Rethinking Year-End Fundraising: Blending Innovation with Wisdom

In the world of fundraising, there’s much to be learned from both innovative leaders and timeless wisdom. Consider Steve Jobs, the visionary behind Apple, who once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” His philosophy of breaking the mold aligns surprisingly well with the biblical wisdom of King Solomon, who reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Every year I sort through over 100 year-end fundraising appeals, each offering some incentive such as a matching gift or accompanied by items like calendars or magnets, I am struck by the uniformity and the missed opportunities for genuine connection. These standard year-end appeals, while well-intentioned, often blend into a sea of sameness. What is even worse is that typically a significant number of appeals I receive each year are from organizations we already have supported in a significant way.

Embracing the wisdom of Solomon and the innovation of Jobs, let’s consider a more personalized approach to fundraising. Why do so many organizations send year end appeals? What is the underlying goal? If it is to raise money, instead of widespread email or print mail campaigns, a selective approach with personal phone calls to potential major donors will not only forge stronger connections, but will raise more money.

The year-end season is a time for reflection and gratitude. Rather than focusing solely on appeals for donations, why not send heartfelt season’s greetings? This approach, resonating with the spirit of thanksgiving, acknowledges our donors as integral partners in our work and are valued for more than just their financial contributions.

Drawing inspiration from both Jobs’ innovative mindset and Solomon’s wisdom, our year-end communications can become a blend of creativity and heartfelt sincerity. Whether it’s through a video message showcasing the year’s impact, a newsletter filled with stories of blessing, or handwritten notes of thanks, these communications should reflect our organization’s unique character and our commitment to biblical values— not be filled with trinkets or gimmicks to get someone to give.

As we strategize for the year end, let’s remember that standing out isn’t just about being different; it’s about being purposefully and authentically engaged with our community of supporters. By combining innovative approaches with timeless wisdom, we can transform our fundraising efforts into an opportunity to deepen relationships, express gratitude, and reinforce a shared vision of impact and purpose.

Let’s Get Practical: My Podcast Reviewing 100+ Appeals Each year I devote an entire podcast to examining all the year-end fundraising appeals I received the previous year (and I receive quite a few!). This year, I am joined by The FOCUS Group's newest team member, Dan Kennedy, our first Vice President of Marketing & Business Development. Dan brings a diverse background, spanning brand management at Procter & Gamble, mission work in China, and the past 15 years providing brand and marketing services to nonprofits worldwide. I will be giving $500 to the organization that did the best job - and free fundraising advice to the organization that needs the most help - and we’ll share our insights to help you navigate the end of the year successfully.
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