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Choosing media for your year-end fundraising campaign

This post is part of my year-fundraising series. This fall, you can follow along here to receive training and tools that will help you launch your own year-end fundraising campaign. The lessons I'm offering are best for small nonprofits (five or fewer employees). Ready for an amazing and successful Giving Season? Rock 'n' roll.


If you’re following along with the Merry Year-End Fundraising program, you now know:

  • With whom you need to communicate (partners, friends, acquaintances, and “friendly strangers”).

  • What you need to communicate (your message).

  • Why to communicate (your year-end fundraising goal)

Now it’s time to answer the question: Where will you communicate and how?

This is the media question.

Media (plural for “medium”) are what you use to send your message to your supporters.

Media are also what your supporters use to send their response.

Media “going” and “coming” are equally important to your year-end fundraising campaign.

So, by “media” I mean things like:

  • Email

  • Events

  • Face-to-face visits over coffee

  • Letters

  • Phone calls

  • Social media posts

  • Text messages

  • Web pages

By “media,” I also mean things like:

  • Online donation tools

  • Pledge cards

  • Return envelopes

  • Text-to-give

The media you choose make a big difference. Choose the best media for the people with whom you’re communicating and you can raise a lot of money for your small nonprofit.

Choose the wrong media and it can be like flushing energy, money, and time down the toilet.

Over many years of trial and (mostly) error, I came up with three rules of thumb for choosing media:

  1. Form follows function and function follows the path of least resistance.

  2. Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition.

  3. Choose your media based on cost-effectiveness

If you follow these rules of thumb when choosing media for your year-end fundraising campaign, you’ll raise more support and it will cost you less energy, money, and time.

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Rule #1: Form follows function and function follows the path of least resistance.

The function of your media is to make it easy and enjoyable for your supporters to give.

When choosing and designing your media for your year-end fundraising campaign, continually ask whether the media makes it easy and fast for your supporters to:

It is easy to confuse media with the message. The best media cannot do what a good message can do. You need to do the work to discover the right message. The last lesson/post was about letting your supporters design your message for you.

It is also easy to confuse media with the relationship you have with your supporter. The car you drive to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving is not your relationship with Grandma; it is merely the medium you use to enable you to have that relationship.

So many small nonprofits try to make media do things media are not meant to do. This is function following form. If you do the work to build relationships with your supporters and to find the message that means the most to them, you can let a medium be what it really is: The car you drive to Grandma’s house.

The form your year-end fundraising media take should follow their function. The function of your media is to be a path of least resistance for people to follow in support of your small nonprofit.

Again: Choose media that make it easy, fast, and fun for your supporters to understand, imagine, and take action.

Rule #2: Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition!

That’s “repetition” seven times. As in the number of times they say your supporters need to encounter your brand, message, or request before they take action. My experience backs this up.

On an average day, everyone you want to reach with your message is busy, distracted, and in a hurry. Multiply that by a hundred during the holidays. Not only are your supporters buying gifts, going to parties, and planning trips to visit their cousins in Cleveland, they are sorting through dozens of fundraising requests almost every day.

This is why the media you choose and how you choose to use it makes such a big difference.

Some small nonprofits go cute, flashy, or obnoxious with their media. I am against this for two reasons:

  1. “Cute, flashy, and obnoxious” often seems to equal “controversial, expensive, and time-consuming.” You end up spending a lot of energy, money, and time.

  2. “Cute, flashy, and obnoxious” may be a way to get a gift today, but it will also make it less likely you will get another one tomorrow. People don’t give to panhandlers because they like them; they give because they want the panhandler to go away. Don’t be a panhandler, which is another way of saying: Don’t be cute, flashy, or obnoxious.

So how do you get your supporters’ attention amidst the holiday hubbub?


Repetition does what “cute, flashy, and obnoxious” does, but better. Plus, anyone who has a happy long-term friendship or marriage knows that repetition is the stuff of good relationships.

If you consistently and quietly communicate a message or theme over and over and over again, your supporters will take notice...sometimes without noticing they are taking notice! Every time they see your brand or your theme their brain makes a mental note of it--even if they don’t consciously notice it.

Repetition works if your message harmonizes with the message supporters are telling themselves as they go about their daily lives. As I said in the last lesson/post, you need to know the stories your supporters are telling themselves about themselves. Who do they want to be? What do they want to be true about themselves? If you know this, you know what messages they seek in their surroundings to affirm the messages in their minds.

This is how you turn your message from something that interrupts into something your supporters actually seek out and want more. You don’t have to be cute, flashy, or obnoxious. You’re not so much looking for your supporters as they are looking for you.

That’s when repetition works best.

Here’s an example: I bring my wife flowers at work a few times a year. Special? Yes, but it doesn’t mean as much to her as the little things I do for her each day. What if I brought her flowers on her birthday and our anniversary, but I stopped saying “I love you”?

My wife doesn’t notice that I don’t bring her flowers 363 out of 365 days a year, but she notices if I don’t say “I love you” at the end of a phone call or when she’s leaving for work in the morning. No amount of flowers could make up for not saying “I love you” every day.

Ask yourself: How can I say “I love you” to my supporters every day--several times a day--during my year-end fundraising campaign? What media can I use to do that?

The beauty of running a small nonprofit in 2017 is that you have access to cheap, easy media that allow you to communicate with your supporters almost nonstop.

A final note on repetition: The wrong kind of repetition is obnoxious. I’m talking about posting an ask for money on Facebook every two hours for six straight weeks. Nobody likes a panhandler. Eventually, people will tune you out (and mark you for life).

Each repetition of your message needs to be a gift to the person who receives it. It needs to be a little “I love you.” Who doesn’t want to hear that as they go about their daily grind?

Figure out a way to use all of the media at your disposal to plan for a lot of repetition during your year-end fundraising campaign. Make sure you are repeating a theme that gives 80 percent of the time and asks 20 percent of the time.

That brings us to...

Rule #3: Choose your media based on cost-effectiveness

When choosing media, I stick to this maxim: The bigger the gifts, the greater the probability of success, and the more personal the relationship, the more energy, money, and time I’m willing to put into media.

Likewise, the smaller the gifts, the lower probability of success, and the less personal the relationship, the less energy, money, and time I’m willing to spend on media.

So as a rule, I invest most energy, money, and time in media that help me communicate with partners and friends. I spend as little energy, money, and time as I can on media that communicate with acquaintances and strangers.

That is why I start every campaign asking who are my partners, friends, acquaintances, and friendly strangers? Knowing who is in each group helps me decide how much energy, money, and time I’m going to spend on communicating with them. One of the biggest mistakes I see over and over again in small nonprofits is spending big energy, money, and time on groups (acquaintances and strangers) that have a very low probability of a good response to the ask. Big nonprofits can get away with this under the right circumstances and planning; it’s never a good idea for small nonprofits.

So if you know who is in each supporter group (partners, friends, acquaintances, and friendly strangers) and you know what media you have available to you, you can plan which media you will use to communicate with each group. Partners, being partners, deserve and expect media that cost more energy, money, and time. For example, I’ll invest two hours and the cost of lunch at a nice restaurant in a partner; I would never do that for a mere acquaintance (unless I had reason to believe she had the desire and the means to become a partner).

I rely on easy, low-cost, low-risk media to communicate with acquaintances and friendly strangers. Email, free publicity, and social media are good examples. You are trying to give them many opportunities (repetition, remember?) to make a gift that would move them up into the friends or partners groups. Until they make that gift, however, minimize your risk by keeping the cost of media as low as you can.

So, in general use easy, low-cost, low-risk media to repeat your message/theme over and over again--especially when you’re communicating with acquaintances and friendly strangers. Save media that cost more energy, money, and time for partners and friends, but make sure you are certain that they will give enough to pay you back several times over for what you put into the media. If you put $10,000 and 100 hours (estimate $3,000 worth of time) into planning an event for partners and friends, make sure you know you can get at least $40,000 from it (three times the $13,000 in money and time you put in).


The media you choose can break your year-end fundraising campaign or make it, but don’t mistake media for the message or relationships. The success of your campaign is really all about how well you connect at an emotional and personal level with your supporters. When you choose the right media--media that make it easy, fast, and fun for your supporters to understand, imagine, and take action--you set your year-end fundraising campaign up for success. But be careful: “Cute, flashy, and obnoxious” only makes you a panhandler. Rely on cheap, easy media (email, free publicity, social, and some events) to repeat your message/theme over and over again. Make sure your message/theme is a gift to your audience 80 percent of the time and an ask only 20 percent of the time. Invest more expensive media in supporters who are likely to give you enough to make three times what you put into the media. Use the easiest and most affordable media to reach out to supporters who are less likely to give or give much.

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