One of my favorite things about the New Year...

You've almost made it through the first full week of work in 2016! Congratulations.

Has it felt energized? Excited? Motivating? Or just really long after all those holiday vacation days off?

(Let's be okay with just admitting that it has kinda-sorta-really felt like both.)

I can recall just a few weeks ago, when I'd start the week out on a Monday morning and before I even realized it, it was Friday at 6pm and my partner was quietly prying me away from the computer and into the kitchen to make dinner (yes, I'm the cook).

Tonight, it feels like a Thursday.

Tomorrow will definitely feel like a Friday morning.

But it is good to be back at the desk. To be planning upcoming work travel. To be touching base with some of our favorite collaborators. To be jumping into new projects, with some new partners too (I'm talking about you, supercool LOCAL Theater Company).

One of my favorite things about the New Year--and the first full week back from the holidays--is to hear about how those end of year appeals went... to dissect what worked, and consider what could be improved. We know that matching gifts and language that focuses on the donor are important. But some of the nonprofit partners we work alongside moved beyond that, and employed some neat things to move the dial on their end of year gifts.

Here's a few things that we think worked, and are ideas you might consider as you look at your annual fund programs in 2016:

Mix your familiar voices with some new voices.
Yes, there are leaders within your organization that people will recognize--they are the people who they may know personally, respect from afar, and are the public face of the nonprofit. But don't forget that there are people on-the-ground who are meeting your mission every single day. Find a nice mix in your appeals (let's assume you are engaging your donors multiple times during the end of the year) of the familiar, and the new. One of my favorite appeals this year came from a staff member who sees firsthand the hardships--and the successes--of the people they serve.

Consider ways to put your message out in what I'll call non-traditional annual fund communication vehicles.
This is one of my favorite success stories! One nonprofit in particular that we work with had stories so powerful that they were not just able to share them in their traditional appeal mailings, but extended those stories through media pitches around their region. Feature stories and editorials followed, reinforcing key messages and stories that were also landing in mailboxes simultaneously. The timing couldn't have been better!

Make the reply device easy to send back.
A traditional remittance envelope included in the postal appeals make it easy to pull out of your package, write a check, and mail back to the nonprofit. Use the remittance as an opportunity to test stamps and no stamps to see the impact on overall giving. Print them in bulk to save on costs per piece, and use them throughout the year.

Plan--and implement--your end of year appeal before the end of year.
December 1 isn't the time to start thinking about your appeal. January 8 is (today!). Right now, sketch out what your annual appeal calendar looks like, the content you want to share, and the out-of-the-box ways you are going to infuse new life into your campaigns.

Build off donor events.
We've noticed that the end of year also often coincides with galas, special donor events, and more for many nonprofits. Ask yourself how you can leverage the momentum and excitement around your event to propel you into an end of year campaign. We noticed a trend this year that nonprofits that did this--and started their end of year communications in early- to mid-November were most successful meeting their goals. Plus, their events were great reasons to follow-up with supporters.

Giving Tuesday is also a great energizer for your end of year appeal.
There's something special about a national day of philanthropy--and when your Giving Tuesday campaigns complement your end of year appeals, it can be a dynamic duo that make a difference and brings in more support for your mission.

Turn your letter into a newsletter.
One year back, one of our clients designed a package that turned their traditional letter into a newsletter with vibrant photography and neat info-graphics that made the case for what they were asking for. A video they sent out on email (see below) and shared often on social media brought those info-graphics to life alongside comments from the people they support. The impact they were having was absolutely clear. The emotional connection was genuine. I remember reading and watching and thinking, "yes, yes, yes... this is something I want to support!"


Engage on social.
Your donors are on social media. They really are. First, find them. Then, thank them. Then, thank them again. Send direct messages of gratitude. Share information on the impact they're participation has on your organization. Ask them to give. Ask them to ask others to give. During a recent campaign we worked on, more people gave as a result of an engagement on social than any other communication vehicle leveraged during that particular annual fund campaign. But that takes work... a consistent, all-hours-of-the-day-and-night attentiveness to your followers.

What worked for your end of year appeals?