If you lead a nonprofit’s fundraising efforts, you can save time and assure success by creating a fundraising marketing calendar. It’s a simple strategic tool that can make any organization more effective and efficient as it raises money for its cause.
First, you make a list of all the ways you plan to reach out to supporters and potential supporters throughout the year. You choose dates for annual events like fundraisers. For various mailings, like an annual report or a fundraising letter, you pick a date when you want your mailing to land in supporters’ mailboxes or inboxes, then you work backward to figure out the various deadlines required to meet that final deadline.
It’s a logical, clear way to organize a multi-channel approach that will raise money and awareness and rally support for a charitable organization. So, why do so few nonprofits take the time to create such a calendar?
Maybe they don’t know where to start; perhaps developing a plan seems too daunting. Those who do it will say it is well worth the time and effort. They’ll also agree that the first year was the hardest but after they had that framework in place, it got much easier to create a calendar each year.
Put simply, this calendar is a schedule of all your fundraising activities– from fundraising letters and annual walkathons to newsletters and thank-you’s. The calendar not only shows target completion dates for these projects, but notes required deadlines along the way that result in a completed project.
Let’s use a quarterly newsletter as an example.
On your calendar, you would set deadlines for:
Result? Your newsletter arrives on time in mailboxes or email inboxes.
1. A calendar lets you can look ahead and plan your day, week, month and year. The same goes for a fundraising marketing calendar. If you are an office of one with many responsibilities beyond development, your fundraising marketing calendar will keep marketing priorities in front of you and give you focus. It will also remind you when you might need to call in extra help–a writer, a graphic artist, a marketing consultant, a printer, a direct mail expert. Many organizations find they need help on the digital marketing side.
2. If yours is an office of many, your marketing calendar can be a shared document that keeps everyone in the loop and on the same track. Thanks to the calendar, no one can claim they forgot that the annual fundraiser is two weeks away. There are fewer slip-ups and missed deadlines when the process is clearly mapped out on your calendar. If you manage staff from different generations, you might need to tweak your communication system.
3. Having tasks lined out, step by step, makes it easier to divide and conquer. Some staff are busier at certain times of the year; when someone’s load is lighter, they can jump in to help.
4. It is easy to look back and track all your “touches” with your organization’s audience. At the end of the year, you’ll be able to evaluate which communications were most effective and which need some tweaks.
5. A calendar not only shows super busy times, it can reveal times when there’s not much going on. You and your staff can decide ahead of time how you can take best advantage of these breathers. It might be a time to try something new – or not – or to have a mid-year or mid-quarter meeting so everyone can chime in on how things have gone so far and decide if anything needs to be tweaked for the rest of the year.
Gather your team two months before your fiscal year begins
Fiscal years are different from one organization to the next. If your FY runs January to December, get started on your planning in late October. If you have a July to June FY, get started in late April or early May. Pick a date a couple of months before your nonprofit’s fiscal year begins and get everyone together to talk about fundraising and the multiple marketing strategies you will employ in the coming year to raise monies.
Who should attend this planning session?
Fundraising is so critical that experts advise you get as many perspectives as you can during this meeting. Here’s who I would want at the table:
Depending on your organization, you might opt to hire outside help for part or all of your marketing plans. If your organization is small, you might need the extra hands. If it is large, with an ambitious fundraising plan, you might also need assistance on some aspects of implementation. If that is the case, it can be valuable to have these professionals on hand from the start:
What you should talk about as you plan your fundraising marketing strategy
Start with your goals. Most organizations have a strategic plan — goals they have set for the next 3, 5 or 10 years. Pull yours out; the most immediate goals can help your team determine where to put its marketing efforts.
Determine the top goals for marketing communications. It could be increasing donations to the annual fund by 10 percent, converting 8 percent of donors to monthly giving or increasing donors age 35 to 50 by 10 percent. As a nonprofit, your goals likely will include raising money, keeping the donors you have and attracting new supporters.
Discuss ways to reach those goals. Fundraising has always been multidimensional and has become even more so with the advent of social media. No one raises money by taking one route. Most nonprofits mail appeals, make phone calls and meet donors face-to-face. They also reach out via tweets, Facebook messages, email and video. There are definite advantages to employing multiple channels. For one, you will better reach a varied audience–communicating with a 25-year-old and a 75-year-old typically require different types of messaging. Also, even though you might have been very successful with fundraising using one method, such as an annual gala, it is unwise to put all the focus on single event or campaign. If your event or campaign goes bust, so does your fundraising effort. Multiple streams of charitable giving will keep the flow of donations continuous and diminish the risk of a funding drought.
Look at who you want to target. Chances are good that not every campaign you devise is appropriate for every donor or prospective donor. For example, donors with more means need to be targeted in a different manner and asked for larger gifts; older donors should be educated about ways to include your organization in their estate plans. The mailings you create for prospective donors might need to be different than mailings for your current donors.
Keep you message consistent.Even as you target different audiences, keep your messaging — both tone, copy and design — consistent. Consistency is essential in marketing.
What will you put on your fundraising marketing calendar? Here are some ideas. Your organization’s calendar won’t look like any other organization’s, but it will probably list some of the same kinds of marketing projects. Here are examples of marketing that most nonprofit organizations will produce during a year:
There are tons of templates and options; don’t reinvent the wheel. The good news about fundraising marketing calendars is that there are many, many templates out there. Check out some examples here and here. Don’t try to reinvent, instead, simply repurpose a calendar that already exists. What you do need to do is decide what format will work best for you and your organization. Your calendar doesn’t have to look like the “Cat of the Month” calendar that hangs in your office. It can be similar to an Excel document or a simple Word document. There are some factors to consider as you choose and modify a template like there are many advantages to choosing a calendar that can be shared among all staff. Also, an online version, versus print, can be easily shared and easily updated as deadlines and projects shift.
After you have brainstormed all the ways you are going to market to your varied audiences, it is time to start putting dates on your calendar. Mark down your hard deadlines, action deadlines, communication schedule and your donor retention strategy schedule. Viewing these dates as inflexible will keep you on-task, even if you have to make adjustments here and there. Keep your fundraising marketing calendar on-hand at every meeting.
Then, list the steps you need to take before and after each marketing project. You may need to train volunteers, get your materials ready, or hire a designer to create a campaign landing page.
Dates that will not move, your target dates, should be added first. It might even be a good idea, depending on the type of calendar format you choose, to put all of these dates in a certain color or typeface.
You’ll want to keep your fundraising marketing calendar close at hand as you go forward so that you can:
You might want to think about dropping projects that aren’t proving effective or add some new approaches, such as additional pushes via social media, to see what impact they will have. Remember, your calendar should evolve.
As you get ready to start work on your fundraising marketing calendar for next year, here are a few projects you might want to add to it:
Thank your donors many times — some say 7 is the magic number — and in multiple ways. A phone call from a board member, a personalized thank-you note, a thank-you letter or video from someone who benefits from your organization’s work. Make every thank you personal. Don’t resort to mass mailings that begin “Dear Donor.”
Take a look at holidays and special days that could inspire messages and events. For example, if curing cancer is your cause, plan a mailing or event for Feb. 4, World Cancer Day.
The beginning of the year is a great time to let your donors know through a newsletter
Mail supporters a newsletter but also post it on your home page and on Facebook.
Grow your donor list by sending an appeal to donors that are similar to those who support your organization now. Talk to a direct mail specialist about buying a mailing list of potential supporters. Make sure your current mailing list is up to date.
Through letters and phone calls, remind supporters who have fallen by the wayside -former board members for example — that their past support is appreciated and their future support is needed.
Develop educational materials to help donors understand the benefits of automated, monthly giving. The increased acceptance of online payments gives this automated means of donating increased appeal. Here are more ideas.
Produce a thank-you video that shows how donations are being used. Or, send a postcard that features a compelling photo of your organization’s good works. Telling your organization’s stories is a powerful way to build support.
Many of your supporters would likely include your organization in their will. Educate them about their options by sending a bequests brochure to those 60 and older.
How could you make those associated with your cause feel special? A summer time treat? Perhaps hook up with a local business for a discount on ice cream? Tours of your headquarters? Or picnics with volunteers and those you serve?
Everyone loves a story. Share stories about your donors, your volunteers or those you help. Publish them in your newsletter, post them on Facebook, make videos to share on social media.
Gear up and get ready for your end of the year fundraising push. Plan the elements of your campaign–letters, direct mail, phonathons. Make sure your online giving mechanism is up to speed, and works easily and efficiently. An online form that is difficult to use will discourage donors.
Hold your annual fundraising event–a walk, run, open house, gala.
Evaluate your annual events. Do you get enough bang for your buck? Are they building strong ties to your donors? If not, what changes could you make to create more effective events.
Review your social media strategy. Do you have a ‘donate now’ button on your page? Have you built a Facebook or Twitter following? Get ready for #GivingTuesday.
Mail your end-of-year appeal. Thank your donors for support and encourage them to donate again.
Be ready to thank your donors for their support. Create a welcome packet to educate, inform and enlighten new donors. It could include the most recent issue of your newsletter, a brochure that explains your organization, or an annual report.
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