We’ve asked online fundraising expert Brad Davies from the online fundraising optimization think-tank NextAfter to give his top 5 tips to improving your year end campaign based on research in analyzing 17,523 emails from the top 151 nonprofits. You learn more in his recorded webinar, 5 Tips for Year End: What We Learned After Analyzing 17,523 Emails from 151 Nonprofits.

1. Send emails on days when most charities are not

Your donor’s inboxes are normally crowded. In the month of December, their inboxes start looking like a Black Friday sale at Walmart. Since you can’t control the amount of email they receive, what you can control is when you send your emails. Best practices would tell you to send between Tuesday and Thursday. But if that’s when everyone else is sending, isn’t that actually the worst time to send? Below is a chart of the activity patterns based on NextAfter’s study of 17,523 emails from 151 national nonprofits titled, “Cut Through the Clutter.”


The study found that the volume of email dips drastically on the weekends. Some might say that engagement dips dramatically as well. However, based on the outcome of NextAfter’s research, they have actually seen quite the opposite. You’ll never know until you test for your organization, but emailing on the weekends could be a great strategy for avoiding the year end fundraising inbox clutter.

2. Start in Early December

Urgency increases conversion – it’s a proven fact. Most nonprofits know this because they see their greatest fundraising results come in the last few days of the month. So if the end is already decided, when should you start your year end campaign?

Again, NextAfter’s research found that most nonprofits don’t start fundraising until halfway through the month. In fact, exactly half of the organizations surveyed started their campaigns exactly halfway through the month.

So what does that mean? It means that fewer organizations start fundraising early in the month, which could be an opportunity for you. It’s important to remember that if you aren’t communicating with your donors, someone else is. So send your appeals when the least amount of organizations do – early in the month.


3. Send more than four emails in December

Most organizations send four emails in December. Is that the magic number? Will that maximize results and keep you from “burning out your file?” The truth is, there’s no way to know until you test. With the total number of emails that we know our donors receive every day, four may be far too few to actually have an impact.

Try sending more emails. Don’t be afraid of the dreaded “unsubscribe” either – that doesn’t always correlate to “burnout.”  Many times that is the way a constituent “disqualifies” themselves as a donor – and that can be just fine, as long as you have a healthy name acquisition stream.

The key to email marketing effectiveness is relevance. If you are sending relevant offers, then you shouldn’t fear donor fatigue.


4. Send your emails at times when other don’t

Going back to our earlier insight about which day of week to send, once again nonprofits are all reading the same “best practice” guides about when to send emails – right before or right after lunch. Luckily, this leaves plenty of hours in the day to send emails at other times.

There is no universally perfect time to send an email. But there are plenty of opportunities to test.  Perhaps the best time for your donors is at a time you’d least expect!


5. Say something different

NextAfter took all of the subject lines from every email they received last December and fed it to a word cloud generator. You can see the result below, but a few words stuck out as the most commonly used. There are two possible reasons this happens:

  • Nonprofits use these words because they have been proven to work.
  • Nonprofits use these words because other nonprofits use them.


Remember — the subject line has only one job: get opened. That’s it. You can’t donate from a subject line, or click through to a landing page. The subject line only has to make you open the email. Don’t make the subject line try to do the email’s job.

So that begs the question – do these words entice donors to open the email? There’s one way to find out – test them! Try subject lines that trigger your donors’ curiosity – as long as the email content increases the curiosity to win the click through. And when you test your subject lines, don’t just focus on open rate as a single metric. The subject line is the beginning of the conversation – good ones can increase donor motivation, resulting in more gifts. Don’t accidentally take a higher open rate over higher revenue.

So there you go, five ways your end of year giving campaign can stand out from the crowd and help you achieve great results so you can have more impact.

**These tips were adapted from NextAfter’s Cut Through the Clutter study. You can download the full study here.