While summer is a few weeks off as far as the calendar is concerned, the recently observed Memorial Day holiday in the United States unofficially kicks off summer in most Americans’ minds. (My non-U.S. readers are welcome to use this excuse or any other they can come up with.) For many workers in nonprofit organizations, the much-anticipated vacation seems like it will actually become reality, and “summer hours” may be a perk you enjoy.
Well, I hate to be the one to dispel your excellent mood, but summer is also a great time to roll up your sleeves and dig into the work of fundraising that will make the next several months even better. So, take your vacation, enjoy your weekends, raise a glass of iced tea in gratitude for the sunshine—and make time for these important, but often overlooked, summer activities.
Visit your program, literally or as best you can. We’re fundraisers. Our work takes us to the office, on donor visits and to events. But make sure it also takes you to “ground zero”—the place where a donor’s money is being invested. That may be a children’s center, a forest, a courtroom—the possibilities are endless. But reconnecting with the reason you do what you do is essential to keep the passion for the work, and it’s your passion as much as your techniques that compel donors to be part of the project. If you can’t go onsite, do the next best thing. Set up a call with some field workers and ask them to tell you what’s got them excited and what’s holding them back. Re-watch your company videos. Reread the stories that have come in during the last year—even those that were not usable for your fundraising—and see what is making your field workers excited.
Review your resources. While you’re reconnecting with the projects, take time to inventory your photos and stories. Do you already have what you will need for the next several months of storytelling and fundraising? If not, start asking now. Waiting until you are desperate can mean that you have to settle for “good” instead of holding out for “great.” What’s the photo you always wanted but never get? Can you find a stock photo online that you can point to and say, “This is the look I want. Can you authentically replicate that at the project?” Are there stories that seem to never get told because no one has the time to write them down? Brainstorm with your staff how you can capture those stories, and excite them so much about the potential value of a great story that they make getting resource for you a priority for their summer.
Go through your sample file and get inspired. You’ve been putting aside direct mail and email that caught your eye, that was especially effective in making a case, or that did a particularly good job in screaming to be read. Go through those now and weed out the ones that have lost their shine over the months, then closely review the others to see what it is that makes them stand out. What takeaways can you incorporate into your own program? If you don’t have a sample file (both electronic and paper for mailings—unless you are one of those overachievers who scans everything), do two things:
- Make today the day you begin your sample file. No more excuses. Figure out how to get your hands on other people’s fundraising; this will probably mean making some small donations but you’ll be thankful come next tax season—and every time you look at a letter or email you receive from those organizations and it triggers your next great fundraising idea.
- Check out Who’s Mailing What! for the nonprofit e-appeals and direct mail letters they have scanned and have available. Ones for donor acquisition are often “controls,” meaning they are mailed over and over—a sign not of a lazy fundraiser, but of one who has found something that works and knows that you can successfully use it again and again until you find something that does better. In all cases, look at the piece and ask, “Is there something here that could be adapted for us?” If not, move on to the next one.
Plan your year-end fundraising campaign. There are 186 days until 2016—186 days to make 2015 your most successful fundraising year ever. One-hundred-and-eighty-six days to build deeper relationships with donors that will not only make 2015 great, but will give you a strong start in 2016. Don’t squander those 186 days! Start planning your year-end fundraising calendar now. Your sample files should have inspired you (if for no other reason than to prove to you that you can do better). Your review of resources has shown what holes need to be filled so you have what you need to make your year-end fundraising powerful. So, now you need to develop a schedule (or refine an existing one), talk to your vendors to make sure you are allowing them enough time at what may be a busy season for them, and look over your budget so you know what you have to invest and where donations are needed if funds are designated. There’s no excuse for missing fundraising opportunities at year-end; you know it’s coming, so prepare now. You’ll thank yourself come December 31.
This old dog loves summer, believes strongly in taking vacations and enjoys every weekend. But I also know that using the summertime at work to build up the foundation of the fundraising program will be rewarded over and over again in the darker, colder months to come. Don’t neglect your fundraising, or yourself, over the summer—make these next three months the best ever!
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.