Year-End Giving Tips for Higher Ed Marketers

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and the most stressful. We’re referring not to the holiday season, but to year-end fundraising season! Blackbaud says one-third of U.S. charitable giving happens in the last three months of the year, with most of that money coming in during December.

Our wish for higher ed marketers is that you have your most successful year-end giving campaign yet! Use these three tips this season and you’ll be sure to start 2019 on the right financial foot.


End-of-year fundraising campaigns need to have a clear message, a clear value proposition, and a clear ask in order to succeed.

Clearly define a problem that your donors can solve. An individual donor probably won’t give enough to create a scholarship, but maybe their contribution would pay for a needy student’s textbooks or a struggling student’s therapy session. A problem that feels too big or too abstract isn’t one that will inspire the average donor.

To make your value proposition clear, tap into the positive emotions your donors feel toward your institution. Most are alumni who cherish the memories they made in school. Share compelling stories (above and beyond the stories you tell the rest of the year) in which donors made something great possible. It’ll remind donors why they fell in love with your school in the first place and encourage them to help current and future students create the same kinds of memories.

Remember that clarity doesn’t equal long-windedness. Make your messages short and conversational, and use bolding, italics, bullets, and indents so your messages are easy to read.

Once you are clear about what you want and why donors should give it to you, don’t make the actual giving hard. Make your call to action the star of each piece, whether it’s a big, bright “donate now” button in an end-of-year fundraising email or on your website, or a bolded, expertly crafted line at the end of a fundraising letter.


You have to be bold and innovative to cut through all the other messages people are bombarded with this time of year. Be sure your messages convey a sense of urgency. It’d be easy for people to toss them in a pile (or avoid clicking on them) until the new year, but it’s your job to prevent that. Let them know you need their help now.

Increase the number of messages you send. Even during the busy holiday season, nonprofits generally send significantly fewer emails than retailers do, making it more likely that those end-of-year fundraising emails will be lost amid ads for shoes and toys. Shoot for three end-of-year fundraising emails per week to increase the chance that someone will open one, read it, and donate.

Try a postcard instead of, or in addition to, a letter. It’s easier to read, which is important when you’re competing with so many fundraising letters, not to mention all those holiday cards.

Step up your social media game. Post lots of photos and short videos to grab people’s attention and inspire them to give. Get alumni involved. People trust their friends and family more than they trust brands. In fact, according to Blackbaud, one in four fundraising emails from a P2P fundraiser lead to a donation, versus one in 2,500 fundraising emails from an organization. So having alumni serve as social media ambassadors, amplifying your message to their followers, is a huge asset. Center your efforts around Giving Tuesday, which occurs on Dec. 1 this year.


Remember that your institution’s main marketing goal is enrolling students. Most nonprofits turn their whole home page into a donation page in December. They can do that because fundraising is their main marketing goal. You need to be more judicious: Prominently feature a link to your giving page on your website’s home page, but make sure that the page still, first and foremost, appeals to and serves prospective students.

Getting a student to enroll will bring in much more money in the long run than the average year-end gift, so your outreach to prospective students, via your website, social media, email, and direct mail needs to continue – regardless of what the calendar says.

Contact us to learn how Lightstream can help you make your end-of-year giving wishes come true!