Year-end Productivity: An Oxymoron for Nonprofits?

Dec 9, 2020

We know what year-end is like. While for many nonprofits, the heavy year-end fundraising season begins as soon as the weather starts turning cooler, there’s that magical, special time between the Thanksgiving and MLK Day when all hell breaks loose.

As nonprofit sector experts, we’re often asked things like ‘how do organizations get anything done during the holidays?’ and ‘what do other organizations do to not get overwhelmed and to stay ahead of the curve’? The truth is, it’s a hectic but exciting time of year. There is a lot of work, but it also means that contributions from new and existing donors are coming, that your mission is important to a lot people, and that you’ll have the opportunity to re-engage with and retain these donor relationships going into the next year.

In addressing these questions and concerns, what made the most sense was to reach back out into the field, into the fundraising and data management trenches, and get input and feedback directly from those of you who are living this day-to-day and who have lived through it in the past. Members of the Omatic family – nonprofit organizations that process a lot of data year-round and especially at year-end – are certainly the best equipped to share their secrets to boosting and maintaining productivity during that magical, special, year-end nonprofit season.

From the Centennial State: ‘Plan ahead’ For The Holiday Giving Rush

Meet Rachel Bailey, the database administrator at Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver. The input that we received from Rachel was among some of the best we got, and consistent with the best-practices used among the greater Omatic family. We’re so grateful to Rachel – and everyone else who provided input – and so we’re happy to let her speak in her own words:

‘Plan ahead for increased gift processing,’ says Rachel. ‘When it comes to year-end giving, everyone always focuses on gift officers and direct marketers, which is great. But with gifts flying in, it’s a crucial time for the data entry and administrative staff in your development office too, especially during a global pandemic.’

Absolutely true! Everyone works hard during the year-end push, and both sides of the fundraising house – the development ‘front line’ and the development services team supporting them – need to think and work intentionally, knowing that every minute is precious – and that reasonable downtime is just as important as all of that up-time.

So below are a few suggestions from Rachel. Not only does her advice make sense, but it also validates that a lot of what we’re already doing is on the right track.

Personalized Donor Engagement: ‘Create appeal-specific donation pages for more accurate analysis of online giving’

If you segment your year-end email solicitations into different appeals and packages, and if your online giving platform supports it, create unique donation pages that correspond to each different appeal, package, or audience segment, rather than sending everyone to the same donation page. The pages themselves don’t need to look or work differently, but it will be much easier – read: much more time-efficient – to analyze by segment if members of different segments click through to unique donation pages.

If this strategy is too late for year-end 2020, think about testing it in 2021 so that you’ve perfected your approach by next fall.

‘Collect mail from the post office after holiday closures’

In a recent posting in the AFP Connect open forum, a poster stated that her organization still gets the vast majority of year-end contributions in the mail by check. We need to remember that while online giving has grown by more than 75% over the past eight years, a majority of donors still use the postal service to deliver their year-end contributions, especially to organizations that run direct mail campaigns and include remittance envelopes with their coded reply slips.

Post office workers work when the post office is closed, and put in even longer hours during the holiday season. For that reason, it makes sense – if possible – to collect mail from your post office box even when the post office itself is closed. If you can collect even a small number of envelopes rather than waiting for the next delivery, your gift processing can stay ahead of the game.

‘Open and sort big batches of mailed donation checks’

Opening and sorting the mail in advance, and creating relevant batches of checks for processing before you actually start batch entry, can really increase efficiency. While no two organizations have the same batch entry and gift entry procedures, this pre-process can give you the opportunity to arrange and classify the checks for the most efficient data entry for your setup. For example, donor gifts can be sorted by gift or payment type, fund or designation, deposit destination, or anything else that will make batch/gift entry or reconciliation more efficient. And when gifts get processed more efficiently, acknowledgments will get out the door on a timelier basis as well.

‘Cross-train additional staff and volunteers for (remote) gift entry’

The year-end surge is a great time of year to train additional staff who, of course, could then be used as back-up for other high-volume times of the year (eg, events), or to cover during vacations, maternity leaves, etc. One practical way to divide the labor is to task the surge-support team members with the most basic, straightforward gifts – which tend to be high volume – and assign the experienced team members to those transactions that are more complex: pledges, pledge payments, matching gifts, tributes, imports from third-party systems, etc.

Training volunteers may work in some organizations but it may not be right in others. Only you know if that’s viable for your team during the year-end gush. Another member of the Omatic family uses a combination of staff and volunteers year-round, so it was not unreasonable to ask the experienced volunteers to come into office for an additional shift or two at holiday time and help with additional volume. (Pre-COVID.)

COVID, of course, puts an entirely different spin on things. So many nonprofits have needed to cut back their volunteer programs overall, including volunteers for admin support. And working from home may not be a viable option for volunteers, since they are probably not required to have the IT infrastructure on their computers as required by employees. All that said, it doesn’t hurt to ponder on ways that you can make effective use of volunteers in ways that are safe – both from COVID and from an IT security standpoint – and that can help you through the year-end fun.

‘Send gift acknowledgments electronically when you can, and limit the number of people handling the letters when you can’t’

Sending gift acknowledgments electronically, even a pdf of a standard acknowledgment letter by email, can reduce effort, reduce cost (both for paper and for postage), and – in a world of where donors are managing through COVID like everyone else – reduce the amount of postal pieces that they receive and have to handle.

For those donors who require that a paper acknowledgement be mailed to them, can that be the responsibility of a single team member (perhaps with a single back-up when necessary)? Not only does that help ensure process consistency, but it allows others on the team to focus on helping get through the volume, so that gifts can be banked and donors thanked as expediently as possible.

Major gift officers typically will send their own thank you letters to donors, especially those with whom they have ongoing and long-term relationships. This may be the one year where those special, relational communiques are done first by phone and then followed up with email, except under the most compelling circumstances.

‘Create and test your ImportOmatic profiles ahead of time’

Habitat for Humanity in Denver has been using ImportOmatic for a number of years, and so they’ve been through this before. If you use Omatic software at your nonprofit, it’s a good idea to ensure that your import profiles are working properly ahead of time so that you are prepared for high volume and can expedite data entry. Some organizations are especially dependent on – and grateful for – Omatic solutions during the holiday rush. Some have import profiles that are only used at holiday time that support special holiday appeals and corresponding donation pages – they should be dusted off, tested, and at the ready. But whatever data import tool you use, make sure that it’s properly working and ready to go before the surge hits and the volume becomes overwhelming.

‘Block off chunks of time on your calendar for gift processing’

A simple concept, but profound in its practicality. Most development services team members wear more than one hat, and data-entry / data importing is just one among several responsi-bilities. So carve time out on your calendar to ensure that you can be as efficient as possible – and for some that means closing email, closing IM, and closing your internet browser so that you can remain focused and use those blocks of time to the very greatest advantage. So many people block time on their calendars, then don’t use it as they intended, and they get stressed when their workload leads to evenings and weekends. Don’t let that happen to you; no doubt you’ll need your downtime this year more than ever.

Thank you, Rachel

Thanks to Rachel Bailey and everyone else who responded to Omatic’s request for feedback on how to remain productive at this most wonderful time of the year. These are good, solid tips – and, in fact, they can be used year-round, especially for those nonprofit organizations that have high-volume or surge periods during other seasons.

Omatic wishes every social good organization all the best as we bring this challenging year to a close, wrap up fundraising for 2020, and set our sights on 2021. Omatic prides itself on helping with data health and data integration needs for nonprofit organizations, and on deploying technical solutions that ensure nonprofits can keep their data current, clean, and complete. Please let us know how we can help you this holiday season or in the New Year.

About Rachel:

Rachel Bailey is the Database Administrator at Habitat of Humanity of Metro Denver, where she has worked for the past seven years. Prior to that, Rachel worked at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and at the Children’s Museum of Denver. Rachel is a detail-oriented and customer-focused administrative professional with extensive experience engaging underserved populations and external partners in nonprofit and educational environments. Her strengths include communication, relationship building, problem solving, and teamwork. Rachel has degrees in Anthropology and Spanish from the University of Denver, and also studied internationally at the University of Salamanca and the University of Leicester.

Stu Manewith, CFRE
Stu Manewith, CFRE joined Omatic Software six years ago and serves as the company’s Director of Thought Leadership and Advocacy. In that role, he is Omatic’s nonprofit sector domain specialist and subject-matter expert and is responsible for actively promoting and demonstrating Omatic’s position as the nonprofit industry’s leading partner in the areas of data health and integration. Prior to Omatic, Stu spent 13 years at Blackbaud, working with Raiser’s Edge, Financial Edge, and Blackbaud CRM client organizations as a consultant, solution architect, and practice manager. Previously, Stu spent the first half of his career as a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, and finance director, working in both the healthcare and arts/cultural arenas of the nonprofit sector. He holds business degrees from Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, and he earned his CFRE credential in 1999.