Creative and brand strategy, Data science and analytics, Email strategy, Digital strategy, Fundraising, SMS strategy

End-of-Year Giving 2021 Final Report: Charitable Giving Up 60%

Is there an act as hopeful as making a donation to a nonprofit trying to make the world a little better? For our money, the answer’s no – and if their contributions are an indicator, it’s a sentiment shared by people donating to our partners.

Year-end giving in 2021 was up massively over the prior year, owed to new approaches to audience building, the ascent of a new channel (How’s that for a teaser?!) and, yes, that most central of all reasons to give: hope.

Our nonprofit partners spent the year-end giving season pushing to prevent disease, end gun violence, stave off climate crisis, save vulnerable lives, and change the world for the better. They did it all with a mix of deeply engaging content that paired our tried-and-true best practices with new innovations. And when all was said and done, they were part of an effort that raised:

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers at the core of our 2021 end-of-year results:

One of the first ways we’ll apply 2021 learnings to next year’s creative and strategy is by checking our benchmarks. Here are some of the data points we’ll be comparing against – and improving upon – when planning for end-of-year 2022:

Now that the year-end fundraising push is in the rearview mirror (congrats!) and planning is underway for the year to come, our End-of-Year Report will give you the opportunity to look at your results alongside those of other leading nonprofits, and shed light on the trends and patterns that can inform your 2022 fundraising plans. Dig in:

Gift Distribution Across the End-of-Year Season

Analysis of end-of-year data reveals some telling trends in giving behavior – and nonprofit messaging strategy! – over time.

In 2021, our nonprofit partners broadly saw a higher percentage of their revenue from email come in on days outside of Giving Tuesday and Dec. 31 when compared to 2020:

An uptick in use of tactics like “missed goal” messages in the days after Giving Tuesday, for example, likely contributed to this trend. We also increasingly work with our nonprofit partners to ensure that they make their own moments ahead of the last chance to generate end-of-year revenue – and put less fundraising pressure on the 31st. For some, mid-month and holiday messaging was a major difference-maker when it came to reaching and exceeding end-of-year goals!

One of our nonprofit partners saw their “holiday reflection” message raise nearly as much as the top performer in the end-of-year email series. Another saw a third-week-in-December campaign drive massive revenue.

Moments outside of the highest-volume days for email and other messaging give organizations the opportunity to communicate with less competition. This doesn’t mean you need to or should lower your volume on the biggest days of the year.

We’ve been in your shoes, and we always worry about burning out audiences – but we can tell you that if you’re able to find meaningful ways to authentically communicate with your audience on other days that still hold the urgency of the impending year-end (holidays, tax deadlines, etc.), it can pay off big time. Of course, always keep in mind best practices for your messaging itself. And remember that at the end of the day, your audience cares about your mission and they want to hear from you!

You know your program best – consider what makes sense for your community, but don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and communicate a little bit extra during this window.

The SMS Difference

If your organization isn’t all in on SMS yet, it is officially the time to evaluate its place in your direct marketing landscape. Our nonprofit partners that made SMS a big part of their end-of-year fundraising strategy saw a big payoff.

One organization incorporated SMS into their EOY plans for the first time in 2021, and it contributed massively to a 78% YoY increase in revenue. With competition in inboxes getting more and more prevalent each year, diversifying channels for end-of-year messaging has never been more important.

Nearly 100% of SMS messages are opened and read. SMS offers organizations the chance to meet donors where they are and make their case.

Another nonprofit partner has seen SMS contribute an increasingly large share of overall EOY revenue over time:

In particular, peer-to-peer SMS drove strong revenue in few sends; for one program, one peer-to-peer message drove more revenue than the top performing emails for that organization’s Giving Tuesday campaign. (And for this organization, that’s really saying something!)

SMS strategy doesn’t have to be convoluted. For many of our nonprofit partners, iterations of top-performing emails shorten the path to strong SMS creative – and to end-of-year success across a variety of platforms.

Increasing Revenue With Fewer Sends

We hear and see it every year: Volume is up, and competition for attention in inboxes and across the web is tougher than ever before.

That held true when we crunched the numbers across the organizations we work with:

While we collaborated with some clients to strategically add volume to power huge gains in EOY performance, we took a different approach with several other nonprofit partners. And we saw something incredible across a few organizations: We were able to increase overall EOY revenue raised while decreasing the volume of messages sent.

One nonprofit lowered email volume during the last week of the year by –8% and still raised +40% more than they did over that same time period in 2020.

By thoughtfully and precisely utilizing best practices and learnings from extensive testing throughout 2020 and 2021, and incorporating those insights during the final stretch, this nonprofit was able to serve its audience content and tactics we tested into – without overwhelming them with volume and adding to the “noise.”

That Personal Touch

Personal touches often led to huge revenue this end-of-year giving season. Tactics like supporter records succinctly and visually created a sense of personal responsibility and one-to-one connection with audience members – and nonprofits saw it significantly improve their metrics.

Other methods of creating that connection included Spotify-wrapped-style messages with “your year in giving” messaging, and specialized subject lines that display the audience member’s “date joined” or “date of previous gift.”

When competition in inboxes is at an all-time high, the importance of that first impression – the almighty subject line – shouldn’t be underestimated!

Communicating Impact = Big Wins

When it comes to creative, a strategy that stood out among the myriad messages we all received in December was the powerful statement-of-impact.

Standard wisdom might tell you that EOY is a time to lean almost entirely on tactical and urgent messaging. And that can be true! But through comprehensive testing, you might find, like we did with some of our partners, that certain audiences are driven to urgent action by longer or more narrative messages that make a strong compelling case for the incredible impact of each donation.

Audiences responded particularly strongly to messages that directly connected their gift to the impact it would have in innovative ways. One international aid organization saw an 80% increase in revenue from their mid-level program YoY – and it was messages that leaned on telling the story of the impact of each gift that drove those increases.

This might not come as a surprise or revelation to you – but it should give you a little boost to do some brainstorming for 2022 around what new ways impact statements can show up in your messaging this year.



Quick Hits: More Big Strategic Wins

Paid Search

Our nonprofit partners that invested in paid search ads during end-of-year saw them pay off bigtime.

One major international aid organization saw an immediate return on their paid search ad spend 201% higher than their return at EOY 2020. Another nonprofit saw a return on their paid search ad spend of 1,300% in December.


Our list-growth solution contributed to some major goal-smashing as well. One nonprofit co-op member saw all of their pre-Giving Tuesday list purchases pay back on average 116% by the end of the year – way outpacing return from other sources. At a time when reliable list growth is more crucial than ever, those kinds of returns can’t be ignored!

End-of-Year Giving Trends

Top Fives!

That’s 2021’s year-end giving season, all wrapped up! Of course, we could share many many more insights and takeaways, especially when you consider the stats on emerging platforms, website giving, and fixed-cost acquisition. But for now, thanks for reading along as we broke down the year-end in digital fundraising. Stay tuned for more reporting as we find new milestones and data to analyze!

Psst – in the meantime, have you signed up for our weekly nonprofit newsletter, Recurring? Join the list now to get regular updates sent straight to your inbox! And if you want to have a one-on-one conversation with one of our expert strategists about data, tactics, or how we might be able to help you optimize your digital program – reach out at [email protected].

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