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Year-end fundraising and high-end ‘cuspers’

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Jennifer Vaughan Paquette

Jennifer Vaughan Paquette

[Publisher’s note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

Jennifer Vaughan Paquette

It’s that time of the year, fellow fundraisers – time to draft that perfect case (what resonated last year?), polish it to perfection (via committee, of course), maybe add a little  swag (bennies) and get the end-of-year solicitation letter out the door in time to compete with every other nonprofit mailing to your donors at that same exact time.

We all know the tricks of the trade – a sympathetic message, a sense of urgency, or maybe we go warm-and-fuzzy this year?

As a seasoned fundraiser, I’ll admit that I can get bored with things that come across my threshold at this time of year, and I rarely respond to many of these requests these days.

I comb through everything sent my way, and then determine that I may not be motivated the way the others must be.

I much prefer the Valentine’s Day asks I get from a tiny, volunteer-run cat shelter in Massachusetts (I’m not even from there – just impressed with their creativity and a strong belief in their mission).

Another nonprofit that sends an e-mail just before Mother’s Day with that most convenient request for a gift in honor of Mom – that’s the type of gift that makes me feel great every year.

Year-end is a whole other story.

I like to take this opportunity to strategically and thoughtfully reach out to my top supporters and other friends and think through what motivates each to give to my cause.

Is it purely philanthropic? Or might there be some special, unique privileges that my organization offers my top donors?  How about an invite to that benefactor’s dinner we throw each spring to bring our top supporters together and share how their generous investments have paid off?

I know for sure there are folks who would be very disappointed to not receive an invite to this special dinner simply because their annual giving was off by a few hundred dollars this year.

You know – the “cuspers” – their giving totaled $4,700 last year and the Benefactor’s Dinner invite requisite starts at $5,000.

Just after Thanksgiving, I try to identify these friends and reach out via a hand-written note or a chatty phone call, whichever is most appropriate, simply to share genuine appreciation of their year-to-date giving and provide some yummy details about next year’s dinner.

And of course, I mention how we’d absolutely hate to not see them there next year.  You would be amazed at how appreciative donors are when they receive this call.

Important note – be sure to shake up the venue, entertainment, host, etc. each year to ensure that folks are excited to return from year to year.  Do not, I repeat, do not expect people to return for what seems like a dry, boring Ground Hog’s Day event each year.

If I’m making a phone call, I like to use this time to find out if they might have anyone special in mind they’d like to sit with (no promises of course!).  Even if it’s early December and our dinner is not until May – this gives great clues as to who they might be friendly with.  Or more importantly, who they might like to meet, be introduced to, spend time getting to know, etc.

It also gives you more time to make those types of preparations well in advance of the event.

I record these requests as “relationships” in my database and make any additional notes that might come in handy for either me or my colleagues in the future.

These techniques, just like all other fundraising techniques, do not work across the board. So consider what might work for you – maybe it’s just noticing folks who are on the cusp of simply being listed as a “Fancy Pants” in this year’s annual report or on your website.

Your donors support you for so many reasons – and most of them enjoy recognition and appreciation for their ongoing support. Identify your top “cuspers” and carve out time to reach out to them personally before it’s too late.


Jennifer Vaughan Paquette, CFRE, is a CRM Enterprise Solutions Consultant at Blackbaud.

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