The Year End Online Fundraising Trap | npENGAGE

The Year End Online Fundraising Trap

By on Dec 17, 2012


This is not one of the 23 blog posts about how much online giving happens at the end of the year. This is a warning to avoid the trap.

Yes, I know that over 20% of online giving happens in December. And that most of the giving happens in the final days. I’ve spent years looking at the data, writing reports, and speaking on the subject.

I am also here to tell you that all this focus on the last few days of the year is “best practice” gone bad at its best. The most successful organizations started their end of year fundraising campaigns months ago.

Self-Cancelling Prediction
For many years now the blogosphere and nonprofit consultants talk about all the online giving that happens in the final days of the year. They give you lots of tips and tricks for email appeals and donation forms. And if you follow some simple rules, then you too can get your share of the giving bonanza.

But what if lots and lots and lots of nonprofits all decide to blast out the emails and risk everything on a very narrow window of time? You’ll end up with what’s known as a “self-cancelling prediction” where what was once a good time to ask gets washed out by all the noise. Consider the following statement:

Most end of year online donations in the US will happen between 2pm and 3pm ET on Friday, December 28, 2012

How does seeing this influence your end of year fundraising strategy? That’s a trick question. Which is why this is a trap. Sadly, many organizations just starting to build their online giving programs might take some bad advice and fall for it.

Procrastination is Not a Strategy
A successful online fundraising strategy is not based on procrastination. When I talk to organizations that run successful year end campaigns they are quick to point out the work begins months in advance. They are testing in advance. They are optimizing forms in advance. They have multi-message campaigns and branching strategies in place. They’re not taking shortcuts. As Seth Godin once wrote, “things that look like shortcuts are actually detours (disguised as less work).”

Maybe what I’m saying here is heresy. Maybe it will take years before the noise overpowers the signal. Maybe it’s not the end of the world. Or maybe we should all be advising nonprofits to focus on diversifying their fundraising throughout the entire year.


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

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