Year-End Fundraising Hot Topic: To Set a Goal or Not to Set a Goal... - Heller Consulting

Year-End Fundraising Hot Topic: To Set a Goal or Not to Set a Goal…


To set a goal or not to set a goal, that is…one of the questions. As fundraisers, we know that there are some tried and true tactics the can help drive response and donor conversion in online campaigns.

The mother of all tactics is urgency. Urgent fundraising campaigns benefit from a few things:

  • A deadline
  • A real reason to give (other than you need money)
  • A hook into a real-world event or news tory that means money you raise now makes a big impact on that issue.

Your year-end fundraising campaign does have some urgency:

  • A December 31st deadline
  • A reason for giving (Tax-deductibility! All the great things we’ll do in 2015!)

But it may be lacking a bit in the “hook” department. When you add in a competition for donor dollars that only comes around once a year—it’s time to get creative and roll out every trick in the book to make your campaign compelling and urgent at year-end.

(Super busy right now? Skip down to “The Good Stuff” to get ideas and tips for setting goals right now for your year-end fundraising campaigns.)

As a fundraising consultant, we often recommend setting goals (strategically and thoughtfully of course) as a way to help boost donor response.

Goals do a couple things. They create a sense of community or a feeling for your donors that they are a part of something larger than what their $50 or $100 donation can provide. And they spur the competitive nature in all of us – how tempting is it to see that thermometer line almooooooooooost near the top and think, “oh, if I gave just a few dollars more, I could help them get there!”

But goals can be scary for organizations. And the #1 question I get asked when we’re talking about setting public-facing goals for year-end is: “What if we don’t reach the goal? How do we explain that to our donors?” Read on for how to answer that question and deal with some of the other sticky situations that come up when deciding if you’re going to set a public-facing fundraising goal.

The good stuff

How do I come up with a number for my fundraising goal?

I found that this question sparks the most debate and consternation at an organization. If you set a goal too small, won’t it seem too puny to be motivating? Too big and then it feels just unattainable. So how do you pick a number that motivates and inspires your donors, is realistic but also aspirational? To get there you need to actually start with your own numbers and past campaign metrics.

If you are a smaller organization that has raised a maximum of say $10,000 from an online campaign, maybe you look beyond a financial number and set the goal around number of new donors you’d like to get through your year-end campaign. You could even micro target, “We’re looking for 15 new donors in Chicago to give before December 31st.” Sometimes these very small numerical goals tied to a place or a particular segment of your file can be the best way to motivate giving when you are dealing with a smaller file and program.

If you are a larger organization with an established online fundraising program, going for the large number can be incredibly motivating and can be used throughout the campaign to inspire giving. I’ve worked with clients that have set goals of raising one million and up at year-end – and used every tactic at their disposal to keep promoting and pushing for that goal.

The best goal numbers of course are the ones that really mean something. If you raised $100,000 what could you do? How would it be different if you only raised $50,000? Why do you need your supporters to help you get there?

Still not sure how to set a goal? A good rule of thumb is to look at what you’ve raised for a robust campaign in the past, and then stretch a little for this one. You can also choose to introduce a public facing goal mid-campaign to breathe a little life into your fundraising efforts and allow you to set a smaller financial goal that feels more achievable.

And one last thing – do be prepared for the best-case scenario. Let’s say you set a goal and then REACHED IT by December 15th. What then? Many organizations will actually increase their fundraising goal – capitalizing on the tremendous feelings of success and goodwill that you can share with donors when their outpouring of support has meant you hit your goal early. Never be afraid to set a new bar mid-campaign (along with a reason you need to reach it) and then keep going!

Okay, so, really. What happens if we don’t reach the goal?

Despite our best efforts, it can happen. I’ve seen many organizations set a fundraising goal of $100,000 and no matter what, come up a little short in the end.

The key here is to do a little planning ahead of time to make sure you’ve got a message you are comfortable with should you not hit that goal.

The approach I usually advise is to focus on the positive and focus on thanking all of those who did support you through your campaign. Let’s say you set a $100,000 goal and only raised $83,000. Here’s one way to approach communicate back to your donors post-campaign:

“Thank you to all of our donors that contributed to our year-end campaign. In the end we raised a whopping $83,000 toward our goal! We couldn’t have done it without you!”

Notice a few things here:

  • It stayed positive and focused on the success ($83,000 is still awesome!)
  • It doesn’t mention or reinforce that the goal was actually $100,000
  • It’s authentic – thanking your donors one more time is always a good idea – even if you didn’t hit that magic number.

You can message even further from here to say all the things you will be able to do with that $83,000 that they helped raise and then move on.

Setting goals can be scary, but adding a little competition to your campaign will inspire your donors to give more. Even if you don’t reach that initial number, it shows that you were willing to go big for your cause.

Need help with your year-end campaign or establishing a public-facing goal? Heller Consulting can help! Give us a call or use our contact form on the side to find out more about our Digital Agency Services.