Direct mail marketing reigns supreme as the top source of year-end donations across the nonprofit sector, but email is a close second. And for small nonprofits, who may not have the budget for direct mail, email is number one. Figuring out the correct cadence of emails at the end of the year can be tricky, but there is a formula for success! These emails are the ones your nonprofit will want to make the cornerstones of your year-end email plan.
1. The Impact Story
Inspiring donors to give is primarily about connecting with their emotions, and impact stories are the perfect way to do that.
An impact story is a device where your nonprofit tells the story of your nonprofit’s work through someone who benefitted. For instance, an animal rescue may choose to focus on a particular animal who came through their rescue in 2021 to show their impact. A stray dog who needed extensive medical care and spent months recovering in foster care would be a good fit for an impact story. Through the dog’s hardship and journey, the rescue can demonstrate how they go above and beyond to help animals in need. The story also gives them an opportunity to discuss their foster care program and other aspects of the services they provide.
What your nonprofit chooses as an impact story, or even how many you choose to tell, is totally up to you! But it’s a tried-and-true format for year-end appeals, and one email you’ll want to make sure you’ve got queued up to send in December.
Anatomy of an Impact Story
So, when you work for a nonprofit, you tend to see a lot of stories. After all, helping people is what you do! How do you choose the right story? You can narrow down the list by looking for stories that fit this criteria:
- Image & video assets: If you’re going to tell a story, you need to have some visuals to go along with it. So, right off the bat, any potential impact stories that don’t have photos or video of the subject are nonstarters.
- Accurately representative of your work: The point of an impact story is to use it as an emotionally-charged framing device to demonstrate the importance of your work. Effective impact stories will relate back to parts of your work you want to highlight, so give priority to stories that connect to your key programs and services.
- Permission and access: Ethical nonprofit storytelling requires making sure you have permission to tell the story. (This is especially true if you’re telling a story of a sensitive nature, like a family or individual who needed low-cost services.) You’ll need to have access to the subject of your story in order to get permission.
2. The Retrospective of Your Accomplishments
Generally speaking, statistics aren’t a huge draw for donors. They’re great for augmenting a larger point about the importance of your work, but statistics are not very good at motivating your donors on their own. But at the end of the year, sharing your accomplishments is a vital part of fundraising. Nonprofits should plan on gathering some key metrics and accomplishments from the year (“over 500 families in our community served!”) and organizing them into an email appeal.
It works better in December for a few reasons. One, outlining your organization’s accomplishments underscores the importance of supporting your work. Without donor support, none of those accomplishments would have been possible. And two, many donors regard supporting a nonprofit as making an investment. Naturally, they want to feel as though their investment was wise, and know that their hard-earned dollars were put to good use. Finally, people tend to be in a reflective mood, so they’re just more open and responsive to nonprofits capping off their year and looking back at everything they achieved.
“Because of you”
The most important part of sharing your nonprofit’s accomplishments in an appeal is that you’re not pointing at yourself and your coworkers and going, “Aren’t we awesome?!” You’re pointing at your donors and going, “Thank you for making this work possible.”
“Because of you” framing is what makes this kind of appeal work. If you just list off your stats and accomplishments, it’ll fall flat. In your retrospective email, you’re not bragging, you’re coming from a place of gratitude for your donors’ ongoing support and stressing that you need them to continue your important work.
3. Highlighting Matches
Reminding donors to check if their employer matches gifts and highlighting any matches that are currently live are great ways to encourage donors to give at the end of the year! Matches create a sense of urgency and excitement for a goal to be met while also helping donors feel their donation reach further. Many employers match employee gifts to nonprofits dollar for dollar so this is a great perk to take advantage of and a good time to remind donors to look into as most deadlines for matching gifts are at the end of the year, or shortly into January of the new year.
4. Email from the Big Cheese
Something that’s consistent in email marketing is that emails from someone tend to perform better. Meaning, it’s not a generic email from your organization, it doesn’t look like a blast, it looks like an honest-to-goodness email from another human being. And this works best when it’s sent from someone with clout. Everyone likes to feel important, and nothing will make your donors feel more important than an email from your Executive Director or Board Chair.
Now, we don’t mean that these important folks have to personally sit down and write an email to each donor. There’s no way that’s going to happen. But you can easily build an email “from” your Executive Director or Board Chair, have them approve it (and ideally edit it to make sure it sounds like their voice), and watch the donations roll in when you send it out!
5. 2022 Goals
New Year’s is a time when most reflect on the year we’re leaving behind and think ahead to the future. December 31st, when you’re gearing up to move into 2022, is the perfect time to talk to your donors about your goals for the upcoming year and ask for their buy-in. This is also a great time to remind donors they can sign up for recurring gifts with your organization so they can help with the success of your 2022 goals all year long!
You’ll want to share goals that will be of interest to your supporters. Things like creating or expanding a program, offering new services, and big-picture goals are most likely to resonate. (Keep the nitty-gritty goals for discussions with your board!) You’ll want to tie these goals into your mission and why your nonprofit does what you do, so they have an emotional core. And, as always, the hook is that you can’t achieve any of your goals without your donors’ support.
6. The New Year’s Eve Countdown
This is a can’t-miss, classic year-end email. You have a built-in deadline here, so there’s no need to generate false urgency. Sending out an email on December 31st that counts down to the New Year and reminds donors that they will need to make donations before midnight to qualify for 2021 tax deductions reliably motivates people to stop what they’re doing and donate.
Tax law is ever changing, and for now charitable donations need to exceed the standard deduction in order for itemizing to make sense. With that in mind, does the standard December 31st tax reminder still work?
In most cases, yes! The number of people who itemize their taxes to deduct charitable donations is somewhat small anyway, but it has still been a New Year’s Eve fundraising device that works. It works because it makes people feel like they might be missing out on a deal — whether or not they actually itemize their taxes! So, don’t second-guess your donors’ tax situation, just remind them of the approaching deadline on December 31st!
Watch the Email Marketing for Year-End Webinar
Mightycause goes over these emails, and so much more, in our webinar about year-end email marketing. In this webinar, you’ll learn some email marketing basics and tricks of the trade, dive deep into storytelling that works, and learn ways to connect with donors and drive donations.