As reliable as Black Friday brawls and overindulged relatives, it's not the holiday season until charitable holiday appeals start hitting your inbox. From bell-ringers in front of the supermarket to nickels taped to appeal letters (do they still do that?) non-profits do their best to attract individual donors during November and December, and with good reason. The holiday season is ripe for charitable giving. In fact, the average person makes 24% of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to research from the Center on Philanthropy.
But if you're not in a certain small niche of charities, this seasonal fundraising might be more challenging. If you're not big enough to have bell-ringers, don't have a budget for direct mail pieces, or don't have tiny tots in need of shiny toys, how can you compete with larger, more traditional and more established charities when it comes to soliciting holiday contributions?
The concentration on high-profile giving opportunities causes some nonprofits to completely eschew the holiday appeal entirely. Since they don't have legions of bell-ringers, soldiers collecting toys, or have a Thanksgiving dinner to serve to clients, they give up and just send out Christmas cards instead of the traditional appeal, but they shouldn't. (If you've waited until the holidays to thank your donors, you've already missed the boat). In fact, nonprofits who don't ask during the season are missing a huge opportunity. But don't despair, there's still time to seize the moment, if you know how.
Make the case for in-kind donations: Now is the time to create that long overdue wish-list your program officers have been asking you for. Think about specific items, of all price ranges, that your agency could use and remember things you can use year-round, not just immediate needs. (If you've already created a wish list it, so much the better.) Time to push out your wish list and stock up for items you can use. Since the holidays are conducive to shopping, this is an easy time for donors to pick up extra supplies. Don't limit yourself to explicit program supplies either - office supplies aren't a particularly exciting item to ask for, but if donated, that means more money you can direct to programs instead.
Tout your accomplishments: Use the holiday season as a reminder to your donors (and yourselves!) about the amazing accomplishments that have happened during the previous year. Whether you talk about the hundreds of lives touched, or just a few individualized stories, there is no better time to remind donors about the impact you've had on the community than during the holidays. Doing this will remind donors that you are busy year-round with important work.
Create opportunities for passive fundraising: Amazon and Kroger are among the many retailers that offer affiliate rebates to nonprofits who refer shoppers, but you don't have to stop there. You can work with local businesses to do a cross-promotional shopping day where a portion of proceeds are donated to your nonprofit. Creating these opportunities not only gets you additional revenues, it helps to get you in front of your constituents. Remind your donors that there are easy and free ways to support your mission by providing links and information on affiliate programs.
Ask: You may not get a whole lot in fundraising dollars from a holiday appeal, but you'll definitely earn more if you ask versus if you do not. Make the case on all of your communications avenues about why your nonprofit is worthy of receiving year end donations. You might be surprised to learn that donors who are otherwise active during the yearly cycle give to other charities at the end of the year, not because yours isn't worthy, but because they are asked.
Targeting is key: Whatever your plea, it is so important to specifically target the audience from which you are hoping to raise funds. We all know that cause we donated to five years ago who won't stop sending us mail. Don't be that charity. Target specific donors for specific messaging. You can raise more money with fewer contacts if you are smarter about who you choose to ask.
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