The Secret Year-End Fundraising Tool Most Nonprofits Overlook

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE Tips

I sat at my desk with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. How do I raise enough gifts to meet our year-end fundraising goal?

My team and I had hosted a donor appreciation event and conducted a mailing, but there were still donors who hadn’t yet made a gift. As I reviewed my donor list, I saw people who cared deeply about our mission and had given generously in the past. Why hadn’t they given this year? There was only one way to find out — pick up the phone and call them. To my surprise (and relief), the phone calls worked. The individuals I spoke to were pleased to hear from our organization. Many renewed their gift.

The Secret Year-End Fundraising Tool Most Nonprofits Overlook // Nonprofit Leadership Center

In our digitally-driven world, the phone is one of the most overlooked tools in our year-end fundraising toolbox. Email is critical, online donation campaigns are a must, but don’t forget that many donors would love to hear directly from the charities they love — that’s you!

Because year-end fundraising calls take preparation and follow-up, this guide will help you get started.

Who to Call

Identify the donors who gave to your organization last calendar year but haven’t yet made a gift this year. Sort the list by the amount donated to create your target list. As you review the list, think about who has the best relationship with each donor within your organization and recruit board members, volunteers, leadership and program staff to call them.

What to Say

Start with appreciation, reminding your donors that your organization has been changing the world because of their past support. Then gently remind them that their support this year will continue this vital work, always focusing on impact. Be sure each caller has a strong personal story to tell. NEVER focus on your fundraising goal or your organization’s budget —not meeting your budget doesn’t matter to anyone besides you and your boss. You’re likely to leave many voicemails, so be sure to have a brief (practiced) script prepared for when that happens. Don’t miss your chance to make the pitch by simply asking for a callback.

How to Follow Up

Follow-up should be prompt and personalized based on how each call goes. Be sure to allow time in your day to get it done. Thank each donor you call for their time and provide any additional information they requested. Some donors will be surprised to hear they haven’t given and ask for details on their giving history, while others may want more information about programs they’ve supported in the past. The key to all follow-up is that it is prompt and answers questions thoroughly. When appropriate, you should always include a link to make a gift online.

As the end of the year approaches, you can still raise money from your previous donors. Don’t overlook the phone as an essential part of your year-end fundraising toolbox. Pick up your phone, call your donors and see what you can raise. Even if the gift doesn’t come by the end of this year, it could give you a strong start for the year ahead.


Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE, is a solutions-oriented advancement professional with more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit development and administration. Her company, the Sara Leonard Group, provides consulting, coaching and training to fundraisers, CEOs and nonprofit board members. Prior to launching her consultancy in 2015, Sara worked in the nonprofit sector raising funds for health care, educational and cultural organizations. She is also a former employee of the Nonprofit Leadership Center and continues to facilitate classes in fund development for NLC. Sara is widely considered an expert in crisis fundraising and has guided organizations through capital campaigns, both large and small. She received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Tampa and an MBA from the University of South Florida. She’s a Certified Fundraising Executive and has been named as a Master Trainer by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Sara serves on the board of directors of the Suncoast Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and New Tampa Young Life. She lives in Tampa with her husband and two children.

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