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3 holiday reminders to make the new year productive

December 15, 2021

December is finally here. You’ve just finished Giving Tuesday and are in the midst of your calendar year-end solicitations. In just a few short weeks, the buzz and energy of the holidays will have passed, and all eyes turn to counting the philanthropic gifts Donor Clause left at your door (prior to January 1, of course!).  After that, we slide back into Day of Giving preparations or brainstorming spring and fiscal year end solicitations.

The truth is, we all know WINTER IS COMING.  Those weeks between the post-holiday return to campus and Spring Break can be challenging because donors, volunteers, and prospects tend to drop out of contact.  This typically makes a “business as usual” approach ineffective to start the year.

While alumni irresponsiveness may feel like the cold shoulder, these winter weeks aren’t hopeless.  Quiet inboxes aren’t reason to cease activity but a sign to rest from your typical solicitation routine and find other ways to keep the relationship warm.  Here are a few holiday season takeaways to prepare us to embrace winter and warm up the new year:

1. Say “thank you”

Whether it’s an unwanted ugly sweater, a meaningful trinket, or high-demand tech, expressing thanks for all types of gifts is an important practice.  Being thankful enables us to see others’ generosity more readily and produce more of our own.  When we celebrate giving, it inspires more to happen!  Conversely, when gifts are seen as unappreciated, they are less likely to be repeated or lead to meaningful future gifts.

Having stewardship as a part of your annual fundraising plans is critical to donor retention and acquisition.  We want donors to know we appreciate their actions and want them to continue…again and again.  Donor retention percentages skyrocket among those who have given for 3+ consecutive years, so intentionally encourage this behavior.  An intentional emphasis on gratitude helps build the pipeline of the future—today. Here are a few stewardship suggestions:

  • Pick a segment like 2nd-year renewed donors or 1st-year reacquired donors to thank for their support.
  • Use platforms like YouVisit to provide donors with virtual tours of relevant campus spaces.
  • Repurpose the phonathon to thank current-year donors and/or leadership-level LYBUNTS.
  • Invite the president’s cabinet to participate by each making 5-10 gratitude calls.

2. Make new year’s resolutions

With January comes the motivation to make a concerted effort to learn lessons from the past year and take a fresh approach.  Small changes, like scheduling date nights or reading a new book, provide immediate gratification, while resolutions, such as committing to an exercise routine in preparation for a half marathon or adjusting eating and sleeping habits to address health concerns, can help with long-term goals.  Regardless, success involves understanding the present, establishing realistic aspirational goals, and determining the appropriate next steps.

While it may be too early for dramatic changes to your annual fundraising plans, it might be the right time to make tweaks to increase the likelihood of reaching your current goals and to begin considering next FY.  Mid-year reports help teams understand their first half effectiveness and position them to make informed short and long-term decisions on engagement strategies, staff resources, departmental restructuring, and right sizing programs.  EAB utilizes mid-year reports to assess our partners’ first-half performance by helping them answer questions like:

  • How well were alumni segments retained in comparison to benchmarks?
  • How did each solicitation channel perform?
  • Which appeals yielded the strongest response?
  • Which constituencies or alumni community members stood out in their performance?
  • Which donors also attended events, visited with gift officers, or updated their contact information within the year?

3. Plan for the future

December is filled with a flurry of mail but none more delightful than holiday cards.  They range from standard holiday greetings to families wearing matching outfits.  Unlike other mail, holiday cards can remain displayed for weeks and stored even longer!  The cards serve as a reminder of the exchange of love and appreciation we have for those in our past and present.  Life seems to pass by quickly, and seeing these names and faces can motivate us to reconnect with others or make plans to see them in the near future.

Warm up the new year by making plans to connect with your institution’s long-lost constituents and remind them about the relationship.  Instead of gifts as the top priority, let your development team’s heart grow three sizes this season by engaging alumni, parents, and friends with a personal approach and the future in mind.  Use January and February to set up a robust March and April of visits to supplement the donors and volunteers whom you know will occupy your calendar.  Your Day of Giving is a perfect reason for a sense of urgency in scheduling.  If you don’t have AI-driven predictive modeling to help segment, here are a few ideas on finding future appointments and donors:

  • Review action reports for overdue follow-up meetings.
  • Reconnect with young alumni who served as guest speakers or whom you met years ago at an event, but they weren’t a philanthropic priority at the time.
  • Identify alumni who consistently don’t respond to solicitations or attend development events but come recommended by your board, development leadership, or volunteers.
  • Engage subsets of the community you would normally say, “We don’t have time to focus on them,“ and use this time to focus on them! Avoid prioritizing young alumni, if possible, because they are unforgettable.  Consider other unengaged affinity groups based on geography, race and ethnicity, major/undergraduate college, and professional industry.

Don’t let the chill in the air intimidate you.  Grab your boots and hat and plan for a memorable start to the new year.  If you begin planning now, you can make the most of winter and turn a normally unresponsive few weeks into a productive season of engagement.

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