Your Year-End Plan – It’s Never Too Early to Start

By Natania

If you’re putting off planning your year-end campaign in October, get ready to put in a lot of overtime.

You should ideally start thinking about your year-end campaign in the summer. This means considering campaign themes, stories, mapping out capacity, channel integration options, segmentation and tracking — not to mention how all of this will coincide (or not) with your plans for #GivingTuesday. Yes, it cannot be ignored – #GivingTuesday is a must for your year-end strategy.

So much rides on the last month (or in some cases, the last week) of the year for just about all nonprofit organizations. It’s when people are the most generous and want to get their last tax-deductible gift in. But with all the other worthy causes out there looking to get in front of these ready and willing donors, how do you rise above the noise and get people to pay attention to you and your cause?

Set the Stage

Before you make the knee-jerk decision to use Twitter, SnapChat or Facebook Live, you should know the story you want to tell. It also helps if you know who your audience is and where they are. Your time is precious, so you should focus it where you can leverage the best audience.

When we go about planning a campaign for our partners at ThinkShout, we typically start by looking at the analytics. It helps to have numbers that back up your decisions. With solid data to tell you the type of content on your site that draws in visitors, you can then brainstorm with your team to help determine what your story should be, and in which channels it is most likely to thrive.

It also helps to create a communications calendar; one that not only includes emails and direct mail drop dates, but also what your home page hero image will be from one month/week to the next, and when to plan some social posts versus leaving some breathing room for more organic, timely information. If applicable, you may even want to include when and where you plan to run digital/print ads.

Really think outside the box to reach people at any stage of their relationship with you.

The Strategy

The emails you send to your supporters carry as much importance as the effort you put into them. If you send emails just for the sake of sending them, that’s not a good reason to reach out to someone who has entrusted you with their contact information. Email open rates are already on the decline industry-wide. Sending something that lacks value to your supporters will only make that trend catch on.

By utilizing the most compelling way to let your story unfold, and carrying that narrative into multiple channels in an effective way, you will inspire people to want to share it and spread the word – and ultimately – give.


Lightboxes and homepage takeovers – you think they’re tacky, but there’s a reason why more and more nonprofits are utilizing these tactics at year-end and intermittently throughout the year: because they work.

Email acquisition lightbox as seen on Travel Oregon websiteEmail acquisition lightbox on Travel Oregon website –

I know what you’re thinking, ‘lightboxes and popups are aggressive and I hate them!’ …but lightboxes are not an all-or-none part of your strategy. They can be programmed to appear on a user’s first visit and then never again, or whatever you are comfortable starting with. As you grow to understand your audience more, that will dictate the behavior you set for your lightbox overlay.

Don’t Forget to Measure

After putting all this effort into planning, segmenting, and designing, how will you know the strategy worked? How will you know if the lightbox brought in an extra 40% of funds or if it was the URL in the banner ads you had running? Spend some of this time early on setting up unique tracking links, separate donation forms, or other methods to ensure you can identify sources of donation traffic.

It’s worth noting that the channel of action does not always indicate the source of inspiration for the gift. What I mean is, someone can be exposed to your social media posts, your emails, some online banner ads – but after receiving your winter newsletter, they decide to go online and make a gift. Hard to tell, right? There will always be some degree of ‘guessing’ (for now, anyway). Mapping results as much as you are able is what proves the value of your investment to your leadership team and Board.

Giving Tuesday

The strategies outlined above for your year-end campaign should ideally also be applied to the 24-hour whirlwind that is #GivingTuesday. Yes, it may seem a waste of resources to put so much effort and work into a single day of giving, but in the four years that it’s been running, studies have found that #GivingTuesday does not cannibalize gifts, in fact it adds to your bottom line.

If you do it right, that whirlwind could be your next windfall. Here are some things you should consider:

  • Swap out the creative/offer on your lightbox, your hero image, and all social channels to match the creative theme of the day
  • Create a unique donation form/URL for tracking purposes
  • Create 2-5 emails to promote: Teaser message dropping the day before; Day-of email (sent in the morning); Mid-day update; Last chance message later in the day; Stewardship/recap email the day after.
  • Draft updates for social channels – have these ready to go but be flexible in case something awesome happens that you need to react to in the moment. Social needs to be organic. Canned messages are ok, but allow yourself the freedom to change gears in case you get a large gift or a match offer, etc.

This might seem like a lot of work. That’s because it is! But with some careful planning, you can set yourself up for success. And if this still seems like a lot to work out, let us know. We’d love to hear how we can help you achieve your year-end goals.