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January 16, 2013

The Beauty of Fundraising in January

January? A good time to fundraise?

Aren’t people tapped out and exhausted from the year-end craziness?

While you may feel that way and some of your donors may, too, there is still the potential for some breakthrough fundraising this month.

Here’s what’s behind the opportunity:

People are a little more responsive in January:  I’ve found people easier to get in touch with this month.  They answer phone and e-mail, get back on Facebook and LinkedIn, and open letters. And it’s a good time to schedule appointments – people aren’t traveling as much.

Donors are thinking about their finances:  As a major gift and planned giving officer, I often found January to be one of the best times to talk to people about their giving.  Many donors plan out their year’s donations in the first quarter.

Not everyone gives at year-end:  Some people just check out of the year-end deadline and give at the beginning of the year.  I’ve known donors who save all the year-end appeals and make out checks in January. And then there are others who  – despite your e-mails and letters – have just simply forgotten.

You have something to talk to donors about: Whether your fiscal year is the calendar year or not, January is a time of renewal. Your nonprofit, I’m sure, has plans for 2013 and you want to share them with your supporters.

In fact, January is a good time to talk to corporate donors, foundations officers, and other institutional funders.  Many are looking to plan out their year of giving and getting in line first can have its benefits.  Some corporate donors even start making donations in January and give until their allotted annual budget runs out.

But in this post, we are going to concentrate on the opportunities for reaching individual donors in January.  Here are three significant audiences and what you can do to improve return this month and retention for years to come:

Lapsed donors:  These are the donors that gave in 2011 (and hopefully even before then), but did not repeat their gift in 2012. Depending on your donor base, this could be a big list or a not-so-big-list.  Either way, sort your lapsed donors by their 2011 gift from highest to lowest and create a plan to contact them.

If you have too many to contact one-by-one, you might consider a mailing, especially to those with a history of giving through the mail.  For those at the top of the giving pyramid, a personal call, note or e-mail is more appropriate.

The message is: We missed you.  We were looking through our donor records and we noticed that while you gave in 2011, you did not give in 2012.  Was there a reason for your absence? Have your giving priorities changed? Are you unhappy with our organization in some way?

And then listen – you really do want to know.

Some will tell you that they forgot and may even give immediately.  Some will say that they just couldn’t swing it in 2012.  Some will tell you their priorities have changed.  And some will tell you that they are ticked off for some reason.

The upshot – you will get donations. But even more importantly, you will establish with your donors that you are noticing and listening and that’s sure to improve donor retention over the long term.

Major Donors: While you have hopefully spoken recently with some of your major donors, you want to take this time to thank them again and share your plans for 2013.

Using whatever channel you think they will best respond to, contact these people in as personal a way as you can and ask to have a conversation about your organization’s hopes and dreams for the coming year and what role the donor may want to play.

This is not an ask, but rather, a call or visit to share and get feedback.  Be sure to prepare for this call and have some specific plans and “inside information” that this group can react to.

Maybe you get the Program Director on a call with the donor.  Maybe you invite the donor to a sneak preview of your exhibit or to see your new program in action or to come along on a lobbying visit.  Get a sense for how they want to be engaged and then be sure to make it happen.

This may not provide January cash, but it will lift retention and average gift levels for your donors throughout the year.  Track your efforts and see how many of the donors you reached increase their gift at the end of the year.

Long-time Donors: Regardless of giving level, your long-time, repeat donors are gems.  Not only do they represent great faith in your cause, but they also are some of the best prospects for major and planned giving donors.

January is a great month to let these donors know that you have noticed their devotion through all those year-end appeals. Pick a milestone (donors who have given for 5, 10, 20 years) and send those who have reached it a certificate, organize a recognition party, give them a special t-shirt.  Do something that rings true with the personality of your organization.

What do you get in return? Increased retention among some of your most valuable donors, some great stories for your donor communications, and increased potential for planned giving.

The beauty of fundraising in January?  Taking stock, honoring what you have, and making plans for the future.  Bring your donors along with you.  You’ll be happy you did next January!


1 Comment

  1. Sabina Mackay says:

    So helpful…thank you!!!

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