December is fast approaching, and as the temperatures cool, it’s time to start thinking about your institution’s year-end fundraising plan. Here at VisionPoint we create a lot of integrated marketing strategies and plans designed to communicate compelling messages and drive people through engagement to conversion, be that enrolling in a program, signing up for a webinar, or making a gift. Today, we’re pulling out a few of our best tools and sharing how you can use them to boost year-end giving to your institution without investing a lot of time or money.

1. Define Your Goal

You’ve probably already got a goal for your institution’s annual giving — raise X dollars by June 30, increase retention by X percentage, or drive X number of alumni to give — but do you have short-term goals for year-end fundraising? In the rush and urgency of year-end giving, it’s easy to wind up with a vague goal to “raise as much money as you possibly can,” but it’s best to pick something more concrete. Not sure where to start? Here are a few different ways to think about your goals:

  • Look at the donors or dollars you brought in last December and aim for a realistic increase.

  • Determine how much more money you need to raise to meet your fiscal year goal, and then set your sights on bringing in a realistic percentage of that amount through your December fundraising.

What’s key is to keep it SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) and set benchmarks over the course of the month to track your progress toward your goals.

2. Know Your Audience

If you’re not using them already, definitely consider creating donor personas to use all year ‘round. What are personas, you ask? They’re fictional characters based on the real demographics and psychographics of your various donor segments (i.e., age, location, average gift size, concerns, motivations). Personas can be an incredibly helpful touchstone in your work, from how you shape messaging to refining how you target donors in online advertising. Not sure where to start? Download our Donor Persona Worksheet.

Even if you don’t have time to fully flesh out personas before year’s end, consider taking some time to create brief demographic sketches of your core donor audiences (e.g., young alumni donors tend to be between 25-32, typically female, working in tech, with an average gift of $67). And, at the very least, spend some time thinking about the reasons people give at the end of the year. Perhaps one persona gives because it’s the holiday season and a time for giving. Perhaps another is interested in the tax benefits of making a gift by 12/31. Yet another may recognize that this is a time of giving, but still needs to be convinced that your institution deserves support.

Even if these initial personas are based only on loose psychographic traits, they’re a good start and will give you a direction to work from when you’re segmenting your lists and creating your messaging.

3. Evaluate Your Situation

Now that you know what you need to accomplish and who you’re talking to, take a look at your year-end landscape. Conduct a mini SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis for December, considering questions like the following:

  • What other fundraising efforts have you made lately? Are your donors fatigued or under asked?

  • What channels and messages have worked well for you in the past? Which haven’t?

  • What resources do you have to help with the campaign (i.e., tools, teammates, or budget)?

  • What do your donors like about the work you do? What have donors and non-donors said about what they don’t like?

  • Do you have any content or creative that you can re-purpose?

  • Are there any interesting new funds or programs on campus that you can promote?

  • In addition to the busy marketing and fundraising landscape of the holiday season, is there anything else happening at your institution that you need to keep in mind?

While it may seem like these are things you and your team will just know, an honest evaluation can help you as you build out your marketing plan, providing ideas around what types of messaging to use or how to reach your audience. But more than that, it also serves as a critical gut check for you and your leadership team about what’s possible and what’s not, or where you might need additional support to achieve your goals.

4. Consider the Engagement Process

While a donor funnel (i.e., the steps a donor takes in the process of making a gift) may be most useful in more sustained or long-term efforts, it can be helpful to spend a bit of time reflecting on the short-term funnel that your donors will be moving through during your year-end campaign. It’s important to remember that even in a condensed window of time, some donors may still need to move through awareness and engagement before they get to that all important “donation” segment of the funnel. So consider what parts of your plan speak to awareness and engagement. While some supporters may be primed to make a gift now with a single ask, others will need to learn a bit more and be nurtured toward the donation. Will you include messages about how donor support has made a difference in the past? Will you work in an explanation of why your institution matters?

Giving Funnel

5. Make a Plan

Now that you know your goals, it’s time to map out how you’ll meet them. Using your SWOT, personas, and funnel as a guide, you should make your year-end plan as detailed as possible, ideally spelling out timing, channel, messaging, and target audience for each deliverable, as well as who on your team will be responsible for executing each piece. You might also want to consider noting which strengths or opportunities each piece leverages. That way, your plan will give your team a complete picture of everything you’re doing with mail, email, and advertising from Giving Tuesday till midnight on the 31st.

And of course, don’t forget a thank you message, which is the first step to pulling donors back into the top of the funnel.

Now you’re ready to boost your year-end fundraising efforts! But what’s even better than using these tips and tricks to boost a short-term campaign is understanding how to use the same approach to develop a long-term integrated marketing plan that will help your annual fund achieve growth year over year. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, we should talk.