It’s New Year’s Eve and everybody is celebrating—that is, everybody except for development professionals. They are stuck in the office making sure every last check is deposited before the clock strikes midnight. It is an annual ritual that caps the final push to receive donations and ensure donors earn their last-minute tax deductions. While year-end is a naturally busy time for development teams, it does not have to be a chaotic one. If your November and December feel like a disorganized scramble, it may be time to develop a better strategy based on the following suggestions.

  1. Have a Plan – Development is cyclical. While year-end is busy, the summer may be slow. For many organizations, August is the perfect month to assess where the organization’s fundraising initiatives stand and develop a strategy for the next four months.
  2. Segment Your Donors – Determine the categories of donors you will need to reach out to at the end of the year and develop a strategy for each. Start with simple groupings (institutions vs. individual or major donors vs. small donors). Then add layers of complexity (donors who moved from small to large in the current year, donors who gave on multiple occasions, first-time donors, donors whose giving has significantly increased or decreased since the prior year, etc.) A good donor management system will enable you to easily generate such lists.
  3. Develop Your Communication Strategy Early – How are you going to target each segment of donors? Who should receive a form letter? Who should receive a personal phone call? What should those communications look like? You may be able to create the letters and emails early and simply hit “send” on the scheduled date. This may also be a good time to check your contact records to make sure you’re able to reach your donors when the time comes.
  4. Think Like a Donor – While you are eager to collect every last cent in the calendar year, many of your donors may be counting their pennies as their gift-giving season comes to a close. At the same time, every charitable organization with their mailing address is making the same final push to them. Separate your organization from the others. That may mean making the final push in October or reaching them in different ways. Maybe your donors would appreciate a holiday/thank-you card that does not come with a pledge card to return.
  5. The Relationship Is Everything – Successful development Is all about building relationships. While the scale of your organization may prevent you from having a one-on-one relationship with all of your funders, you can make them feel like you do. The role of development professionals is to bring in revenue, which leads many to focus on what the organization needs from donors. But when you think in terms of relationships, you can consider what your donors need from you—a sense of appreciation that their contributions have had a real impact. The feeling that you are fulfilling some need for your donors can be satisfying and motivating one and engage them more deeply in your cause.

It is easy to fall into the routine of treating fund development as a short-term proposition. But with the right kind of planning, you can develop long-term relationships that will pay big dividends down the road.