Does a Weekend End-of-Year Mean a Weak End-of-Year?

The last couple days of the year are often THE most important for a fundraising program. That’s when donors make their last-minute contributions before the tax deadline. But what happens when we can’t be certain our target audience will be sitting at their desks, ready to click a big, beautiful “donate” button on December 31?

What happens when the last day of the year falls on the weekend?

Last year, December 31 fell on a Saturday for the first time since 2011, and we at Blue State Digital noticed an unusual sluggishness on the final day of 2016. With December 31, 2017, falling on a Sunday, we looked at how our clients’ fundraising efforts performed last year compared to prior years to try to uncover the effects of a New Year’s Weekend on contributions — and how to counter them.

Our methodology

Our hypothesis was that December 31 falling on a Saturday reduced the number of gifts received by many fundraising clients (excluding outliers).

Because 2016 was an irregular year for many reasons, the question is more complex than “did we raise less money than we expected?” Comparing actual revenue to expected revenue for each client also would have introduced elements that are difficult to control for, like the stock market or the weather.

Instead, we identified a few key chunks of time in the calendar year and noted what portion of total end-of-year fundraising each chunk represented. We analyzed these ratios across clients and over the years.

What we found

We found that the share of gifts made on the 31st dropped for all but two of the fundraising clients we looked at, and this drop was not an extension of a broader trend toward earlier giving. Revenue is typically a little less consistent, but we saw this same trend for revenue in the vast majority of our clients.

While we generally saw year-over-year increases in December gifts, it does appear that the December 31 drop took a toll.

Contributions on 12/31 across clients have increased year-over-year in 2013, 2014, and 2015— but dropped in 2016.

How should you prepare?

  • Maximize non-December 31 moments. Send more email than you think you need to send on Giving Tuesday: Instead of two emails, try sending six.
  • Let the data guide you. Use predictive analytics to make sure you’re sending the strongest creative available.
  • Throw everything you’ve got at the last two days. If 12/31 falling on a weekend makes your competitors hesitant, you can stand out more than usual! Got a match? What about a triple match? Mention it in your subject lines and sender names — and don’t forget to play up the deadline.
  • Create new moments. Mid-December and early November don’t have to be dead zones. See if there is an event, international day, or another external hook you can fundraise around. If not, get creative and come up with your own — sometimes these moments can mean the extra funds you need to hit or exceed your goal.
  • Send to larger audiences. If you typically suppress inactives, mid-level donors, or special groups, consider strategically pulling them in. On your tentpole days (Giving Tuesday, Dec. 31, etc.), don’t be afraid to send to as large an audience as possible. If you’re concerned about spam, segment out your list over multiple sends. Send to your most actives first, and then your second tier a few hours later. And if you’re overly concerned about unsubscribes, don’t be — it’s OK if people don’t want to be on your list (unless you see the unsub rate skyrocket).
  • Drop your donor suppressions. If you typically suppress donors for, say, a month, drop those suppressions to two weeks, one week, or even just a few days. And when you do it, make sure you go out of your way to thank those donors for their recent gifts. (You might be surprised at how many people are willing to give again when they’re properly thanked).

The tips above should be used in addition to standard EOY best practices. Bring out your best senders, A/B test like crazy, remind previous donors that they should give again, surprise-and-delight with things like handwritten notes, use dynamic, customized graphicsthrow everything you’ve got at the last few days of the year.


Contributions to this post by Lauren Barth, Chris Coletta, Brenna Foster, Kaitlin Juleus, and Billy Silverman

Need more tips on your all-important EOY fundraising program? Our Analytics and Communications teams can help you out. Get in touch with us.