A nonprofit donor development rule of thumb states that each individual has a personal set of funding priorities. These are the causes that are the most important to them, the ones that they will go out of their way to support. One of the challenges an organization faces is to build the donor development strategy that will increase the priority of a cause for a supporter. In my own personal experience, I’ve supported many causes over the years and there are a close handful of organizations that are important to me. Heifer International is not one of my personal funding priorities.

What is a priority, though, is supporting and honoring important people in my life. So several years ago when my sister populated her holiday gift wish list with suggestions from Heifer’s “Most Important Gift Catalog” I was more than happy to purchase gifts for her through Heifer’s end of year giving campaigns. She’s regularly included Heifer items on her list during the holidays and it’s been fun coordinating with other members of my family to get gifts we think she’d like.

end of year giving

A Front Row Seat for End of Year Giving

Heifer is a large organization and they communicate extremely well. They employ communications best practices and are constantly testing and taking risks to develop their organization.

Being a professional fundraiser and all, I’ve seen a lot of fundraising over the years. And despite my somewhat academic viewpoint when it comes to the process of fundraising, I’ve had some unexpected perks from supporting my sister’s interest. When I made the first gift at my sister’s behest I got on Heifer’s “list” and have had a front-row seat as the organization has evolved its fundraising communications with greater sophistication.

So this year, when End-of-Year season began and gift catalogues started arriving even earlier than last year in alarming density, Heifer was one of the first in my mailbox. Tucked in with the latest L.L. Bean, Catalogue Favorites, myriad of other catalogues, and my local weekly grocery shop mailer, lurked a couple of editions of this year’s Heifer Gift Catalogs. But what caught my eye, and was rescued from a quick trip to the recycle bin, was a World Ark magazine. The holiday 2013 edition.

end of year giving

Giving Away a Castle

What caused my double-take was not the fabulous photography on the cover, or the lead article headline with the seductive word “chocolate” that was prominently featured, but the byline over the magazine’s title. It was not about animals, programs in developing regions, or seasonal gifts. It read “Author Patrick Rothfuss Gives Away a Castle”.

I was hooked. A closely held secret about me is that I have been a voracious epic fantasy reader since the tender age of eight. There is barely room on my nightstand for the alarm clock due to the stacks of books underway. The floor sags under my bookshelves and my car can get back and forth to the library practically by itself. From Piers Anthony to Marion Zimmer Bradley, the authors I’ve enjoyed are legion. So now I wanted to know: “What was Patrick Rothfuss doing in a Heifer magazine?”

Ending Poverty and Hunger with Fantasy

Win one for Heifer! Here I was, a small prospect for Heifer, paging through the first magazine they had sent me. I not only learned about the new partnerships with USAID and The ONE Campaign, I was impressed to find out that Rothfuss got involved with Heifer through matching donations from his readers. The first match emptied his bank account and since then he and his fans have raised more than $2 million for Heifer through the nonprofit Rothfuss set up, Worldbuilders. Heifer had successfully cracked through my toughened exterior and landed terrific education and awareness information about the cause. While Heifer was not a priority for me before, I am now much more interested in the organization. Nonprofit Donor Development: Live and In Person!

Here are five of Heifer’s nonprofit donor development tactics for end of year giving that you can take to the bank for your cause:

End of Year giving1. Follow up

Treat no donation as if it were a one-time gift. Regardless of where your donors come from; a friend raising support by running a marathon, an online “share” from a volunteer, a table guest at an event, each gift is an invitation to open up a relationship between the donor and your cause. Make sure you communicate beyond the thank you note and the next solicitation. Heifer sent mid-year communications after my first gift and this year I received the magazine.

2. Go Multi-Channel

End of year giving

Communicate with your donors in additional channels than the one they used to support your cause. If they give online, include them in your snail mail. Send multiple communications in different formats. Don’t over look social media, but don’t limit yourself to online channels. I make my Heifer gifts for my sister online; however, I respond to and share the snail mail—not email or social media.

3. Get Ahead of the End of Year Communications Trends

End of Year communications and holiday campaigns are concentrated like never before for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. With communications launching earlier each year and the veritable flood of messages competing for attention your organization needs a highly strategic approach in order to gain awareness. Be creative with the execution and deployment of your materials. Assess your End of Year giving communications every year and adjust. This year I received multiple copies of Heifer’s Most Important Gift Catalog… earlier than ever. They were an unusual size (smaller) than all my other catalogs. Plus the full-size catalog included in the magazine.

End of year giving4. Increase the Reach of Regular Communications

Do you have a quarterly or semi-annual newsletter? An annual report publication? An alumni magazine? Whatever format your ongoing education, cultivation and stewardship communications take, the fourth quarter of the year offers an opportunity to connect with a larger segment of supporters and prospective donors than usual. Adjust your existing material to be thematically linked to your end of year giving messages, include new acquisition, calls to action, and *boom* you have bolstered your end of year campaigns. While I didn’t receive quarters 1-3 editions of Heifer’s magazine, they did expand their mailing list for the fourth quarter’s edition, the holiday issue.

5. Widen your End of Year MessagesEnd of Year Fundraising

Your donors are inundated with end-of-year appeals, holiday campaigns and invitations. There are so many out there competing for their attention they don’t even have to open the material to know what it says. It’s time to get sneaky about getting your message across and offer your supporters some relief. Couch your holiday giving campaigns in other informational “wrappers.” Items like donor profiles and activity reviews, book recommendations, trivia questions, or partnership announcements can all support your end of year giving campaigns. They’re fun-to-read unexpected supports for your holiday asks. The donor profile of Patrick Rothfuss was engaging from a human interest standpoint. While there was a subtle call to action to check out the 2014 Heifer-themed calendar available through Worldbuilders, the article was devoid of holiday campaign messages. Another clever approach to “wrapping” the end-of-year giving campaign Heifer employed was the inclusion of a version of the “Most Important Gift Catalog” in the World Ark Q4 issue. Several non-holiday articles direct the reader to learn more by turning to page x in the catalog.

So this year, if my sister includes gifts to Heifer on her wish list, it will be extra fun for me. Not only will I be doing something for my sister, but I can double the impact while supporting the efforts of an author whose work I admire. I’ll get to indulge my sci-fi/fantasy geekdom. And maybe, just maybe, Rothfuss will be so buoyed by the ongoing success of his campaign and the support from his readers that he announces the release date of his much anticipated third book in the Kingkiller series. How cool would that be?

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