It’s Q1: Time to Start Year-End Planning

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By Lisa Dick

Every year, nonprofit marketers focus on the sprint that is year-end fundraising from Giving Tuesday through the end of the year. And every year, we say this feels like it’s all happening sooner — and it actually is! According to a recent survey from Chain Store Age, 40% of consumers started their holiday shopping earlier in 2021 than they did in 2020. The end-of-year sprint is becoming a sustained marathon. But why are we talking about year-end at the beginning of the year? While we haven’t started the marathon yet, we do need to start training for it.

Metaphors aside, it will be important for nonprofits to consider 2022’s big questions throughout the year — and have a solid plan to pivot as needed in preparation for the year-end push. How do we stay on pace with trends? How do we understand the ongoing impact of a new giving landscape brought on by COVID-19 (and its continued variant fallout)? How do we engage our donors and supporters, despite the constraints of supply chain barriers and growing email privacy limitations? How do we measure success when circumstances are forcing us to reconsider long-held KPIs?

Staying on Pace With Trends: Earlier Than Ever

How does the early start to the holiday shopping season relate to nonprofits? Donors are also consumers, and they were hit with those early shopping messages, too. As a result, they received more marketing materials than normal — earlier than normal — and that is predicted to stay on pace for 2022 as well. Earlier emphasis on holiday shopping means earlier and longer-tail promotion, which means that nonprofits need to find space to stand out in an already-crowded inbox and mailbox.

Action: Start end-of-year planning in Q1, even if it’s just to think about updates you may need to make to your platforms/website, and then backing that out to timelines. All organizations approach annual planning differently, and, in my experience, the end of the year is usually its own separate planning process in late Q2. However you decide to approach planning, begin now. Think about what kind of time, resources and materials will be needed to avoid supply chain surprises, cost changes, and technology and platform needs now.

Understanding Your Supporters — and Meeting Them Where They Are

This will differ by nonprofit, but the long-term impact of COVID-19 donating behavior is something we’re still exploring and understanding. Giving patterns changed significantly over the past two years, but that doesn’t mean they will follow the omnipresent trend of the “new normal.” It means they’re still changing to meet donor needs and interests as new variants emerge. Some donors may no longer be in a financial position to donate, while others have switched the cause to which they donate or have become sustainers. Some of them may have slipped into donor fatigue. The larger question is: How do we keep those donors engaged and active as supporters, regardless of whether they are able to give? How do we keep them in our ecosystem and keep them involved, advocating and aware of the great work we’re all doing?

Action: While a focus on good content and communications is by no means new, it has reached a critical level of importance. Truly understanding our donors, listening to our supporters, knowing their content and communications preferences, and understanding any potential new circumstances (pandemic-related or not) is critical. And we need to engage with them based on all of those factors. This may be simple in plan, but it is often difficult in execution. This can be achieved in small ways though. For example:

  • Revisit your opt-out preferences for email (e.g., allowing for a pause in email versus unsubscribing). Or, consider revising your email cadence, content, and segmentation to include more updates and information versus hard appeals.
  • Ensure you are capturing the right preference information on your website — data that you will realistically use, such as content interests (volunteerism, advocacy, events, etc.), program interests and organization updates.
  • If you already are collecting preference data, make sure you’re using it. If subscribers are providing preferences on content because they were asked, they are going to expect to receive that specific type of content.

It can also be achieved in much bigger ways. For example:

  • Connect different data points for more personalized communications across channels, allowing you to truly engage with your donors. For instance, if a monthly sustainer has expressed interest in local events, wants to volunteer and really likes personal phone calls from time to time, it’s critical that communications and marketing creative to that donor are as customized as possible.
  • Think about preferences and personalization in Q1 to help lay out the tools, platforms and resources needed for Q4 execution across all touch points.

New(ish) Challenges: Paper, Supply Chain and Email

Supply chain is a term that many of us have become strikingly familiar with this year, both in our personal and professional lives. While things like paper shortages weren’t likely impacting year-end 2021 campaigns, given the lead time in print, it will be important to consider how these challenges will impact planning for year-end 2022.

Action: Consider the planning process as it relates to new lead times for printing and for your budget. Then identify opportunities for data gathering to potentially shift direct mail recipients to email, based on performance history.

Hope is not a strategy — have a backup plan. Late last year, after it was clear that major mail pieces wouldn’t hit homes within the time frames mentioned in the copy, some nonprofits scrambled to include small inserts with adjusted copy. While not ideal, these organizations acted quickly to ensure their mailings were as relevant as possible by making a quick and affordable pivot, without abandoning the mailing as a whole. We can continue to expect the unexpected in 2022, and the more we plan ahead, the less likely we are to be caught off guard, making expensive and less-than-ideal adjustments.

Similarly, for email, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (as part of the iOS 15 update in the fall of 2021) has altered, seemingly overnight, the way we use performance metrics to guide program success. This changes not only how we think about year-end, but how we look at performance metrics and data capture as a whole to drive program improvement into the future.

There is still a lot in flux as it relates to the impact, specifically on open rates. While opens and click-to-open rate (CTOR) are always helpful directional metrics, they’re less reliable given the iOS changes. The maxim of knowing our donors becomes really critical here as we make sure we’re populating our emails with content that’s relevant and unique to each subscriber. Having engaging content based on behavior and preferences (both provided and inferred) will be a better measure of performance in the long term.

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