Northwoods Forest

Strategies for Maximizing Year-End Giving

Jim BrophyJim Brophy/Group Director, Digital
November 11, 20196 min read

As the holidays approach, our thoughts naturally turn to good times and good meals with family, friends and co-workers. We count our blessings. We give thanks.

Our hearts open in November and December, not only to family and friends, but also to those in need and the causes that serve the good of all.

We donate. We volunteer. For many charitable organizations, December giving accounts for 30% of annual donation dollars. Giving Tuesday -- the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving -- is the Black Friday of nonprofit fundraising.

What motivates donors as we choose among charities, nonprofits and causes? How can organizations rise above the fray and communicate the importance of their causes to potential donors?

Online presence and techniques have become crucial to communicating the message of nonprofit organizations that rely on donations. Northwoods works on website and digital initiatives for a variety of nonprofits and 501(c)(3) organizations as they seek donor time and money that enable them to carry out their missions.

We have found that most nonprofit websites fail to vividly tell their stories and show proof of the good they do. They lack well-defined, consistent content about their missions, their values, and the successful outcomes that come about when individuals and businesses support them.

Too often, nonprofits rely on a simple Donate button that takes the user to a third-party donation software tool that abruptly alters the user experience. Little if any branding occurs in these third-party environments, which say little or nothing about the good that will flow from the donations.

How can nonprofits address such matters and leverage the internet to maximize year-end giving?

Begin with the End in Mind

We advise our clients to benchmark website performance to understand how users navigate their sites. We ask: What are your objectives for your website? What do you want users to do? What are your goals?

In working with dozens of nonprofits, we hear these answers again and again:

  • Increase donations
  • Sell products/services
  • Register/sign-up for events
  • Find/recruit volunteers
  • Engage the community
  • Advocate for our cause
  • Build awareness
  • Inform the media, our members and our Board

Your up-front goals will shape your strategic roadmap toward achieving those goals.

Make Your Mission Clear

Potential donors and volunteers want to know if your mission and values align with theirs. A clearly articulated, highly visible mission statement helps them do that quickly and easily. If your mission statement is vague or buried in your website, newcomers will move on in a matter of moments. Look at your website. Does it highlight a clearly articulated mission?

The Content Marketing Institute has a variety of free tools, templates and tips on how nonprofits can develop an editorial mission statement and content editorial calendars. An editorial mission statement can help organizations clearly define:

  • Who you are as an organization.
  • Who you are trying to reach.
  • How you are going to reach them.
  • What you want to accomplish and why.
  • A single, consistent tone of voice.
  • Personas – the users you want to target and the content they seek.

An editorial mission statement need not be overly complex. Even a simple one will guide the entire organization as it develops consistent content across all touchpoints. The most important thing about the process of creating the mission statement? It will help you clearly articulate your objectives and goals.

(Note: A tagline is NOT a mission statement. A tagline is shorthand, a sort of mnemonic device, that brings the essence of the mission statement to mind.)

Focus on Story Telling

Once you have fine-tuned your editorial mission, develop a calendar to publish content across your various digital channels. By developing personas, you can craft content that speaks to the variety of audiences you have defined within your editorial mission.

Understanding your audiences will assist you in developing stories pertinent to them. Success stories connect your audience with your cause. The emotional connection you establish through authentic story telling compels people to take an interest in why and how you are making a difference.

Utilize Digital Tools

Free tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager allow organizations to understand how users interact with content on your website. Many websites use Google Analytics, but few utilize Search Console and Tag Manager to more deeply understand user behavior, to set up goals for campaigns and how to track campaigns. Google provides a wealth of information about their tools and how to implement and use them.

With these tools, you can determine whether and how people consume your content. For example, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County determined that users were not receiving enough information about their vast array of services.

Based on data analysis, they shifted their strategy to feature their blog more prominently on their site and focused articles on positive outcomes of United Way work. They also developed a Donation Impact Calculator, which clearly demonstrates how donation levels benefit those in need.

Screen grab of United Way's Impact calculator

Show Users Why They Should Donate as Much as They Can

The Impact Calculator invites donors to select a one-time, weekly, twice-monthly or monthly gift at various dollar levels, each connected to specific positive impacts. This makes donors understand how they are helping. Anyone who comes to the United Way site is already inclined to give. An understanding of the results of giving can prompt them to give more. (Hmm… If $25 can provide five days of emergency food for a family of five, what would $50 do?)

By telling stories and offering tangible proof of the effectiveness of giving, The United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County has improved their online fundraising. None of this happened by accident; it took clear articulation of mission, analysis, content creation, and a strategy shift based on data.

  • Here’s a brief checklist to make sure your website is as donor-friendly as possible:
  • Tell your story with a video and/or photo gallery.
  • Tell your story in a narrative.
  • Explain in simple graphics the problem you are trying to solve.
  • Optimize your content for the web – make it search-engine friendly.
  • Make sure you have clear calls-to-action on every page.
  • Show your work.
  • Show what you are doing with the donated funds.
  • Offer multiple ways to give, and explain each option.
  • Show proof that donations make a difference.

Streamline Your Digital Efforts

Most nonprofits have limited budget and limited staff to manage digital marketing and other work. These constraints make smart use of available tactics even more important as you try to spread your message.

Charity: Water, a non-profit dedicated to access to clean water for everyone around the world, makes the most of such tactics. Yes, this is a huge, well-funded organization that has means many groups do not. But some of their strategies and tactics could work with almost any organization in any vertical.

Charity: Water tells great stories, and they describe in detail how their fundraising benefits the communities they enrich. They show proof of their good works with case studies, photos and statistics. They outline in detail how the money they raise is applied to developing clean water and how clean water has positively impacted their beneficiaries. They have social media tools their advocates can downloaded and use to amplify their message.

Charity: Water provides all manner of free, downloadable resources, including video, Facebook timeline photos and Twitter backgrounds. These types of assets for your advocates provide two types of advantage: First, they are free and available for anyone to use; second, they are branded to ensure consistent messaging and look and feel. You, too, can make these types of assets available for your supporters and users.


Potential nonprofit donors want to understand your mission and values. They want to know what you stand for. They want to know where their money will go and how it will help. So, during this time of giving, give your users what they want so they will give you what you need.

Make it easy for them to grasp your mission and values. Make it easy for them to understand the good works you do and how their dollars help you do it. Tell your story and the stories of the people you serve, and make it easy for your site visitors to become part of that story by joining as donors and volunteers.

To learn more, listen to our Strategies for Maximizing Giving Tuesday webinar, originally broadcast on November 13, 2019.

Have a peaceful and rewarding holiday season! Happy Giving Tuesday!

Jim BrophyJim Brophy/Group Director, Digital

Jim provides digital marketing integration insight and direction to all of the firm’s clients. Specialties include: B2B web strategy, project team management, e-business consulting, SEO/PPC and content strategy, conversions, responsive and optimized mobile site strategies.

Read Jim Brophy's Blogs

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