By any metric or system of measurement in fund development the last week of the year is by far the most profitable week for any charitable organization. I often refer to this week as “golden week”.

Roy C. Jones, CFRE

Roy C. Jones, CFRE

Marketing “pros” know that once the Christmas appeal is written that it is NOT the time to “take a break” and relax until January.

The best development leaders bear down during the months of November and December to insure that the last week of the year is the most profitable 7-days of the calendar year.

I know some development directors who “swear by” the last week of the year. They contend that reaching their annual goals often comes down to the last few days of the year. Most contend it is often the difference between ending the year in the black or sinking deeper into the red.

There is an old adage in our industry that turns out to be true most of the time… It said that half of all donations happen in 4th quarter, and half of those occur during the month of December, and half of those occur during the last week of December (the golden week), and half of those contributions will happen the last day of December.

Are you ready?

Here are just a few suggestions for maximizing your cash flow during the “Golden Week” – last week of the calendar year:

  1.  Double Down on Search (SEM) Spending.  The last week of the year sees a HUGE spike in major donors cruising the internet looking for a local charity to make that last gift to for the year-end income tax deduction. Beg, borrow or barter for your organization… sink another $5,000 to $10,000 into SEM. Search Engine Marketing will pay for itself. There is no doubt that during the last week of the year you will reap large rewards and a huge number of new donors at the major gift level.
  2. Major Donor Targeting / Emergency Letter.  Make a list of major donors who gave last year, but who have not given yet this year.  Major donor LYBUNTs (Last Year But Not This Year) are critical to boosting revenue.  These donors must be “touched” NOW to have a chance at getting them to give before year end.   If you are like most charities you are still behind.   Tell your big donors the truth!  Send a hand addressed, multi-stamped, first class letter to your major donors telling them of the “year end crisis” you are faced with. Include a reply envelope with live stamped first class postage. The challenges you face are real or you would not have gone to the expense of writing them and sending it first class with a First Class return envelope. I have seen many organizations do a 10 to 20 percent response rate during the last month of the year.
  3. Multiple E-mail Blasts. Frequency is key to making emails work during the month of December. I suggest a minimum of once a week early in the month and then sending at least 3 different appeals in your email campaign during the last 10 days of the year. Sure, you will get a few complaints, but to most of your supporters they understand the importance of ending the year in the black, not red. Most who take the time to see your emails, and as importantly, notice that you have emailed multiple times the last week of the year, know that the challenges you face at year end are real.
  4. Direct Mail Letter to Regular Donors. In the month of December EVERY active donor should get a minimum of two appeals (In addition, to a Christmas card the day after Thanksgiving!   I usually make the first appeal the Christmas holiday appeal and the second appeal late in the month is an “Urgent Gram” style. If you ever had a “real reason” to send that year-end appeal this is the time to do it. Trust me, it is worth squeezing in one last pay day. Push your January appeal out a week or so later and create a hole in your mail schedule so that the Monday after Christmas your “year-end” appeal is in home.
  5. Do not forget your monthly donors. Your sustainer file should be mailed the year end appeal too. If you have your sustainers coded for a “limited mail or no mail” do not forget to create a flag so they are forced into your select for the mailing. In addition, your monthly donors who have an HPC (highest previous contribution) of $1,000+ should get a phone call thanking them for their support and asking them to make a “sacrificial year end gift”.
  6. Earned Media. Sure you are exhausted… you have had that special Thanksgiving push and you had a very big Christmas push, but trust me… do just a little bit more. Hold a press conference with a local celebrity or politician reminding your community that YOUR CHARITY is the group to consider making a year-end gift to. Think of creative ways to get the media on site at your ministry or charity during this week. Remember, the last week of the year is the “slowest news” of the year. The media is frantic to find content and stories to write, film and broadcast about.
  7. Matching Gift Reminders.  Part of maximizing the year end  is reminding your donors to use their employer’s matching donation. I like the idea of planting the thought as the holidays approach. You should always include a link to the matching gifts directory in all our year-end emails.  Invest the time to gather the employer matching gift forms for many of their major donors– like some universities have–the best strategy is to attach the form to the donors’ (personalized) email.
  8. Web Site Campaign. Create a splash banner on your web site telling donors it’s not too late.  Double check and QC all of your giving pages to make sure there are no broken links or dead ends.  ALSO, IF YOU USE PAYPAL BE VERY CAREFUL.  Make sure you check the option to accept American Express and then make test donation to make sure it is working.  If you don’t select the option, your gifts may not be processed.  Remember, major donors like those points. It is not unusual to see 5-figure and even 6-figure donations placed on an American Express card.
  9. Year End Letter in Home the Day after Christmas.   The best executives strategically plan for a “year-end balance-the-books” appeal and reach out to their best donors for one last year-end gift. Be cynical if you want, but if your year was like most not-for-profit organizations you are behind in achieving your financial goals. You’ll soon have had to make some tough decisions about next year and the fact is that unless a few of your best donors step up to make just one last year end gift you may be forced to cut vital services and programs.

Do not quit! Finish strong! The last week of the year is not the time to “take off” or relax. Your year could literally be turned around by a single major gift. Keep telling yourself that “it just takes one gift” to literally change your world. Work hard. Finish strong and take advantage of the “GOLDEN WEEK” in fundraising.