As we worked with our nonprofit fundraising partners to plan for the year-end fundraising season, we knew two things for sure:
- 2022 had been a year of deep and widespread crisis — famine looming across East Africa, a major war in Ukraine and chain-reaction refugee crises and food supply disruptions, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the list goes on…
- Economic anxieties were growing across the U.S., driven by inflation, rising interest rates, and fears of recession, and raising major questions about the donors’ ability to respond to the extreme needs.
These two dynamics created a great deal of uncertainty heading into November and December, and we knew we needed ever smarter strategies and a bolder creative approach.
We could write for pages and pages about macro giving trends we’re spotting (check out what’s on our mind here), but that’s not what this post is about. After sifting through the many appeals and tactics that littered the halls of the year-end fundraising season, we’ve pulled out a few notable insights about which creative approaches broke through the noise, captured hearts, and inspired generosity.
Below are some snapshots from the final fundraising campaigns of some of our top-performing fundraising partners.
1. Diversify away from the biggest days
Several organizations planned proactive fundraising campaigns in early- to mid-November, aiming to preempt the Giving Tuesday rush with preview offers, early match access, and emergency appeals. This approach proved successful in boosting revenue across the entire month of November, elevating Giving Tuesday into an entire month of giving and reducing our partners’ reliance on one highly saturated day. One of our partners was able to surpass their entire November revenue totals from the previous year before Giving Tuesday even began!
This strategy was especially important with the tax deadline (Dec. 31) falling on a Saturday when fewer people are sitting at their computers.
2. Be specific. Super specific.
The more specific details we gave our audience to help them fully grasp the stakes of the challenge and the impact of their dollars, the better the performance. General calls-to-action rooted in brand messaging, mission and values, or high-flying ambitions tended to fall flat. Audiences wanted to remain firmly planted on the ground, with a close-up view of the impact their gifts could make.
This dynamic showed up in a number of places. For one global aid organization, “tangible giving” dollar handles were among the strongest creative performers. For another, in a head-to-head test, an email sent directly from the CEO with a personal POV from her recent trip to Somalia dramatically outperformed messaging reflecting more generally on global poverty and the importance of choosing action. This kind of first-person perspective, rooted in authentic experience with humanitarian team members and program participants, stood out for a number of partners this year.
Moreover, radical transparency around finances and budget gaps — sharing specific numbers, sharing the impact of rising costs — also performed well, lifting the curtain for donors and underlining the essential nature of their support.
Intensely vivid and descriptive detail showed up as top-performing creative in email and ad creative for organizations that responded to the war in Ukraine during 2022. Mercy Corps, for example, saw strong performance from social media ads featuring a slideshow of tangible, uplifting depictions of their response teams’ impact for refugees. The simple animation and range of impact imagery combined to capture attention and focus the audience on giving.
And for our partner, Médecins Sans Frontières, a head-to-head test of an email featuring a story of emergency medical support for a civilian injured during the war (subject line: From Ukraine: “I felt like it ripped my stomach open”) was also the clear-cut winner. A difficult story to tell, to be sure, but effective in capturing attention and focusing the donor.
3. Less is more
When it came to email visuals, donors often favored a more authentic approach. One trend we observed across email and ad campaigns was the performance boost from simpler, more straightforward designs. In email, this often looked like plain-text lift notes above previously sent messages — or, more generally, simpler emails without formatting that mirror the kinds of “real” emails people receive. In ad creative, simple, match-focused content tended to win the day during the biggest moments (Giving Tuesday and the final stretch of December) over more story — or brand-driven creative, especially among renewal audiences — providing donors with a prominent call-to-action and deadline-driven match offer.
4. Get animated
At the same time, the thoughtful use of animation across email and ad creative proved to be a performance enhancer that balanced out the simpler design approaches referenced above. In an increasingly competitive marketplace for donor attention, our partners had success using animation to:
Convey a deeper demonstration of impact, with rotating images and words telling a more complete and compelling story in limited visual real estate.
Draw audiences’ eyes toward buttons and key phrases (like match offers).
Freshen up traditional visuals like deadline-driven countdown clocks and progress bars.
Wherever GIFs are feasible, a bit of light animation can provide a helpful visual cue and creative enhancement.
5. Late risers
On Giving Tuesday, many clients experienced slower mornings and accelerated giving later in the day, compared to past years. For one organization, the first email of Giving Tuesday was the day’s top performer in 2021, but ended up as only the third-best email of the day in 2022. And more broadly, the revenue trends demonstrated a level of donor procrastination till later in the afternoon and evening on Giving Tuesday that we hadn’t seen in previous years.
A few ways our fundraising partners were able to capitalize on this dynamic:
- Using time-zone-based send times to ensure optimal inbox delivery time for audiences across the U.S. This is a built-in feature in some mailers; otherwise, a bit of manual segmentation can go a long way during some of the most valuable hours of the year.
Releasing additional match funds late in the day on Giving Tuesday to ensure a compelling offer, create a feeling of exclusivity, and convince the Giving Tuesday laggards to finally make their gift!
Scooping up donors at the end of the day by sending compelling “failed transaction” and “abandoned shopping cart” notices. It’s helpful to take a look at how your favorite online retailers do it!
6. Remain nimble
Flexing fundraising campaign plans in real time can help ensure no dollars are left on the table, especially in moments of uncertainty when expectations are turned upside down.
For one partner, a real-time pivot in their paid search campaign significantly improved conversion rates during one of their peak periods of giving. For a few others, later-day resends of previous high-performing emails ended up making the difference toward reaching their fundraising goals.
We can make our best guess at which creative assets will perform best, but there’s nothing better than real-time data, and if your organization is nimble enough to switch up plans in real time, you will reap the rewards. These sorts of pivots are crucial for fundraising success, and they’re also made easier with a bit of pre-planning: a pre-written lift note to top off the highest-performing email of the day, or a morning test to identify a winning strategy for the evening.
For several of our fundraising partners, early morning email content tests — dubbed the Blue State Olympics, because our top writers and designers compete against one another — allowed for real-time optimization based on what works best in the moment. For one such test, the winning version converted nearly as many gifts as the other two test variants combined — a massive difference that resulted in thousands more dollars in revenue throughout the day.
For these big fundraising moments, in this economic climate, we need to go for the gold. Anything less just won’t cut it. With a smart strategy and an even bolder creative approach, the sky’s the limit for what your nonprofit fundraising team can accomplish.