The Best of the Last: Year-End Fundraising Emails

Happy new year to all of you! I hope it’s a wonderful one for you. But first, please take a moment to look back with me to last week.

I’m someone who uses the past as core data in planning the future. So I was watching closely as all the end-of-year fundraising emails flowed into my in-box last week. And I’m sorry to say that most of them just didn’t make the grade.

However, fundraising asks from two organizations–the Center for Media and Democracy (CCTV) and the Clinton Foundation–stood far above the rest. Both organizations hit me with two emails last week, each one of which featured a clear ask, a definitive motivation to give before year end plus a bit of pizazz. Here are the subject lines that drew me in:

  • Center for Media and Democracy (CCTV)
    • Dec. 28: Thanks for a Great Year from CCTV – Please Consider Giving, From: Lauren-Glenn Davitian (Executive Director)
    • Dec. 31: Ring in 2011 with a Gift to Free Speech, From: Lauren-Glenn Davitian (Executive Director)
  • Clinton Foundation
    • Dec. 30: I will match your gift to improve lives around the world, From: President Clinton, Clinton Foundation
    • Dec. 31: Hours left to have your gift matched by President Clinton, From: Laura Graham, Clinton Foundation (COO)

The fact that the Clinton Foundation excels in communications all around is no surprise. But I’m particularly impressed by the marketing savvy of the Center, a small organization fueled by lots of passion and imagination. Great work!

It’s been confirmed time and time again that a huge amount of giving happens in the last two days of the year. So why wasn’t every organization I’ve ever given to, signed a petition with or subscribed to their email list in touch with me to give, more than once? And why did two organizations who did reach out to me use their emails to announce January 2011 events, without even a whisper of an ask? It will be so much harder today, and for the next several months.

You can fix that next December by finalizing your December 2011 fundraising strategy in late Summer. Focus on what prospects are considering at year end (reflecting back, starting new, what’s most important to them, their taxes) and focus there, and reach them more than once. A thank you is always welcome and repetition, when done right, works well!

What are your recommendations for effective year-end fundraising campaigns?

P.S. Learn how to strengthen your nonprofit’s messaging with the all-new Nonprofit Tagline Database and 2011 Tagline Report.

Nancy Schwartz on January 4, 2011 in Fundraising: Innovations & Research | 7 comments
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  • Great points and examples, Nancy! Thanks for sharing and bringing these to our attention. It is amazing to me that so many nonprofits aren’t even soliciting donations online yet. The organizations that are doing this well are much better positioned to move into 2011 and beyond. I hope that more organization get it together in time for next year’s year-end giving.

  • Jeremy Shatan

    The Clinton ones ARE great. Yes, they have the President but they also deploy him well in this context. The other ones seem rather generic and I doubt they would get a second glance in my inbox.

    Even though most of our year end gifts still come in through the mail, we did a three part year-end email campaign. Our subject lines were:

    12/2: A Story of Strength & Survival (Moose Crossing!)
    12/15: Change The World – One Gift At A Time
    12/29: There’s Still Time To Give Hope In 2010

    Let me know if those would get your attention…

    Happy New Year!

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Jeremy, that’s a nice series. How did it work for you?

    Although the Center’s subject lines may seem plain vanilla, it’s amazing how rarely the phrase “Thank You” shows up in fundraising requests. Here its right up top. And I find the Center’s follow-up request subject line quite stirring. I like how they point to the issue they’re working on, rather than to the organization itself.

    Any other thoughts on the examples in the post, or Jeremy’s three-part series?

  • I liked your examples, Nancy, and agree wholeheartedly on the use of the words “thank you” within the subject header. Crucial.

    While a subject header is important, I don’t find that it’s the be-all-end-all of whether an email is opened or not. Having the basis of a relationship also falls into the equation. For example, if I had given to an organization once and then not heard from them all year except for a three-part end-of-year-appeal, I might be less likely to open their emails. There are organizations, however, whose emails I I never fail to open, regardless of the headers.

    I liked this simple series came from the New York Restoration Project:
    11.20.10: Are you up for a challenge? – Email talking about how the founder, Bette Midler, was putting up $115,000 as a challenge – and what the organization would be doing in 2011.
    12.21.10: Update – A brief, straightforward appeal.
    12.30.10: Almost there! – Another brief, straightforward approach indicating that the organization was $10,000 away from meeting the challenge.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Pamela, great example and your comments on why the series works are so useful. Thanks!

    Thanks too for reinforcing how important the context of receiving an email is (e.g. the recipients’ relationship with the sender and the frequency of communications, among other elements). Makes all the difference.

  • Nancy, I totally agree with you – why don’t more nonprofits send out 2 or 3 emails during the last week of the year? We know it works!

    One reason I think they resist is because they’re afraid to ask more than once. It’s a mindset issue we’ve got to help them get beyond. They’re scared they’ll offend someone but what happens is that they leave lots of money on the table.

    Love your suggestion of finalizing the strategy during the summer!

    Sandy Rees
    Fundraising Coach

  • Travis Gasper

    We are an AIDS service organization, and had less of a response than we had hoped with the following emails/subjects:

    12/27: HELP and HOPE: More than just a slogan
    12/29: Only 2 Days Left to Make a Tax-Deductible Gift
    12/31: Your Last-Minute Gift Provides Help and Hope

    Any feedback would be appreciated!

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