It's that time of year: you're probably looking forward to spring, and hopefully you’re thinking about a summer vacation—which means you have plenty of time to start planning your holiday/end-of-year campaign.

You’re probably thinking, "It's way too soon for year-end! It's not even spring, I don’t want to think about winter holidays and year-end gifts already!” I know, it seems premature—but trust me on this. A recurring challenge with the nonprofit sector is not enough time: we’re always trying to keep staffing lean, and consequently often feel under-resourced. This year, get in front of it: take advantage of the lead time you have now to plan ahead.

This is a challenge, but you’re up to the task! To help you start thinking about your year-end campaign in time to not only pull it off successfully but also finish with a smile on your face, here are some things to get your planning started.

What did you do last year?

We are creatures of habit: when planning this year we look at last year. That’s a great place to work from! It can tell you a great many things, but it’s also important not to let it restrict this year’s plan. You can:

  • learn what your donors are used to, i.e. we usually have a matching gift with a direct mail piece and an email campaign.
  • review what’s changed and what it effect it had, i.e. we used to have a calendar offer with every gift, now it’s a minimum $20 gift. Did that affect the total amount given, or average gift size?
  • consider all the variations on messaging, big or small, and whether they had an effect. Did you ask for a ‘special gift’, or ask people to ‘start today’? Did you your communications/year-end page have a suggested gift amount, or have a benefit attached to a certain amount? Do you have a fundraising target for your campaign, that people could track in real time?

Don’t forget to reconsider your assumptions: maybe every year you’ve been doing the same thing without much change. It may be because it’s successful, but it may be because no ever asked why it's done that way.

How did donors respond?

Dive deep into the data and figure out who responds to what. How many donors only give at the holidays/the end of the year? How many people make their biggest gift in December? How many new donors do you get from your year-end campaign? Can we figure out where the new donors are coming from? How many monthly donors make additional gifts at the end of the year? How many year-end gifts are new monthly gifts vs one-time? What is the average gift size, and how does it compare to the rest of the year? When did the most gifts come in?

By answering these questions you can develop some great new tactics, taking your campaigns in directions you haven’t considered before.

Who do we target, and what is the goal?

Your data mining told you about your donors’ giving at this time of year, and if haven’t done it already, now is the time to start being strategic with your year-end resources. Consider:

  • do we want new donors, or do we want existing donors to renew?
  • do we want one-time gifts, since most people are considering year-end receipts, or do we want monthly gifts, since people may be feeling charitable at this time of year?
  • do we want to encourage the way people are already learning about us and making donations, or do we want to try a different strategy?

Who and what should be involved?

Now that you’ve had a chance to review, use that to inform your plan. Figure out which channels performed best, which messages resulted in the most gifts, and build your integrated campaign around that. This step may mean you need more people than usual involved to implement the campaign (like your digital team) as a result of re-examining your goals, what has been affected, and how you roll it out. That’s why you need to start early! There may be bumps in the road when it comes to messaging, funding decisions between various budgets, and existing plans that need to be sorted out to fit in the revamped campaign.

Extra credit: check your donations page

A simple-to-use donations page with clear messaging will make it easy for your supporters to donate. If you haven’t reviewed your page recently, take a look to make sure it’s clear and easy to navigate.

Start with a timeline

Planning out a whole campaign can seem intimidating, but doing things differently this year probably amounts to tweaks to what you’re already doing. If you’re dreaming big but your budget is smaller, just look at one or two things you can change and where you can get the most results for your efforts. If nothing else, start by doing a timeline, so if you know that, for example, have to have a team planning session in June in order to coordinate digital and printed elements, you can remind yourself now instead of forgetting until August. Start small if necessary, but just start!