A Simple Year-End Appeal Timeline to Help You Get It All Done

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Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

A simple year-end appeal timeline can help you stay on schedule in communicating with partners and prospects and asking them for gifts at year end.

This is particularly important as the calendar turns over from August to September, and then creeps closer to December. About 40% individual gifts are given to nonprofits during the last quarter of the calendar year.

Even if you miss the boat in September and October, there is no need to panic. Here’s an easy plan to use at year-end. It’s simple – content focuses on one topic. It’s inexpensive because it relies largely on electronic media and re-uses the same (or similar) content a few times.

What you need

  • Your house email list
  • Your house mailing list
  • Your account with an email list manager (such as Constant Contact)
  • Your website (with Donate capability)

Year-End Appeal Timeline

A simple year-end appeal timeline with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

ASAP: Select a Focus

Choose a project or mission focus around which to build your year-end appeal. Donors like to know where their money is going, why it’s so important to fund a particular project, and what their gift will accomplish. Your year-end series will revolve around this project or focus.

Pre-Thanksgiving: Send Email #1

Write and send an email appeal focused around your project, featuring the story of someone who benefitted from it. Perhaps you can even have the beneficiary write a thank you to donors (or, with her permission, write it in her voice.) Tie together the project and the beneficiary’s gratitude – very appropriate for Thanksgiving – with a soft Ask that explains, “We want to keep helping people like Mara,” or “Will you help us do more for children like Stephen?” This first email is a good way to thank partners for their past support and introduce your year-end campaign. In email campaigns, always, always include several embedded links as well as a very obvious button link to your website’s Donate page.

1st Week of December: Send Year-End Print Appeal

Here’s where things are simpler than you’d imagined. The print appeal’s content can be very similar to your pre-Thanksgiving email – just vary the content slightly for those prospects who read both email and print solicitations.

The main difference between the two is a stronger Ask in this print version. Be very clear and direct: “Now at year’s end, will you give a tax-deductible gift so we can {name the result of the project}?” Include a response device and return envelope as well as your website’s address and instructions for online giving.

And if you’re worried about being repetitive as you work your way through the year-end appeal timeline – well, don’t. Research shows that it can take up to 7 “touches” before a prospect responds. Right now you’re only on Touch #2.

2nd Week of December: Send Email #2

Unpack your project a little bit more deeply than you did in the first email. List the benefits to the project and the many ways lives are affected. Cite some of your organization’s success statistics. Remind prospects that “time is running out” at year end and boldly ask for their gift. Remember – always include links to your website’s Donate page.

3rd Week of December: Take 2 steps

  1. Send a reminder print postcard. Say, “Don’t forget. Give to {organization} by December 31!” and list some of your project’s benefits described in Email #2. Direct prospects to your website for online donations. Save money by printing the postcard on colored card stock (not white, please) so it sticks out in the mailbox. There’s no need to have the postcard be a full-colored, elaborate deal – it’s just a reminder.
  2. Send Email #3. Again, it’s a simple reminder. If you’re short on funds and time, use a favorite trick: re-send Email #1 or Email #2, modify it a bit, but use a different and urgent subject line such as, “Give to {organization name} before December 31 for your year-end tax-deduction.” As always in email campaigns … include multiple Donate links.

Last Week of December: Send Email #4

You've reached crunch point in your year-end appeal timelines. Send a very short email that reminds donors to give before midnight on December 31 if they’ve not yet done so. Profusely thank those who have given already. Wish all a joyous New Year! And … include those Donate links.

1st Week of January or Before: Send Thank You Letters 

This is one of the most crucial junctures in your year-end appeal timeline because donor appreciation builds donor loyalty. If possible, have your Executive Director or Director of Development personalize each thank you letter with a short note at the bottom. Be sure the letter references the year-end project campaign. Explain how partners helped you reach your goal – and together, what you will accomplish in the coming year!

Get more ideas on our Fundraising Writing Pinterest board.

More Year End Writing Tips

Your year-end appeal fundraising checklist ...

Use a year-end online appeal to snag last-minute donor gifts ...

How to identify a matching gift donor for year-end ...

Call to action: have you told your reader what to do?

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