Get Ready to Ask for Year-End Gifts


In a recent webinar for the National Main Street Center, I gave advice about asking for year-end gifts from the most ardent supporters of your local Main Street organization during the holiday season since they are already primed to be generous to their favorite charities. According to Network for Good, thirty percent of all donations happen in December and ten percent of all giving occurs during the last three days of the year.  Given these facts and others about year-end appeals, you should be planning a fundraising campaign during the six weeks of the year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

While these gifts are motivated by the end of year tax deadline (December 31), donations from your supporters can be extraordinarily powerful for your downtown organization if you create a reasonable stretch goal for your campaign. Pick both a monetary goal (say $5,000 to $15,000) for your year-end appeal, as well as a goal for the number of contributors (say 50 to 125 donations) to motivate board members and volunteers to successfully implement this campaign.

A multi-channel campaign will generate more donations than if you use just one solicitation type, so consider sending two direct mail letters and ten email solicitations on specific dates to create urgency. Also include personal visits to your top contributors this year. We have created a calendar for the rest of the year to help you schedule these mailings, emails and meetings.  You will need to additionally support this effort with a traditional public relations blitz in order to reinforce the messages of the campaign. This fundraising appeal should focus on the great work that your organization does for the downtown and why residents (and others) should support your work.

Gathering stories to tell

In getting ready to conduct a year-end appeal, you will need to identify ten different stories to use in letters and emails to your supporters over the six weeks.  These stories should boast about your downtown successes during the last year. Here are some story ideas:

  1. Report about the importance of your farmers market and access to fresh food that brings people from the surrounding neighborhoods to your downtown every week. Don’t forget the actual photographs of people at the market.
  2. Write about a new merchant that you recruited to the downtown and why he/she chose to locate in your town. Include photos of the store, both inside and out, along with one of the owner.
  3. Talk about a local family enjoying one of your biggest holiday events in the last year and include several photos.
  4. Create some infographics about the decline in vacancy rates downtown as a result of the work you have done since the start of your program and include some photos of the new merchants recruited.
  5. Chronicle a fruitful partnership you have with another nonprofit organization in town and write about what the partnership means to both organizations, accompany with some photos.
  6. Write about the staggering number of garbage bags that you collect each year (with photos) to keep downtown clean, or include photos of flower baskets, trees or other landscaping projects that are new this year.
  7. Report on a beloved and longstanding market, pharmacy or restaurant in your town with a quote or testimonial from the owner about the progress being made by your organization downtown.
  8. Show pictures of recent renovations and restoration of downtown buildings with quotes from the property owners about why they are now investing in downtown.
  9. Recount your most impressive reinvestment statistics since the inception of your program, as well as within the last year, and use these as infographics to exemplify your organization’s impact downtown.
  10. Tell your supporters about the anticipated projects for the coming year to show that your role downtown and the work you do is never done!

Focus on people you assist:  the new merchant, other charities you partner with, a property owner who rehabbed a building with your help, a family who had fun at an event, or a farmer who sells his produce to area residents. Make sure all the photos you include have people on the streets, in the stores, or admiring the newly restored buildings and cleaned-up open spaces downtown. Include quotes, testimonials, statistics, commendations, awards and other positive news about your work in the ten stories you choose. Don’t be afraid to tug at the heartstrings.

Use several of these stories, photographs, or infographics in your two, two-page direct mail appeal letters. Here is an outline and tips for your direct mail letter. For the ten email blasts, focus on one story per email. The stories do not have to be long (about two or three paragraphs each). Here are some suggested email subject lines for the emails sent in last week of the year. In both your direct mail letters and in each email solicitation, please be clear in the final paragraph about why your organization is making a difference downtown. Lastly, ask your supporters to make a gift before the December 31st deadline.  To learn more about year-end gifts, see two other Main Street Stories of the Week articles, The Procrastinator's Guide to Year-End Giving - Part 1  and The Procrastinator's Guide to Year-End Giving - Part 2.

Start planning now

Spend the next several weeks organizing the mechanics of the campaign ahead of time to make it easier. Talk to your postmaster about when you need to send your direct mail letters in order for them to reach your supporters before Thanksgiving if you use bulk mail.  Get estimates from your mailing house for the cost of direct mail letters. Work with a graphic designer to design your reply envelopes and your direct mail letters.  They do not have to look like letters if they include photos and graphics, but they should use mail merge and be personalized if at all possible.   Set dates for “signing parties” to include handwritten notes in direct mail letters. Test the ‘Donate Now’ button on your website to make sure it works flawlessly and add a heartfelt thank you message to appear immediately if someone donates through your web site.  Review your email and mailing lists and have a volunteer add new email addresses to your database. 

Your board members will be making personal visits to your top contributors as part of this campaign. To assure that these donors are not solicited through an email, make sure you remove their names and email addresses from the databases you will use for this campaign.  Don’t wait, do this now. For this campaign, donors are anyone who has given your organization more than $250 in the last year.  Finally, write a sincere thank you letter now so you have it ready for the checks and online donations when they begin to arrive.

Donors and Challenge Gifts

Right after Thanksgiving, make appointments with your donors.  You know all of these people very well.  Have your board members visit with these key sponsors, property owners, merchants, and local residents in person to ask them to give to this campaign. Your donors have invested heavily in your organization in the past and they deserve a personal visit to discuss your year-end appeal.

Challenge gifts are a highly effective way to create urgency for a year-end campaign. Work with your Board members to bundle their year-end gifts together and create a challenge grant. Market this during the last week of the campaign. Say, “Our Board Members will match your gift to our year-end campaign up to X dollars if you donate before midnight on December 31st.”  A challenge grant may encourage more people to contribute to your campaign and get you closer to, or over, your goal. 

I hope you will consider asking for year-end gifts from your residents and supporters this year, especially if you have never done so in the past. Good luck!  Please email me at and tell me how your campaign worked!

Donna's Year-End Fundraising Tools:

  1. Webinar: Why Aren't You Asking for Year-End Gifts
  2. Year-End Appeal Facts
  3. 2015 Year-End Fundraising Calendar
  4. Direct Mail Letter Outline
  5. Suggested Email Subject Lines
  6. The Procrastinator's Guide to Year-End Giving - Part 1
  7. The Procrastinator's Guide to Year-End Giving - Part 2