Seasoned fundraisers are well aware that fundraising involves a lot more than simply asking for donations.
Donor cultivation takes a whole lot of time and resources.
Managing this process can be difficult, especially if you are working on a team. It is sometimes hard to keep track of your correspondence with donors when it isn’t scheduled or, at the very least, documented. Factor in multiple touch points between donors and staff and you’ve got a recipe for disaster!
This is where a fundraising calendar comes in handy. Every organization that relies on fundraising to operate should consider incorporating a fundraising calendar into their yearly plan.
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Fundraising calendars are designed to outline donor correspondence, campaign timelines, special events, benchmark dates and other noteworthy occurrences that your fundraising team will be engaged in over the course of the year.
Here’s a breakdown of how to develop and maintain your annual fundraising calendar.
Developing a Fundraising Calendar
You’ll want to start brainstorming about your annual fundraising calendar well ahead of the beginning of your fiscal year. Many nonprofits operate on a July 1st through June 30th calendar. Others follow a January 1st through December 31st reporting year. Try to schedule a meeting roughly one month before the beginning of your fiscal year to put the calendar together.
There are a number of topics that should be addressed in this living document.
Key Dates: Hard Deadlines
Begin by looking at your entire year and jotting down key dates for events and happenings already on the books. These are considered your hard deadlines- those that will likely not change.
For example, if you always run your annual giving campaign during the holiday season in November and December, mark the campaign start and end dates. Examples of major event dates include:
- Campaign start and end dates
- Special events such as one-day fundraising events, donor appreciation luncheons etc.
- Board meetings and budget meeting dates
If you are new to fundraising and haven’t yet held a fundraising campaign, then this is where a bit a research will likely go a long way. There are prime times to ask for donations and other times when donors are less likely to donate.
- Summer months are notoriously poor for general fundraising. Use this time for planning and campaign preparation.
- Donors are most likely to give from November through January.
It is important to note that your organization may operate on an entirely different schedule, and the information above is certainly not ‘one-size-fits-all.’ Always focus on what works best for you.
Looking Deeper: Action Deadlines
Now that you’ve noted the essential events that your fundraising team will be organizing over the course of the year, it is time to delve deeper into each engagement and determine your action deadlines.
Let’s take the annual giving campaign example given above. If you generally solicit donations during the peak giving season of November and December, and you’ve determined that your start date is November 1, you should now determine a timeline for your pre-campaign steps.
Your action deadlines should include:
- Each scheduled donor ask
- A ‘Thank You’ schedule
- Basic donor communication schedule (both online and offline)
- direct mail
- face to face interactions
- social media
Next, dig deep to determine any extra events of note. Here are a few sample fundraising considerations:
- It is common practice to get 20-30% of campaign contributions in ahead of the campaign kickoff. Therefore, when will you start asking for these initial ‘upfront’ donations?
- Will your team be mobilizing volunteers to help with the campaign? If so, when will they be trained?
- If you are running a one-day fundraising event, when will the invites go out? Who will be organizing the event? Where will it be located?
Nonprofit fundraising calendars will undoubtedly vary from one organization to the next, so these bullets are just an example of just a few considerations that will be made when creating a complete schedule.
Work With Your Communications Team
Your organization’s fundraising calendar should match up with the marketing and communications calendar. You simply must be on the same page because your departments will be relying on one another in order to present your finished product.
Let’s say your annual fundraising campaign- your signature drive that raises a significant portion of your organization’s operating funds- is set to kickoff on November 1st. On your fundraising calendar, you’ve pinpointed the days that you will begin campaign preparations, when you’ll be training volunteers and when you aim to have your initial donations in.
Now, consider the communications that will need to be prepared ahead of time. Do you need marketing materials, pamphlets or direct mail letters? Your communications team will need to know the fundraising schedule in order to meet your deadlines.
Have a Monthly Focus
Many fundraising professionals have found that a fundraising calendar is not just good for keeping track of dates and communications. It is also a great tool to help you remember to stay in contact with those most important to your organization- your donors!
Fundraisers talk a lot about ‘friendraising.’ If you want to be a rockstar fundraiser, then it is time to incorporate friendraising into your resource development plan.
Keep the focus on ‘friendraising’ by devoting each month (or every other month) to a different donor retention strategy. Try:
- A ‘Thank You’ phone blitz
- A special event for long-time donors or donors at a certain giving level
- Videos targeting donor segments (millennials, baby boomers, etc.)
Donors are the lifeblood of your operation, and focusing on retention on a regular basis keeps this in the forefront of a fundraiser’s mind.
Maintaining a Fundraising Calendar
You now know what information your fundraising calendar should include. Now, it’s time to discuss calendar maintenance.
It is best to keep your calendar consistent year after year. Your donors will grow to expect your annual campaign and special events to occur around the same time. Maintaining a relatively similar schedule every year makes planning easier for you and them.
Chances are you may find that something on your calendar just isn’t working for your organization. Remedy this by researching best practices of other similar nonprofits to figure out a possible solution.
While maintaining building on your fundraising calendar for years to come, it is essential that you continue to build on your donor cultivation strategies- particularly those that involve moving donors along the donor engagement ladder. Try segmenting your donors based on your relationship with them, and work at moving them up the ladder toward increased engagement with various opportunities throughout the year.
Here’s a great example of a simple fundraising calendar.
Whether you are new to the world of fundraising, are looking at incorporating some fundraising best practices, or are interested in just getting your fundraising team organized, a solid fundraising calendar should be one of your first steps. For a more detailed look at topics that you should consider for your fundraising calendar, check out this post from Nonprofit Tech for Good.
Remember that successful fundraising efforts are a direct result of a solid and well thought-out plan.
Your final fundraising plan is likely to change as your organization grows, and that is okay! It isn’t meant to be a static document.
You should never ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ in fundraising. You are setting yourself up for failure if you go this route. Taking the time to develop a thorough fundraising plan will pay off in dividends and help you and your fundraising team stay on-task for years to come.
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This post has been updated in January 2020 for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.