The thank you emails are still fresh in inboxes, and here at Blue State, we’re already sifting through the 2019 End of Year numbers. We’ll have more to report in the coming days — but for now, a few of our quick takeaways from EOY 2019:

It was a nail biter

Following a strong Giving Week at the start of December, giving slowed somewhat compared to prior years, particularly over December 28-29 (weekends are hard!) — leaving many of us crossing our fingers for a big final 36 hours of the year. We were all haunted by the ghost of the challenging 2018 End of Year and, thankfully, we were generally able to let out a collective sigh of relief as the clock struck midnight. 

The anxiety-inducing ups and downs of the month and of recent end-of-year seasons make one thing clear: Our industry must focus on sustainability. 

There’s no way to control what 2020 will bring — whether the results of the election (and its aftermath) will substantially impact fundraising, as it did in 2016 and 2017, or something else will shift donor priorities. But what we can control is the sustainability of our program, by steadily building and diversifying the pipeline of donors, investing in maintaining and recruiting new monthly donors, and focusing on cultivating our most valuable donors.

But Christmas was a highlight 

Did the late Thanksgiving give us a bumper Giving Tuesday and a slightly slower mid-December? Was it a particularly high volume of political news crowding out attention? It’s difficult to tell at this point, but interestingly, Christmas-associated campaigns performed relatively well for many of our clients, and this bounce may have been generated by capturing attention and dollars after the mid-December dip. 

Email came back firmly

Many programs saw a challenging 2018 EOY season on email. But we were confident that with the right ideas, executions, and stewardship over the course of the year, this tried and true medium would return to tried and true status. And (thankfully) this is a trend that we’re seeing for a significant number of our clients. 

Paid (and in particular SEM) really mattered in the final week 

We saw some truly tremendous paid performances in the final week of the year for a number of clients. Much of the benefit of paid means that you can move traffic to a specific donate page that’s both timely and has your best offer on it — and with copy linked to the offer too. SEM is better than organic search as it removes people from the maze of your website and gets them directly to your point of conversion — which is vital in the final week of the year — when donors want to make their gift as quickly and seamlessly as possible. 

Donors are procrastinating, and we should take advantage

We see it every year: The donations come in later and later. From 7 am to 7pm, we’re nervously refreshing our dashboards… and then the revenue spikes before midnight. This was certainly true for the Dec. 31 tax deadline, but also other deadlines like on Giving Tuesday and throughout the final week of the year. It’s clear that donors are waiting until later in the day to give, so meet them where they’re at. We’ve seen success with adding late-night sends (as late as 11:30 pm) and creating separate segments for East Coast and West Coast donors so that asks are in inboxes at the time most optimized to the donor. 

A standard 2x match? Old news.

We’ve talked about the risk of escalating match offers in the past, and they continued to increase in aggressiveness this year. At the end of December, 10x and 5x matches were regular. 3x were common. And the humble 2x match became a rare (or short-lived) sight. Donors are smart, and this will catch up with the industry soon. On a similar note, more organizations gilded the lily with premiums too — why just 5x your gift when you can get a free water bottle or tote? The single most important number in fundraising is lifetime value, and time will tell if tactics like this are building or undermining this crucial metric.  

Mid-level donors could be the ace up your sleeve

Whether you’ve been cultivating a mid-level donor group, but aren’t quite sure how to treat them on digital, or are just dumping your mid-level donors in with the rest of the fray, make a new year’s resolution to re-evaluate your strategy. One international development client increased giving from mid-level donors by a whopping 93% year-over-year. How did they do it? By asking. Specifically, we doubled the number of tailored, targeted asks sent to mid-level donors over the course of the end-of-year campaign. 

What did you see during end of year fundraising? Let us know.

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