Too often, planning is relegated to the “when I’ve finished everything else” pile. We’re too busy raising money for today or tomorrow to plan what we need to do next week, next month — or even next year — to cover those as-yet-unseen needs.
End results? Last-minute stress, less-than-perfect outcomes and lost opportunities.
This first week of January, resolve to make things different in 2012. Maybe you can’t stop everything and take hours for planning, but try to take a few minutes to read this article and apply these steps over the next few weeks.
Step 1: Identify everything you need and want to do
Although unexpected things come up (natural disasters that affect our work, challenge grants, etc.), a lot of our fundraising year can — and should — be determined in advance. Consider the cycles in your nonprofit — times when your needs expand or natural times to appeal for support (i.e., back-to-school for a nonprofit that provides tutoring) — as well as holiday times when giving tends to surge.
List everything you should do to take advantage of those peak times (and the not-so-peak times between them). Direct mail, e-mail, newsletter, e-news, blogs, events, newspaper ads, online advertising, telemarketing, major-donor mailings, and on and on.
Finally, before moving on to Step 2, set goals for each activity on your list. Separate the fundraising from the “friend-raising” events. You may choose to do some things that won’t really raise money; that’s fine, as long as you (and the rest of your organization) have correct expectations for the results.
Step 2: Sort these ‘to-do’s’ by audience
Depending on your nonprofit, you are (or should be) receiving income from a mix of individuals, foundations, corporations, churches, community groups, etc. Some of those may be finer-tuned, such as major individual donors, middle-level individual donors, event-attending individual donors and monthly support individual donors.
By sorting fundraising activities by audience (and yes, some activities will be under numerous audiences), you identify groups that are going to be underserved unless you go back to Step 1 and identify more points of communication for them. You may also see a group or two that will feel deluged unless you rethink your strategy.
Real-life example: One nonprofit I supported (note past tense) sent me 74 e-mails in a year — up to four a week. When I asked about it, the organization said it was a result of several departments having access to the e-mail donor list. That’s no excuse; someone ultimately should have been in charge so this kind of abuse couldn’t occur.
Step 3: Schedule completion dates
Identify the dates when your letters will drop (be put in the mailbox), your blogs will post, your e-mails will be sent, your events will occur, etc. If scheduling to the specific date seems too overwhelming, at a minimum schedule everything in the week it will complete. A direct-mail package, for example, feels much more like a real project if you know it needs to mail the second week of April rather than “sometime” in April.
Step 4: Look for the holes — in audience or timing
Review your calendar showing projects and audiences, and see if there are blocks of time when you may be neglecting a donor group. If so, add additional communications (or expand your audience for ones already identified). Your goal is for your donors to hear from you enough that they feel connected, but not so much that they feel ambushed by your nonprofit. Also, you want to give them variety in communications; boring your donors is never wise.
Step 5: Build out the schedule and make assignments
Quick, before you lose your planning momentum, create a schedule showing key due dates for every major step along the way: planning meetings, copy due, copy approval (and by whom), design due, to the printer (if a hard-copy piece), in the mail or the e-mail sent, etc.
This is when you have to have a large dose of reality. If your president insists on approving all copy and she expects a minimum of a week to do so, schedule accordingly. If your board chair wants to be part of the event planning and his calendar is almost impossible to work around, you need to extend your lead times. If you are taking a vacation for two weeks this summer, you have the luxury right now to plan the calendar to allow you to take that time off because your projects are on schedule.
Finally, be sure you assign the key person responsible for each activity. If you want blogs posted every Wednesday, who is responsible to write them or solicit them from others, and then make sure they are posted? Who will lead the process to get your direct-mail letter in the mail, and the follow-up e-mail sent a week or two later?
One of my favorite sayings is, “Hope is not a strategy.” By planning your fundraising activities for 2012 before Jan. 20, you’ll not only have more opportunities to raise money; you’ll also have the stamina to rise to the challenge when the unexpected comes up and you need to pull out all the stops to respond.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.