Make Next Year Your Best Fundraising Year Yet

ask-to-touchpoint ratio communications fundraising how to major gifts Dec 06, 2021

Prepare to Make Next Year Your Best Fundraising Year Yet


1. Prep Your Annual Summary of Giving Receipts

I recommend organizations send two tax receipts per gift. The first tax receipt immediately following the donation, within 48 hours (even if someone gives online and receives an automatically generated receipt, I still recommend a snail mail version). The second tax receipt I recommend is an annual summary of giving - an itemized list of all gifts in the previous calendar year. 

Every year between January 1 and January 31 (hopefully not last minute), your organization should send annual summary tax statements to ALL donors showing an itemized listing of all of their gifts. Yes, regardless of gift size.

A summarized receipt makes record-keeping for your donors easier and helps with their tax planning. While you are obligated to send a gift receipt for all gifts over $250, organizations are not required to send these receipts during this time of year; you could send it any time between the date of the gift and the following January 31st. However, January starts income tax return season, and donors are looking for (and many are expecting) to get their summary so they can itemize and deduct the gift(s). 

Start now preparing these annual giving summaries NOW (before January). Depending on your online giving service, donor management software, or bookkeeping software, you may do this in different ways. However, it is helpful to get a head start on merging duplicate records, householding individuals from the same family, and ensuring your donations are reporting correctly. 

You may be wondering why sending a tax receipt is on my list of ways to increase giving. It’s pretty simple: Annual giving summaries show fiscal responsibility and give donors confidence in your organization’s management - making it more likely you can get another gift in the future. 

PRO TIP: Make the letter that goes with the annual summary AWESOME by remembering to focus on the donor being the superhero. Also, consider including an “Impact Report” in your annual summary — outline all your organization (via donors) achieved in the last year. 


2. Budget and Set Projections

Once you’ve gone through your tax receipts so far in the year, you should have two items that require follow-up. First, are the donors nearing lapse, those you expected to see on your list who are not on the list of donors yet for this calendar year (last 11 months). Do this before the end of the year so you can follow up and ask for the gift. The second list to follow up with are donors you expect will give again next year. Take some time to make a projection. Simply create an Excel spreadsheet with the donor’s name, amount given two years ago, amount given this year, projected amount for next year, AND percent confidence the funds will come in. In a perfect world, you can reach out to all of those donors to wish them a Merry Christmas and confirm your projection. 

You need to set your budget for the following year. I usually recommend that organizations start with a brainstorm of what’s happening in the next year BEFORE they look back at the budget for the current calendar year. Looking ahead often helps you catch things you may have missed if you just dove right into replicating last year’s budget. 

PRO TIP: There are many ways your budget will help you fundraise more. There are obvious reasons, for example, having a plan when speaking with donors, but also some less obvious ways, which can make a big difference. One way that budgeting ahead of the year can increase fundraising is with a comprehensive understanding of your spending; you can position grant applications for the year based on things you already plan to do. When you submit a grant application with a solid plan and approach the foundation knowing you will likely achieve your goal with or without them, you are more likely to get the funding. (Catch 22, I know, but that’s reality).  When you reframe your grants and receive funds for something already on your budget, the funds you receive for the grant will be used for your needs, freeing up money in the budget to cover operation needs - which are much harder to raise. 


3. Set Your Annual Communication Calendar

Take some time now to plan your next year. What dates will you send out which appeals, what exact days do you need to send your newsletter off to the printer to have it delivered on time, what events will you have this year and how do you plan to advertise for them, which events or holidays overlap or should be considered when planning your next year, etc.?

I’ve seen and created communication calendars as simple as a dry erase calendar in an office or on a paper calendar to multi-colored outlines in Excel or Asana. What matters most when choosing how you will create your annual communication calendar is whether it is in a format that is usable and referenced by your team (of yourself if you are a one-person operation). 

Be sure you keep your communication calendar within the “Ask-to-Touchpoint Ratio™.” 

Some essential items to add to your communication calendar include:

  • Newsletters
  • Non-Ask Touchpoints
  • Appeals
  • Events (including multiple communications for marketing the events - Save the Date, Invitations, Last Call to Register, etc.)
  • Donor Appreciation Efforts
  • Holidays and Time Off (Don’t schedule an event right after time away!)
  • Staff holidays such as birthdays
  • Executive travel plans (executives should meet with donors in every city they travel to, and having it on the calendar encourages soliciting meetings)
  • Major Donor Communications

PRO TIP: Get as detailed as possible in your first three months of the year. Planning too much further than 90 days out often wastes time (except for major events). Then, throughout the year, try to keep that 60-90 day out period filled out as much as possible, so you are always ahead.


4. Segment Your Database

Once you have your communication calendar planned, create some segments in your database to make the execution of these plans easier. Depending on your donor management software or CRM, there are many ways to accomplish a segment. It could be as simple as tagging a group of people based on their behaviors/qualities, or as manual as creating multiple mailing lists in MailChimp and adding people to the lists. 

Segmenting aims to give certain groups of people more specific communications. Off the top of my head, here are some common segments:

  • Major Donors (donors over $X one-time or $X lifetime total)
  • Monthly Donors (recurring)
  • Lapsed Donors (gave in the past but not the last 12-18 months)
  • High Potential Donors (donors who gave a little in the past but could give more or people who you know and want to develop a deeper relationship with)
  • Board Members (current and past)
  • Alumni (update your list to keep it current)
  • VIPs (committee members, donors, community influencers, etc. who you want to have white glove service)
  • People interested in Project A, B, and C (if there are distinct programs you offer, then divined people out based on their specific interests)

PRO TIP: Merge your projected gift amount (from step 2)  into the donor’s record when you update your major donor segment. Adding a “next gift ask amount” field holds the info in an easily accessible place and makes it useful as a merge field! 


5. Handwrite Notes to Major Donors and Top Prospects

Take your list of major donors and top prospects and handwrite an individual card to each of them. NOT an email, and not a text message, although if you want to do those in addition to a handwritten note, that can help. 

Here is one that I just did:

Dear NAME, 
I wanted to say thank you for your generous gift to [Organization] this year. Your support was noticed, appreciated, and was vital in [Your Organization's Impact]. I know the holidays are a busy time, but I do want to connect in the next couple of months. I will reach out around the end of January to try to schedule [coffee, a round of golf, dinner, etc].
Thanks again for your generosity. So glad you’re involved here.
Wishing you and [yours, Spouse name, spouse and kids names] a Merry Christmas. 

In the note/letter and in the meeting, do NOT ask for money. Not asking; just relationship building. Come back with notes about the donor and what's important to them. Relationship building is a long-term play that will help you raise more money over time but also not be a pushy salesman type of fundraiser. 

PRO TIP: Create a spreadsheet of everyone you wrote to and what you asked them for (coffee, dinner, etc.). Then, set a calendar reminder between mid-January and mid-February to reach back to all of these individuals again to connect. Finally, set up several calendars in Calendly or a similar program to make it easy to schedule all these meetings. In Calendly, you can choose the availability, how many you schedule on one day, and the length. Also, you can then set confirmation emails or texts, calendar invites, etc., depending on the type of event. You can create your own virtual assistant by using this program or something similar and stay organized as you have multiple meetings. 


6. Schedule Your Events 

The last tip for raising more money next calendar year is to schedule your events now. I get asked several times a month whether events are “on” again. In-person events are coming back in nearly all markets in the US. Even in San Francisco, one of the most restrictive places in the country, people are gathering for events.

Scheduling your events now will help you raise more money first by getting the best rate on your venues, but also, you can begin advertising your events early. Your January newsletter can have your annual event schedule, and there WILL be people who will want to register early. Putting the dates out ahead of time makes your events more successful and increases enrollment. 

PRO TIP: Set up a registration page and landing page/webpage for each event now. Why wait? If people are willing to register early, let them! And take the money now so you can cash flow the deposits and down payments. 


Here’s to making next year your best fundraising year yet!