, and use your current on-line presence to reach out with a holiday campaign. On-line fundraising is no longer a secret weapon for reaching donors; it is a critical channel for reaching your fundraising and relationship goals. Now is the time; on-line is the place.

© 2008, Convio

Convio provides on-demand constituent relationship management (CRM) software and services that give nonprofit organizations a better way to inspire and mobilize people to support them. The company offers integrated software for fundraising, advocacy, events, e-mail marketing, and Web content management. Convio clients include nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, associations, and faith-based organizations around the world.
Topics: Fundraising Charity