Last week my colleague Rich Dietz and I hosted a webinar titled, “EOY Kick-Start.” (The recording is available here.) The gist of our message was – get started now on end-of-year fundraising!

I know the temperature is still above 80 degrees in most places. Heck, here in Austin we’ll be in shorts and flip flops for at least another month. But truly, if you don’t start now, November and December could be hot, too – as in, HOT MESS! Worse case, you could miss out on thousands of dollars in cold, hard donations.

The question we received most on the webinar was, “Where do I start?” And, more specifically, “Where do I start if EOY fundraising is 100 percent new to my organization?” In other words, there are no 2014 results to lean on, no culture of EOY giving, no nothing.

If this describes your situation, here are the five steps I recommend for getting started:

  1. Lead with nurture communications, not appeals. Warm up your supporters with a few emails/social media posts/letters/whatever about the impact your organization is making in the world. The goal here is to make them think, “Ah yes, I really love XYZ and all it does.”
  2. Set your goals. One goal is probably how much you want to raise, but because it’s your first year, this will probably be just an educated guess. Your more important goal might be simply to learn what worked and what didn’t. What channel provides the best ROI? Which message was most successful? What can you execute on most feasibly? Your learnings this year will help you build a better plan next year.
  3. Create an editorial calendar. This can be as broad as, “In November we message ABC and in December we message XYZ.” Or, as specific as, “Email 1 drops on November X, email 2 on December Y.” Either way, an editorial calendar for your communication and appeals will help you stick to the plan.
  4. A/B test your appeals. Pick a variable and test it. For example, maybe it’s the suggested giving levels on your donation form. Version A suggests $100, $50, and $25, while Version B suggests $200, $150, and $75. Make sure you know how you define success. In this example it could simply be dollars raised or it could be quantity of donations.
  5. Say thank you. Fundraising guru Penelope Burk reports that more than 20 percent of donors are NEVER thanked for their gift. Yikes! That’s a recipe for donor attrition and disaster. Invest time in a spectacular thank you letter, and recruit a few staff members or volunteers to help make thank you phone calls. If you don’t think you can call every single donor, set a threshold as part of your strategy. For example, everyone gets a thank you letter, but donors who give more than $200 also get a thank you call.

For more end-of-year fundraising ideas, watch EOY Kick-Start or download the full EOY Fundraising Plan. Both of these resources, plus many more, are available on Abila’s EOY Fundraising Hub.