4 Steps to Successful Year-End Prep: Pandemic Edition

By: Nadine Gabai-Botero, CFRE, President

September 9, 2020

For most of us, 2020 has crept by as we've dealt with the latest challenges and waited for post-Covid times to start. In the coming months, you'll likely feel that time is accelerating, as it always does for fundraisers with the December 31st clock ticking.

Fortunately, there’s still time to plan (although not much!). Below are suggestions on what you should be doing now, and how to plan for the next few months to make sure you’re able to maximize year-end opportunities. In each of the “Covid Questions,” we include inquiries we’ve been asked recently to help you think through how to navigate some additional issues this year.

Tips for Successful Year-End Fundraising Campaigns

Map out your Schedule

First step in year-end planning is laying out a timeline for content, mailings and emails. Initially, you want to think through when your first mailing needs to drop, when you must send content to a mailhouse, if you use one, and when you need drafts from staff, if others will provide input. Add in key dates such as Election Day -- don’t have your initial year-end letter arrive that week if possible -- and Giving Tuesday, which is on December 1st this year. For email, think through how many emails you want to send, and for calls, if you or your volunteers are able to reach out to donors, determine when that will happen. 

Covid Question: Should we include a mailing as part of year-end? Some people are concerned the mail may carry the virus, and there are those who wait a few days before opening their mail. There has been much written on this topic, and this recent AARP article cites the CDC and the U.S. Surgeon General’s input that “[Covid] is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products or packaging.” With direct mail such a big part of how people give at the end of the year, I would definitely try to include it in your plan if it’s feasible. 

Determine Your Focus

Why should people support your mission? And, why now? Your year-end campaign should have a clear message, convey urgency, and have specific goals. As you plan, consider what messages have worked well in the past, your organization’s needs, and your goals for the coming year. 

Covid Question: Should our fundraising message be Covid-related? You should strive to connect your campaign messages to your nonprofit’s goals and challenges, and your constituents needs. If your organization serves those who are impacted by Covid, or if you have had to make operational shifts that are impacting your programs or services, then yes! If Covid hasn’t touched your organization or those you serve, then maybe not. The key is to be authentic in your message and your outreach.

Know Your Data

By October, you should know who you’ll be reaching out to in your year-end campaign, and have a plan for segmenting your lists. Think about who will receive a letter via mail; which segments make the most sense for your emails; who should get personal calls. You may also want to pull out recent donors as one segmented list, LYBUNT (Last Year But Unfortunately Not This Year) donors in another, and you may want to divide up your list by program or service interest. Your major donor and prospect lists are also important, and those will require a more personal touch.

Covid Question: Should I really be asking my donors for support now? They may be having a hard time financially. It’s true, the pandemic and economic fallout has hit some individuals and families especially hard. While you may know specific instances among your donor base of those who are struggling, there’s no way to know each person’s circumstances and how they’re making donation decisions. Our advice has been: take the opportunity to thank your supporters, share your impact stories, and yes, ask for a donation. If it’s not the right time, or they’re supporting other causes, you won’t get a gift this time. But, you will have reached out and connected, and shared why your mission is important. That’s key and that should be a guiding strategy for this year-end.

Strengthen Ties with Major Donors & Prospects

Please don’t wait until November to reach out to your major donors and prospects! These individuals care about your work and want to make sure you’re doing all your can for your constituents. If months have gone by since you’re connected, your major donor may feel like your ATM, and that you only come around when you need more money. Take the time in September and October to make personal calls, ask how they’re doing, and tell them what’s happening at your organization. And, don’t make an ask! Just enjoy the connection.

Covid Question: We already reached out to our major donors in the spring and they supported us with “emergency funding” soon after Covid hit. Should I really ask them again at year-end? It depends. You need to consider each major donor individually to determine the right strategy. If someone made a multi-year commitment in the spring, you may want to hold-off on an ask now. However, if a donor made a gift earlier in the year, but the amount isn’t near what they typically donate, you may want to make the ask. Spend time with your list and enlist the help of board members or volunteers who know your donors well to make these important decisions.

Have a Covid-related fundraising question? Or want guidance on your year-end plans and execution? Reach out and let me know; we’re here to help.


Fundraiser Nadine Gabai Botero in the Washington DC area.