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. A fundraising calendar can help you streamline this process so you can raise more with less effort.
Managing your fundraising efforts 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.
Regardless of when your fiscal year begins and ends, it’s important to get started with your fundraising calendar early so that you can hit the ground running. Try to schedule your first planning meeting roughly one month before the beginning of your fiscal year to begin putting the calendar together.
One thing to keep in mind as you begin creating your calendar is that it will be subject to change as the year progresses. You can’t plan for every eventuality and opportunity. The best option is to create a rough plan with the knowledge that you may have to make changes later on.
That being said, there are a number of topics that should be addressed in the first draft of 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. If your nonprofit has a specific awareness week or month in which you conduct an annual campaign, note that on your calendar. One classic example of this is breast cancer charities fundraising during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every breast cancer charity should have October specifically marked on their fundraising calendar.
Other 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 of 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.
Here are a couple guidelines to get you started:
- 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.
Take this opportunity to plan out how many fundraising campaigns you will run this year. Mapping all of your fundraising campaigns onto your calendar will help you stay accountable and allow you to manage your time wisely.
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.
With this step, you will be moving from the broad-scope dates and deadlines that will inform your overall fundraising campaigns to more specific and task-oriented details. This is where the teamwork element of a fundraising calendar will be increasingly important. Everyone has to agree on reasonable action deadlines so that nobody gets saddled with more work than they can handle.
Let’s take the annual giving campaign example given above and break it down into action deadlines. 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
- Reaching out to major donors
- A ‘Thank You’ and donor recognition schedule
- Basic donor communication schedule (both online and offline)
- direct mail
- face to face interactions
- social media
In addition to the deadline for each of these steps, you should include the person or persons responsible for completing each one. That way, you can maintain accountability amongst your team.
Next, dig deep to determine any extra events of note and mark them on your fundraising calendar. These would include any other dates or deadlines that will be important for your fundraising success.
Here are a few sample fundraising considerations:
- It is common practice to get 20-30% of campaign contributions 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. The level of detail with which you approach these and other deadlines will depend on the size and composition of your team. Just make sure that everyone is involved with creating your fundraising calendar so that they can stay on top of the work that is assigned to them.
This would also be the appropriate stage to add any recurring events to your fundraising calendar, such as board and budget meetings. Having these dates on your fundraising calendar will ensure that you don’t double-book.
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.
Fundraising campaigns require a lot of communication. The messages that you need to get out to your community will vary according to the type of campaign, so let’s look at a specific example to see how your calendar and your communications will coincide. 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.
In an ideal world, your fundraising calendar and communications calendar would be one and the same. This would allow you to coordinate all fundraising and communications efforts from one central hub. However, this may not work for your team as the finished product may have too many action items and details to keep straight. At the very least, your communications team should have access to your fundraising calendar and your fundraising team should have access to your communications calendar.
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!
Donor cultivation is a year-round effort. You should be putting in significant effort to engage your donors every month. This is especially true of all major donors to your organization. Putting yourself in your donor’s shoes, you can see that it would be boring if this cultivation took the same form every month. So mix it up with different events and engagement strategies each month and plan these efforts ahead of time on your fundraising calendar.
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. How can you engage your donors as friends? The answer is simple and is the same for engaging your real friends. Plan ahead and find fun things to do together.
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.
Change It Up Year-to-Year
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 them.
Not only will your donors appreciate the consistency, but maintaining your calendar year-to-year will mean significantly less planning on your part. Why reinvent the wheel every year by creating a new fundraising calendar when you have a perfectly good template from the year before. With a few tweaks, your old fundraising calendar should serve you perfectly well going forward.
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. This is where the true value of a fundraising calendar comes in. It allows you to view your year of fundraising with a bird’s eye view. When you go to revise your fundraising calendar before the beginning of your next fiscal year, you’ll be able to see everything that you accomplished in the previous year. Ask yourself what worked and what didn’t and if something didn’t work, ask yourself why. Did you need more time to plan? More cohesion between your communications and your fundraising efforts? These are all things to note for the following year’s fundraising calendar.
Engage Your Donors
While you continue to build on your fundraising calendar for years to come, it is essential that you continue to build on your donor cultivation strategies as well. This is particularly true of those that involve moving donors along the donor engagement ladder. In other words, you should always be highlighting and deepening the opportunities that your donors have to get more engaged with your program and mission. This will be a fundamental part of your fundraising calendar every year.
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. Every plan will involve a timetable and a list of deadlines, and nowhere is that more true than in the fundraising world. Set yourself up for success with a detailed fundraising calendar.
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. Remember that this will be a living document. It’s supposed to change as the organization and the fundraising climate changes. You need to stay flexible in order to meet the demands of the current trends in fundraising. So make that flexibility a standard part of your fundraising calendar.
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 November 2022 for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
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