Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
News & Press: AFP-GHC

Year-End Giving for the Busy Fundraiser

Thursday, December 6, 2018   (0 Comments)
Share |

In my role with the Houston Zoo’s development team, I’ve managed our year-end giving campaign, Gift of Grub, since 2014. You already know that year-end giving is huge. If you’re like me, a substantial portion of your fundraising goal for the year comes in November/December—I expect more than a third of the revenue I’m responsible for to be realized in those last two months. And like me and many other fundraisers, you probably wear more than one hat, so you can’t pour every ounce of energy into your year-end campaign. What’s a busy fundraiser to do? I hope that by sharing some tips from what I’ve learned, you can maximize your returns during the season of giving.


Plan early

I usually start seriously planning our year-end appeal in late August. You can start later (and I have, trust me…) but fight the urge to procrastinate—start tackling your check list. When I’m planning a campaign, these items are top of mind:

  • Creating a calendar of due dates and checkpoints (I like to decide when the direct mail will drop and work back from there) 
  •  Finding a story or central message that will drive the campaign
  • Getting in touch with program people for research and fact checking
  •  Deciding on the format of the print and digital pieces
  • Figuring out how the mailing list will be segmented

Of course, there’s more to a successful campaign than these five items but for me, these represent the biggest hurdles, which means I feel a whole lot better when I check them off!


Target your message

When it comes to getting the most return for every dollar you put into a campaign, few things are more impactful than a thoughtfully targeted and segmented list. There are many ways you could segments your donors, but here’s a simple place to start:

  • Group 1 – Current donors (those who gave in the current year)
  • Group 2 – Donors who gave last year but haven’t given since
  • Group 3 – Donors who gave between 2 and 4 years ago
  • Group 4 – Acquisition (prospective donors)

When I look at these four groups, I also see four different appeals, each with donor-centered messaging. If I’m writing a year-end appeal to these donors, my solicitation will include language specifically thanking them for their past gift or for prospective donors, a solid argument for why they should donate to my organization. Penelope Burk has a good post about this subject on her blog.


For a direct mail appeal, your “ask strings” should also be targeted based on the donor’s past giving. For example, a $500 donor might get an ask string of $1,000/$500/$250, but a $100 donor would get $250/$100/$50. One could write an entire article about the science of ask strings, but simply staying within a reasonable range of a donor’s previous gift while leaving room to “upgrade” their giving is a great start.


Use compelling, tangible content in your year-end appeal

I’ve been told that I’m lucky to work at the Houston Zoo because I can use cute animal photos for our fundraising appeals. This is absolutely true, and I leverage this every chance I get! But every organization has compelling stories and images to leverage in their year-end appeals. A truly excellent appeal is one that places the donor in the center of the story and shows how they can make a tangible impact.




This is an example of a special holiday card that goes out to current donors. It has an animal photo on the front and inside is a note from our President and CEO. In the note, donors are thanked for all the successes they helped us achieve this year before being asked to give to the Gift of Grub campaign. This piece does well every year because it stands out in the mailbox, expresses gratitude, and shows donors how their gift could help care for our animals, e.g. $100 could buy 150 heads of lettuce for our giraffe herd.


Give Thanks

Taking time to thank your donors at the end of the year can be tough. You’re running up against the December 31 deadline and trying to raise as much as you can. However, this is your opportunity to secure a donor’s next gift before you even have to ask again. Strive to send your acknowledgment letters within a week. Invite your top donors out for a tour. Send a thank you card signed by your program staff. After January 1, send an email to all your year-end donors to report on the success of your campaign. I’ve seen so many clever ways to thank donors. The more creativity and thoughtfulness you put into your stewardship efforts now, the greater the rewards you’ll reap down the road.


What I’ve written here only scratches the surface of how you can get the most out of year-end giving, but I hope that it provides you with some inspiration and a starting framework. Above all, remember to practice some self-care during this busy time of year! I love to exchange appeals and ideas, so please feel free to email me at Happy fundraising!


About The Author

Alex Pugh has been with the Houston Zoo’s development team since 2013 and currently oversees the Zoo’s annual campaigns and donor communications.



more Calendar

April Educational Breakfast

May CFRE Exam Prep

National Philanthropy Day
Online Surveys
Membership Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal