Earlier this year, we released an in-depth Year-End Fundraising Report packed with stats, insights, and lessons learned in 2013 from collaborating with both our agency and Tools clients. During November and December 2013, the Tools processed $30 million in contributions from 414,280 people and our agency clients raised 41% of their online revenue. We reported that email is still king and that it consistently drives people to give. A/B testing confirmed that a hard-sell outperforms a soft-sell when supporters are inundated by asks. And there was even more evidence that mobile integration isn’t just a nice-to-have for fundraisers: it’s absolutely essential.

As we get closer to the giving season, we wanted to share successful strategies from our experience in online fundraising. Here’s to a generous season ahead.

Where to Start?

You’ve probably already got the basics covered: you’ve set a goal, secured a matching gift, and figured out your channel mix. Now dig deeper and ask yourself a few key planning questions.

  1. What were our pain points during 2013 year-end? Email click rate? Donation page abandon rate? Mobile bounce rate? Where can we direct resources to make the biggest impact on fundraising totals?
  2. How can we get previous donors to give more this year? Should we be motivating them to give a single, larger donation, or multiple, smaller gifts? And how can we get previous, high-dollar donors to give even more this year?
  3. What can we do to drive recurring donations?
  4. How can we encourage donors to tell their friends that they donated via social media?
  5. What’s our email segmentation plan? Are we using data to segment our list? Should we?
  6. What’s our outbound communication plan for Giving Tuesday? What kind of creative do we need to win market share?
  7. What should we test on December 31st? How many emails should we send that day?
  8. Where were our drop-off points for email traffic? What about for direct traffic? How did drop-offs change leading up to year-end, and what does that mean for our optimization plan?
  9. What are our competitors doing? Are any of their tactics worth testing on our list?
  10. Where and how did acquisitions come in this year? Should we be messaging to these individuals differently?
  11. What kind of tests do we want to run around suggested donations? Should we be asking for 100% of a constituent’s second highest previous donation? 60%? 125%?

Once you’ve considered these questions, pen some milestones into the calendar. Here’s what we suggest.

September: Get Organized.
Spend September planning campaign milestones while you clean up your email list. You’ll want to have a testing plan in place with reporting tools up and running. Be mindful of lead time on design concepts and paid media, and of course get your emails and social content scheduled. Are you mobile ready? Start optimizing your sign-up process and creating mobile-friendly donation forms.

October: Create, Test & Iterate.
October is for content creation, including blog posts, emails, lightboxes, photos, video, and share graphics. Test messaging and design tactics to fine tune your program and gear up for November. Consider creating a few variations of your campaign’s landing page and test which one draws the most donations.

November & December: Campaign. Hard.
You want to have as much as possible written, designed, built and tested before Thanksgiving. You’ll also want to have a strong Giving Tuesday plan prepared. Once you’ve jumped into official year-end season, your emphasis should shift to volume, measurements, and real-time adjustments.