4 Key Strategies for Effective Stewardship of Year-End Donors

Posted November 21, 2023

As any professional fundraiser can attest, year-end fundraising is never just about the end of the year. Organizations can spend all twelve months of the calendar year planning for the final few weeks of giving, which comprises an essential part of the overall fundraising plan and results. Indeed, the research shows that over 30% of donations are made in December and 12% of those gifts are made in the final 72 hours of the year.

Although organizations spend countless hours and energy developing their year-end plans, effectively wrapping up those efforts is just as critical. December may be all about year-end giving, but the work of learning from successes and challenges and creating a plan forward begins in January.

With that in mind, here are four ways to put a bow on your year-end fundraising in the first days, weeks, and months of the new year.

1. Never Forget the “Thank You”

Organizations may have every intention of personally thanking donors in a timely manner, but that can prove to be easier said than done. The sheer volume of gifts, combined with the chaos of the holidays and holiday schedules, can throw even the best laid plans by the wayside. But, of course, even the simplest of gestures—such as a thank you note—can be the most important touchpoints in maintaining and strengthening donor relationships.

These touchpoints can certainly be time-consuming, especially when the goal is to reach hundreds or thousands of individuals with a personalized or semi-personalized note, but your donors will remember that they received a note – especially when it is received in a timely manner. The time needed to craft these notes is well spent, so set aside enough time to write personal notes to major donors and Board and committee members, and to prepare thoughtful acknowledgement letters in a timely manner for all of your donors.

For significant gifts, a phone call from the gift officer and perhaps even organizational leadership soon after the gift is received adds another level of gratitude that will be appreciated and remembered. Staff members who manage donor relationships should also try to visit select donors in January to thank them in person. A stewardship visit with no ask can go a long way!

2. Clearly Communicate the Impact of Gifts

A personalized thank you is the first step to ensuring that all donors, whether they contribute $10 or $10,000, feel appreciated. But informing donors of the true impact of their contribution is another step entirely. Consider sharing an impact report in the first quarter of the new year with all of your year-end donors. Communicating the real difference their gifts make – especially major gifts – goes a long way in strengthening their connection to the organization. Clearly and effectively translating for them how their financial contribution makes a difference and furthers the organization’s mission will help donors better understand the need and feel connected to the work.

Impact reports should be no more than one to two pages and can be sent electronically. Share with  donors how much the organization raised overall, as well as what those funds will allow the organization to do. Sending an impact report – complete with images and/or videos that illustrate your work – to all donors who contributed during the prior calendar year is ideal. The benefit of a digital impact report is that it allows an organization to reach and steward all of its supporters.

Impact reports should also be shared with those who may not have made a gift but are closely involved with the organization, such as volunteers, advisors, partners, or other friends of the organization. And for select major donors, the impact report could be accompanied by an invitation to visit the organization and see the work firsthand.

3. Don’t Neglect The Follow Up

After a busy fundraising season, the critical work of stewardship begins. As we know, stewardship is an ongoing process that evolves as the relationship deepens, and taking the necessary time to assess the status of the donors you manage and the stage of the relationship is wise. Make a plan for the appropriate next stewardship step for each donor. For new donors, you might invite them to see the work firsthand if possible. For donors who have made a significant gift or a significant increase in their giving, it may be appropriate to have a conversation with them about their interest in a volunteer leadership role. For those who make endowment gifts, you might provide an update on the endowed fund, and for most major donors, scheduling a time to meet with them simply to thank them and share an update on the work will go a long way. Whatever the plan may be, be sure to make the time to execute those plans.

4. Reevaluate Your Major Gift Portfolio

Of course, all organizations hope their end of year giving data demonstrates no shortage of annual leadership donors who are ready to be considered major gift prospects. Year-end giving data will shine a light on relationships that should be reframed or recharacterized. Hopefully the data reveals new major gift prospects, but the data may also help you identify prospects your organization has been cultivating who should no longer be considered for major gifts, but rather for future annual gifts. Take the time to sift through the year-end giving data to move donors to the appropriate portfolio so you can start the new year with a redefined set of priorities.

While the new year presents a natural opportunity to rework and reevaluate donor portfolios, organizations should take this critical view of their prospects at least twice each year – once in January and once at the beginning of fall.

In Conclusion

Imagining the time after the holiday giving rush can seem daunting when you’re in the thick of it, but if organizations plan and schedule time now for these important follow up activities, you’ll start the new year off right and your donors will feel great about their engagement. Until then, wishing you much success with your year-end fundraising push, and don’t forget to schedule your e-solicitation follow ups before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st!


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