Summer is winding down, schools are back in session, and the holiday season will be here before you know it.

You can’t avoid it—end-of-year giving is right around the corner.

As planning begins, you might be wondering what other organizations do to ensure end-of-year fundraising success. So we asked Autumn Woish, development system administrator for National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), to join us and dish her secrets on how they raised more than eight times their average monthly donations in December alone!

Here are NCLR’s seven steps to a successful year-end campaign:

1. Plan Early and Often

Reflect Now: You know that time in the Summer when you have a break between projects and can sit back and make plans for the year ahead? Yeah, me neither. But it’s only going to get busier, so take some time now to look back at last year and see what worked well, and what didn’t. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel: if it worked well last year, do it again this year.

Analyze and Measure: Look at open rates, click through rates, unsubscribes and spam reports to assess performance. I use the M+R benchmarks as a starting point. Whatever wasn’t successful, bring these to Step 2.

2. Repeat as Needed

Brainstorm Past Wins and Misses: Admit it: you don’t know everything. Doesn’t it feel good to let that out? But you and your team are the experts on your constituents. My team meets weekly from now until year-end to brainstorm, strategize and come up with new things to test.

Learn From Your Past: Take your successes and failures from last year’s campaign and use them as learning opportunities. Ask the team to brainstorm: why didn’t this work? Why was this other email so successful? You may never know exactly, but the list of possible whys is gold. This is your new “testing” list. Was the subject line boring and nobody opened it? Was the donate button too small? Did you send it to the full list, including recent donors, and anger people? Use these nuggets to inform the look and feel of this year’s campaign, and add some testing items (see Step 3, below).

Set Yourself Apart: There is a lot of competition at year end. How will you stand out from the crowd? Will you send more emails? Will they be designed better? Will you be the first people to send, or look for less crowded days and times?

3. Segment and Test

Know before you send the email who it should go to. Look at your calendar of emails and plan what donor groups should get what emails. Which ones will go to your major donors? Your current donors? Your lapsed? Will you change content for any of these groups?

Test subject lines, images, button color, text…whatever came out of your brainstorming session in Step 2. But test now, or very early in your campaign. Testing can lower your response rates, so don’t wait to do it until your most important email of the campaign. Do it now, when stakes are lower, so you can implement those results throughout the campaign.

4. Monitor and Tweak

Never assume, because…you know the old adage. Even though you have a great plan, the work isn’t over. Don’t assume your brilliant campaign plan is working until you can verify it. Run reports. Benchmark yourselves. Repeat Step 2 and bring your findings to your team. Why did you get a huge uptick in spam reports? Why is your last email bringing in twice the donations as the prior? Brainstorm. And don’t be afraid to change your plan. It’s okay to make a course correction to address a success or an issue.

5. Hit Pause and Engage

Stop Asking. Well, not really. But don’t forget the cultivation and stewardship. Send some emails that aren’t asking for a donation, to balance out the flood of asks. Thank yous, holiday cards, newsletters, and success stories are so important to keeping your constituents engaged.     

6. Send Multi-Channel Thank Yous

Take it offline & old school. Donors still love thank you cards, holiday cards, handwritten notes, and thank you calls. As an added bonus, offline gratitude helps you stand out from the crowd.

7. Don’t Make Major Holiday Plans  

I’m only half joking. But someone has to watch all the donations flow in! 15% of all my December donations come in on December 31st. I know that my donors want to give, but I have to work hard until the very end to make sure I connect with them with the right messaging and timing so they don’t forget about us. And then, I plan a spa day.

Hear first-hand how the NCLR team develops its successful end-of-year campaign from start to finish in our upcoming webinar From Planning to Thank You: NCLR Shares Its Secrets for End-of-Year Success.


Autumn Woish joined the NCLR’s development team in 2013 and is excited to help support NCLR’s important mission of ensuring full equality for all LGBT people. A development professional with over 14 years of experience, she specializes in technical training, best practices of fundraising and development operations, project management and staff development. Autumn is passionate about helping non-profits achieve their missions through the effective use of technology. Prior to joining NCLR, Autumn worked for a variety of non-profits, such as the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, the YMCA of San Francisco, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She also worked for Heller Consulting with a wide range of non-profit clients. Raised in San Francisco, she graduated from Brown University in 2000 where she studied History of Art and Architecture. She stunned her family when she crossed the Bay to live in Oakland, where she lives with her husband, and enjoys gardening and eating cheese.

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