Guest Post by Andria Mullaney, Channel Marketing Manager for Blackbaud’s School Solutions. Andria has a passion for the school sector and enjoys sharing fundraising insights to help schools advance their missions.

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It’s never too early to tweak or fine-tune your year-end campaign (and with the Internet, it’s not yet too late to start planning and executing it). Take advantage of this season’s high volume of online giving and make it easier for your donors to give when time and funds are short: build an online year-end or holiday campaign.

If you think about it, the holidays are the perfect time to focus your fundraising into a campaign, because at this time of year donors are already tuned in to the needs of charitable giving and open to lending some support. A holiday campaign is the ideal way to introduce your school to new potential donors, keep in touch and show appreciation for your current supporters, and renew concern and celebration of your cause.

Let’s take a look at the three steps to kick-start your school’s holiday campaign:

  1. Optimize your homepage for the holidays
  2. Make every email count
  3. Tap into your constituents’ networks

Whether you need practical advice on where to start or you’re just looking for some ways to make the campaign you’ve already planned even more effective, let’s take a look at a few simple strategies you can put into play now to get the most out of your year-end fundraising efforts.

1. Optimize Your Homepage for the Holidays

Your school’s website is one of the most influential tools you have. It provides ways for donors to share their email address, register for your school newsletter, volunteer their time, learn about upcoming events, or hear about your story and the people that make you great.

Since your website is often people’s first real impression of your school, think of it as your “front porch.”

Make sure people feel welcome and invite them in by using these tips now:

Give development prime real estate on the homepage:

This time of year belongs to your development department.

Give them visible space on your homepage so they can catch a visitor’s attention the second they arrive on your website. A prominently placed “Donate/Give Now” button, combined with compelling copy about how their donation will help your school might be enough to convert a website visitor into a donor. For the most impact, take steps now to make holiday giving easy for site visitors. Start with your homepage: begin posting preliminary promotions for your holiday campaign and activate your online donation forms the week before Thanksgiving.

Make gifts as tangible as possible:

Try to increase fundraising results by tying a tangible gift to specific donation amounts. Rather than asking people to make a donation to a general year-end fundraising campaign, make it real and fun! For example, a $10 donation might “buy” a seedling for your new playground, a $25 donation might “buy” a mature tree, and a $75 donation might “buy” a slew of trees for your students to enjoy.

By communicating the impact of different donation amounts, you might sway donors to dig a little deeper into their wallets. After all, ‘tis the season! When writing copy for “the ask”, supply enough information to help donors make their giving decision. Detail your specific need and how their support will directly impact your school, so they can better understand the value in making a donation.

Appeal to the emotions of website visitors with photos on donation forms:

A picture is worth a thousand words.

For your school, a picture might be worth a thousand dollars! Use images to communicate your mission and show how your efforts are making your school a better place for students. A visual example of where a donation goes might inspire a first-time visitor to give more, or prompt a one-time donor to join your sustained giving program.

Make your fundraising goal and progress visible on your website:

Publicizing your school’s goal for its year-end fundraising campaign is a great way to make connections with website visitors. Showcase progress to your fundraising goal on your homepage so prospective donors know exactly how much more money your school needs. A visitor might feel compelled to give a little bit extra when they see how close you are to your goal. Or, who knows, maybe they’ll return to your website more than once to see how close you’re getting to that magic number. They might even decide to donate a second time to push you past your target.

Giving supporters and visitors a clear vision of your goal and what’s required to hit this goal transfers some of the responsibility to your donors. They’re no longer being asked to blindly donate; they’re being asked to be a part of a collective cause.

Consider search engine optimization and search engine marketing:

Before you can get people to make a donation via your website, you need to get them there first. Conduct a quick search engine audit to ensure that you are maximizing your placement in organic search. If your school’s website doesn’t land on the first page of results, then it’s time to make some changes, such as tweaks to your website content and meta tags. If you have extra budget, consider search engine marketing or paid search, such as Google Adwords, to secure a prominent spot on search results for your year-end giving campaign.

2. Make Every Email Count

Did you know that 35-42% of all online giving happens in November and December?

That’s almost half of all annual online giving in just two months! So, why are many groups are still not taking advantage of this giving window to increase support? There is no better time than now to send an appeal. Using email, you can be strategic and proactive with your year-end ask without a lot of resources or ramp-up time.

Here’s how to plan a holiday email campaign that works:

Run multi-part appeals:

Everyone’s guilty of forgetting to respond to emails that are buried at the bottom of inboxes. This year, stay top of mind with a multi-part email appeal. A series of three emails could consist of a main ask, a stewardship or season’s greeting piece (e.g., an ecard), and a ‘last chance to give’ email).

Segment your list:

You can make your messaging more compelling if you segment your list and customize email content based on your target audience. Recent donors? Thank them for their donation, and then tell them how your school is rallying to meet its year-end giving goal. Last year’s donors? Thank them again for their donation in 2010, and ask if they could give again this year. Lapsed donors? Get back on their radar with a brief summary of your progress this year, and explain how your school still needs their support. By taking the time to segment and target, you should boost overall response rates.

The last chance email:

Don’t forget, reaching out to procrastinators or people driven by the year-end deadline is an effective way to boost your fundraising dollars within the last week of the year.

Other important factors to consider:

Time of day matters. Based on the results from past years it is best to be in the recipient’s “in-box” before they open their email in the morning or shortly there-after. Giving drops dramatically over the course of the day, with the best response being from people who saw the email when they started their day.

Plan and schedule ahead. Schools that scheduled their email campaigns in advance out performed those that added them to the queue at the last minute. While this might be more of a reflection on the quality of the planning and the message, than the date, it does show that your efforts to plan and schedule now, will benefit you in the pressure filled year-end.

Share outcomes:

People are interested in knowing that their donations are put to good use. So ask yourself, “How has our school benefited this year from additional funds given by donors?” and then share the answer with supporters. Not every email you send should be an appeal. Take time to share success stories and results to reconnect families, students and the community to your mission.

Use auto-responders more effectively:

After someone makes an online donation to your school, they likely receive an automatically generated email, or “auto-responder,” to thank them for their donation. When was the last time you looked at the content of that email? Chances are, it’s been awhile. Take this unique opportunity to present copy that encourages the donor to take another action, such as join your sustained giving program or tell a friend about your school.

3. Tap Into Your Supporters’ Networks

Many people’s decisions to give are influenced by what family and friends say on social media, in personal emails and through other word-of-mouth marketing efforts.

Tap into your supporters’ networks by using these tips this holiday season:

Send eCards:

A holiday message or thank you in the form of an ecard is an effective way to connect with supporters without making a hard ask. If possible, give supporters the option of sending ecards from your website. You can reinforce your brand and messaging in the template, but give senders the option to customize their message.

Use social media:

Chances are that a growing percentage of your school supporters are using social media in their daily lives. Don’t be shy about asking them to Tweet or to update their Facebook status. They could mention that they are making a donation to support your school, or even ask family members to make a donation to your school on their behalf rather than buying a present.

Ask constituents to forward emails or links to friends:

When an email is passed along from an individual they trust, recipients are more likely to respond or take action. With this in mind, you should ask your supporters to forward your year-end giving campaign emails and links to their family and friends.

Get your supporters’ families and friends to email people in their networks:

Take the networking effect one step further by asking supporters to ask their friends and family to make a donation, no matter how small. Again, when such requests come from a trusted source, it can be extremely influential in a person’s decision to give. Whether it’s $5 or $100, every donation counts.

So, Get Started!

The year-end/holiday giving season is important to your school’s fundraising success. Now is the time to be especially attentive to your donors–all of them. That means not only courting potential new donors with a welcoming website focused on development and sending strategic holiday email appeals, but also connecting with existing supporters to share your school victories and thank them for the part they’ve played in your success this year. The holidays give you all the perfect reasons to keep in touch, encourage constituents to spread your message and ask them to give to a good cause.

Today’s tools give you the ability to connect with all your school supporters according to their preferences. Use every channel at your disposal to communicate your appreciation for them, and the value and the need that are served both by your organization and their contributions.

Interested in learning about the technology available for your School? Blackbaud provides Education Solutions that can empower your K-12 or Higher Ed  fundraising efforts. Come check us out!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeline Turner is the Online and Social Marketing Manager at Blackbaud. Prior to running Blackbaud’s social media and thought leadership blog npENGAGE, Madeline worked as a Managing Editor for Blackbaud’s Content Marketing program. It is her goal to create content and share ideas that challenge the status quo of the nonprofit industry. When Madeline isn’t tweeting or writing blog posts, you can find her drinking coffee out of her ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ mug, wearing giant headphones and singing off-key.

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