Advancement Blog

Before the ball drops, bring in more donors

by Jeff Martin

Alumni are never as philanthropic as they are at year’s end. December sees the highest levels of giving out of the entire year, and New Year’s Eve accounts for an outsized share of those returns.

An institution’s success, especially in the annual fund, often depends on whether its fundraisers are able to acquire donors in the final moments of the calendar year.

The bad news is that every other organization feels the same pressure. As a result, nonprofits bombard their prospective donors with appeals in the month of December, especially on New Year’s Eve.

To compete in this climate, higher ed annual funds must cut through the noise and make sure that their message is heard. There’s no better way to do that than with a digital micro-campaign.

Georgetown University adopted the micro-campaign approach for their New Year’s Eve appeal. They knew that sending just one email at year’s end would mean that their appeal would be quickly buried under everyone else’s solicitations. So they turned up the volume.

Rather than sending one appeal, Georgetown now sends four in a single day. They start out with their first appeal at 7 a.m. and they keep sending them until 10 p.m., right as alumni are beginning to pop the bubbly.

Their email headers underscore the urgency of the appeals. “Time’s running out!” one appeal announces. “Only two hours to make your gift,” says another.

For alumni who are trying to get their last gifts of the year in, this messaging stands out in a crowded inbox and inspires immediate action&emdash;and you can tell from their results.

About 2,500 donors from four of the university’s schools made a gift thanks to this light-lift appeal. That’s 10% of all of their annual donors.

The revenue isn’t anything to scoff at, either. They raised $740,000, which meant that the average gift was just shy of $300.

What should you take away from Georgetown’s experience? On the one hand, it’s that “oversolicitation” may be a good thing on New Year’s Eve. There’s lots of communications noise as the year winds down. Donors have gotten used to it. They aren’t likely to say, “You’re being too loud.” In fact, they’re unlikely to act without it.

On the other hand, it’s that a multitouch digital campaign may be a strategy worth adopting throughout the rest of the year. The “noisy inbox” phenomenon, after all, isn’t confined to one day each year. It’s a day-in, day-out reality for our donors.

Advancement leaders who insist on a light footprint online may never have a chance of winning the sort of mindshare you need to acquire and renew donors.

When it comes to engaging donors at year's end, less really isn't more after all.

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