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Halloween is Over. In Fundraising, Spooky Season is Just Beginning

Updated: Apr 19


In our house, we don’t waste a lot of time before we transition out of Halloween. The skeleton on our front porch goes back into storage, the spooky decorations come down, and we make quick work of any leftover Halloween candy.

As a fundraiser, the Halloween stuff going away always put a chill in the air. It meant the beginning of the scariest season of all… year-end giving!

If you’ve ever been in charge of a fundraising effort in the closing months of the year, you’re probably familiar with at least a few nightmares:

Is my mailing list correct?

Did I remember to thank that very important donor who always gives in December?

Is there a typo in my appeal letter?

Giving Tuesday is almost here, and I have nothing ready to go!

These are just some of the nightmares that have woken me up in a cold sweat at the end of the year. With nearly one-third of giving happening in December, this is a make-or-break time for many nonprofits. With our annual goals looming, mistakes can be magnified.

When we worry about what can go wrong at the end of the year, we lose sight of what can go right. With so much giving happening in December, we have a chance to deepen our connections with donors and celebrate the great work our organizations are doing.

Here are a few strategies you can use to calm your fears and embrace year-end opportunities.

It’s never too early to plan: I’m not shy about discussing the importance of planning for fundraisers. This is never more important than at the end of the year. If you feel like it’s too early to start planning, that means you’re right on time. Always be thinking about which donors need to hear from you in the months leading to year-end. Be diligent about cultivating relationships so you can be ready to make significant asks in December. This is where it’s also important to always stay on top of your database and keep records as clean as possible. When it comes time to run that list for your year-end appeal, you’ll be grateful you put in the work in advance.

Set bold, realistic goals: It helps going into year-end knowing what you need to accomplish. We know a lot is riding on this time of year, but it makes things infinitely more stressful if we don’t know what is on the line. If we have a goal, we can set targets for everything - how much the appeal letter needs to bring in, how many major gifts need to close, etc. As a bonus, thorough goal setting helps us better explain our efforts to senior management, the board, and other key stakeholders.

Don’t forget about Giving Tuesday: This was always my Achilles Heel as a fundraiser at year-end. With so much going on, I’d lose sight of Giving Tuesday in the midst of every other priority. I’d typically throw together a few social media posts at the last minute and move on to the next item on my to-do list. Approaching it this way leaves an opportunity on the table; yes, you’re not likely to bring in a lot of contributions on the day itself, but you’re rolling out your message to donors who are likely to give in the coming weeks. It’s a chance to celebrate your work and invite donors to join you in the season of giving. When the appeal letters and phone calls come in over the next few weeks, they’ll be familiar with the themes you’re celebrating in your appeals.

Coordinate your messaging: Now is the time to look through your appeal letter, social media posts, and other outward-facing communication and make sure everything is in sync. If your appeal letter and social media posts talking about different programs and different opportunities, you need to take this time to get them in alignment. Don’t confuse donors; there is already a lot of noise this time of year, and conflicting messaging may cause them to tune you out. Be clear, concise, and consistent across all channels.

I’ve had my fair share of nightmares as a fundraiser this time of year.

The pitfalls are real, and we’ve all probably lived through a horror story or two where things have gone wrong and thrown off our year-end efforts. This will always be a tricky time as a fundraiser, but if we put in the work ahead of time, we can celebrate year-end as the season of opportunity.

If you’re struggling at year-end, our team of nonprofit fundraising consultants at Team Kat & Mouse can help. It’s not too late to sign up for customized Giving Tuesday training to get year-end kicked off on the right foot! Contact us today to learn more and schedule your training.

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