6 Reasons Why Fundraising Season Might Not Be For You
It’s the end of the year. Your nonprofit has worked hard to get through a year of fulfilling its mission, fundraising, networking, and being a part of the nonprofit community. Now you have one final slog: fundraising season. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Although a year-end appeal sent during fundraising season can…
It’s the end of the year. Your nonprofit has worked hard to get through a year of fulfilling its mission, fundraising, networking, and being a part of the nonprofit community. Now you have one final slog: fundraising season.
But it doesn’t have to be like that! Although a year-end appeal sent during fundraising season can be very lucrative, there are several reasons why you might consider putting your fundraising energies into a different time of the year.
With the right strategy and some help from an effective fundraising tool, you don’t have to rely on the fundraising season to make the most of your year.
Without further ado, let’s see why fundraising season might not be for you!
What is Fundraising Season?
“Fundraising season” is a term used by nonprofits to describe the end-of-the-year months where fundraising efforts are often increased to catch donors looking to offload some tax-deductible contributions before the end of the tax year.
This means October, November, and December fall into the “fundraising season” category.
Besides the tax benefits of getting in one last donation before the end of the tax year, there is another factor at play during fundraising season: the holidays. Good cheer, thankfulness, and more can be excellent motivators to get donors to share the joy with nonprofits.
Nonprofits usually spend countless hours crafting the perfect end-of-the-year appeal to capitalize on these feelings of hope and goodwill by standing apart from the crowd. Giving Tuesday also falls during this season, which takes up more fundraising resources.
This end-of-the-year boost can be very lucrative for some nonprofits, but there are some downfalls of this season making it not the best choice for many.
Common Downfalls of Fundraising Season
There are some common downfalls nonprofits run into when approaching their strategy for making the most of the fundraising season. Those downfalls include:
1. Budget issues.
Reaching out to donors or potential donors during the fundraising season can literally drain your funds. With so many other nonprofits approaching them, you’d want to level up your marketing and appeal efforts.
But if you hang too much of your overall contributed income budget to your end-of-the-year campaign, you can run into major issues if something happens and you can’t meet your goal. Remember, nothing in fundraising is guaranteed—and certainly not during fundraising season.
2. Difficulty in standing out.
Like you, hundreds of nonprofits have been eyeing this season for putting in a lot of effort. No doubt they’re sending appeal emails or solicitation letters, too. With that in place, there’s a high chance your potential donors might miss your emails or letters.
Or, maybe your donors might opt to give to a different organization. You cannot expect people to give to all the nonprofits they’ve been approached by. It’s one of the biggest downfalls of this fundraising season.
3. Neglecting other fundraising opportunities.
Because of all the hype around the fundraising season, some nonprofits put too much stress on their end-of-the-year fundraising. Naturally, they miss out on other unique opportunities to solicit donations throughout the year.
The biggest risk is going invisible for a long time before this season.
We genuinely believe that fundraising should be an ongoing process. You cannot put all your attention aside for just these 3 months of the year. Imagine not being seen by people in your community for a couple of months, but suddenly sending loads of emails and letters to them! Would that work?
4. Overwhelming your staff.
The end of the year is a hectic time generally, but it can be majorly intense if you’re asking too much of your fundraising staff. Running a fundraising campaign can be a lot—especially if you don’t have the right tools—so nonprofits have to keep a level-headed idea of what their staff can realistically accomplish in the given time.
5. Donor relationships can get dicey.
During the fundraising season, donors barely see the all-year-long impact or the possible impact of their donations. What they receive are innumerable requests and letters from every organization in the community.
It can make them feel overwhelmed and they begin to feel neglected in other areas. It’s quite natural if you’re not making efforts to acknowledge their previous contributions but asking them to donate again because it’s the fundraising season!
Maintaining donor relationships is always tricky, so it’s vital to strike a balance between soliciting and sending genuine donor updates.
Pro tip: With the right tool for your fundraising efforts, you can avoid these downfalls to some extent. It helps you manage your donor relations, data, and important dates. Also, with an effective fundraising tool, you get to leverage the best features such as crowdfunding, text-to-give, automatic acknowledgment receipts, recurring online donation forms, and more. They help you strike the right balance between the off-season and fundraising season.
Read on to see why fundraising season might not be the optimum time for you to focus all your fundraising efforts.
6 Reasons Why Fundraising Season Might Not Be for You
Fundraising season can be lucrative for some nonprofits, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option for you—or the best option. Here are some reasons why you might not want to put all of your eggs in the end-of-the-year basket.
1. Running into a huge competition can be catastrophic.
Like, really. Think about it: if every nonprofit sends an appeal during fundraising season…that’s a lot of appeals. A lot of mail, email, texts, and calls can make the average donor feel overwhelmed and even a little like a Scrooge!
Beyond overwhelming a donor with too many appeals, so much noise makes it all the harder for your nonprofit to break through with your unique, specific appeal.
Getting lost in the crowd is especially a problem for smaller nonprofits who don’t have as much of a fundraising budget or even brand recognition as larger nonprofits.
Would you want to go head-to-head with UNICEF, the Red Cross, or Habitat for Humanity? Didn’t think so.
2. You have a more compelling time to ask for donations
The best fundraising campaigns take your specific qualities into account. They highlight what makes you unique—what sets you apart from the crowd.
Timing can be a big part of making the most compelling ask, and for your nonprofit, that might not mean the end of the year. Ask yourself these questions:
What time of year is the busiest for our work? For example, if you work with schools or children, you might be busiest in the fall at the beginning of the school year.
When do we need the most financial support? Considering the reality of your budget—the ebbs and flows, what you set aside the most for—will help you understand if there’s a strong need at one particular time.
When are other organizations a little quieter? This one isn’t always easy to know but think about nonprofits who work in a similar area or issue. Try to pinpoint when they usually send their big appeals and think about planning yours around them. This allows you to take center stage and give the other organizations the space they need to fundraise successfully.
The end of the year is not always a compelling enough reason for donors to give. And if it is, you need to answer the question: why you? Why should they give to you when they’ve received so many other equally as important appeals?
Finding the right time to ask is everything, and if there’s a more compelling time to ask than fundraising season, your donors will appreciate understanding more about your work and how they can help. For example, the below campaign is by Crowned Scholars, a nonprofit that focuses on helping young black men through academic mentoring, civic engagement, and more. Their donation campaign was launched during the fall season to support black boys in school with school supplies, snacks, field trips, etc. It’s a simple donation page with a straightforward donation form, that clearly shows their donors why this season should be the best for them to raise donations. They not only met their goals but raised more than they set out for.
3. You need the donations sooner
Sometimes we get so wound up in strategizing about fundraising that we forget why we’re really doing it: because we need the funds to work towards our mission.
In simple terms, you fundraise because your organization needs the money to operate.
Do you have special programming at a certain time of the year? Are your payments usually due in the spring? Do you need to stock up on supplies every summer?
In these cases, you’d need the funds as soon as possible. You wouldn’t want to wait for the fundraising season. In fact, it’s no use doing that. Even donors would have doubts about your appeal if you explain these reasons in your letters and emails.
Figuring out when you most need more donations can help you determine the ideal time to focus your fundraising efforts–which may or may not be during fundraising season.
Pro tip: Figuring out when you need money the most means you can also consider new fundraising strategies like crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is an excellent way to get many donors interested in and excited about a specific need. Donorbox has a powerful crowdfunding platform that lets you set goals, send updates, and use social proof to encourage more giving momentum.
4. You want to stay fresh in the minds of your donors
Ah, donor relationships. When you put so much of your fundraising focus into the fundraising season, it’s easy to miss out on opportunities to stay in touch with your donors all year long. Also, it’s easy to feel like every communication needs to be an appeal for donations–but that’s not the case.
Newsletters, updates, and personal contact throughout the year are all excellent ways to let your current donors know you appreciate them. It’s also a subtle reminder—you gave to us in the past and we’re still here doing important work!
Keeping up contact all year long means you have a steady stream of donations with your repeat donors. Loyal donors are everything in the nonprofit world, so you have to remember to be loyal to them, too.
5. Your donors respond better to appeals at other times
A great reason to put your fundraising focus on another time during the year? It’s what works best for you and your donors. According to study, it has been proven that donors gained during the other 3 quarters are more loyal and have better long-term value.
But rarely do nonprofits take a look at their donor data to determine when their donors are most likely to give. With Donorbox, you can easily sort donor data to determine the optimum times when your donors are most open to appeals.
Of course, this takes some trial and error and a few years of data to determine. Try to keep a calendar of your appeals and change it up over the course of a year and see what kind of response you get.
For example, maybe you have a huge spike every year in the spring because you have a fun event that gets many community members involved. How can you use that timing to your advantage and increase the number of donations you get during that time?
Your donors are unique, but they have something in common: they want to support your work. Try to figure out what they want and what they expect from you.
6. Fundraising season can be hugely expensive
If you’re not careful, waiting until the end of the year to do your major fundraising can cost you a lot of your fundraising budget.
To stand out from the crowd, nonprofits often feel like they have to shell out to have the best materials—the best mailers, the best donor gifts, the most postage they’ve used all year.
And if you haven’t been budgeting for that extra push in expense, you might find yourself running over your fundraising budget—which can add up in a big way.
Being creative about what kinds of materials you use for fundraising and when you send those materials can help you save a significant amount of money. Maybe email fundraising is more effective when your email list isn’t getting an end-of-the-year email from every other nonprofit they’re subscribed to.
Consider instead putting the majority of your budget where it can do a lot more work for you.
5 Other Times to Ask for Donations
Although the year-end appeal has reached mythic status in the world of nonprofit fundraising, there are certainly other opportunities to ask your supporters to chip in throughout the year. Of course, there will be times specific to your organization, but here are a few options to inspire you to think outside of the fundraising season box.
1. Your anniversary.
The anniversary of your organization’s founding is an excellent reason to ask for donations! Make it a fun celebration and keep the donation momentum going with fun perks and inside treats for donors of a certain level.
Pro tip: Launch a special event for your supporters on this day. Market your event well in advance on social media and through letters and emails. You can even hold a crowdfunding campaign leading up to the event. Tell your story, share images of year-long impact, upload videos of beneficiaries, and find ways to engage your potential donors. A goal meter to show them your fundraising expectations can be a cherry on the cake.
Love simpler campaigns? This example can be the best for you. Harlem United tries to address issues and concerns of the underserved communities in New York City, They ran a campaign on their 30th anniversary with a minimalistic donation page that comprised a simple donation form and their tax-deductibility information.
2. A national event.
Is there some way to connect your mission to a national event? Let’s say your organization serves the community in the city where the next Superbowl will be held. That’s a great time to use the momentum of another event to draw important attention to your work.
3. A non-year-end holiday.
Depending on your mission’s relevancy, consider asking for donations during holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day, or President’s Day. Can’t find the relevancy? Consider choosing a less serious holiday like National Ice Cream Day (in July) or International Dog Day (in August). Whatever your mission, try to find a holiday that works for you.
4. Reaching an important milestone.
Did you serve 1,000 community members? Save over 1,000 pounds of plastic from a landfill? Whatever it is, use your milestone to generate more momentum through donations. Donors will appreciate being made aware of your important work—and success!
This is a great idea because people tend to give more when they see the impact and trust the organization.
5. Your donor’s anniversary.
Reminding a donor that they gave to your organization on this day a year ago is a great opportunity to more personally connect with a donor and to ask them to repeat their gift.
To make this easy, Donorbox’s donor management tools will alert you of upcoming donor moments like anniversaries, first-time donations, canceled recurring donation payments, and increased recurring donation payments. This means you always know when a donor needs some personalized attention—which is an excellent reason to reach out.
Let’s decide one thing: fundraising season should last all year long.
Cramming your best and brightest appeals into 3 months could potentially make you miss out on other fundraising opportunities.
It also means you’re competing with thousands of other nonprofits and your unique qualities are less likely to stand out—even with the most expertly crafted materials.
Instead, make the whole year your fundraising season by choosing strategic times to send appeals both on a broad scale and to individual donors. Choose times that are meaningful to your work and your donors to highlight how important your mission is and how they can best help you.
Keep your relationship with your donors strong all year long and you’ll never have to rely on a last-minute push to meet your fundraising goal again.
Looking for more fundraising tips and advice? Check out the rest of our nonprofit blog.
Lindsey Baker Bower is a writer, educator, and nonprofit professional. She has years of experience helping arts nonprofits with their fundraising messaging and strategy. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.