Your fundraising calendar is your nonprofit’s guide for executing your fundraising strategy successfully. Get started planning your calendar with these tips.
Picture this: it’s December, and your nonprofit is scrambling. You’re nowhere near your fundraising targets for the year, and time is running out to market your year-end campaign and connect with major donors. Failure to plan ahead of time has left your organization with little in your fundraising tank.
Prevent this nightmare scenario from becoming a reality for your organization by designing a fundraising calendar. Your nonprofit’s fundraising calendar is one of the most important tools your organization has to stay on track with funding goals. It’s more than just an organizational device; your fundraising calendar is the physical embodiment of your entire nonprofit fundraising strategy that provides a blueprint for all activities and decisions made within a year.
At Aly Sterling Philanthropy, our fundraising consultants are experts at guiding nonprofits through the process of defining and working toward long-term strategic goals. We help organizations think critically about their fundraising calendars and align yearly events with their overall values and strategy. To effectively plan your nonprofit calendar to accomplish long-term fundraising goals, you should:
- Align calendar priorities with your overall strategy
- Determine non-negotiable dates and deadlines
- Incorporate your fundraising communications cadence
- Use past experience to adjust your calendar
- Collaborate and recalibrate as needed
Designing a fundraising calendar will give your team assurance that you’re hitting your fundraising benchmarks. Be sure to make your calendar thorough, yet flexible to account for any unexpected obstacles or event cancellations. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you can get started.
1. Align calendar priorities with your overall strategy
Your calendar will be your nonprofit’s guide as you move through different stages of your long-term fundraising strategy. As you create your calendar, reference your major fundraising priorities to ensure you’re hitting essential benchmarks to achieve your goals. Align daily and weekly tasks with monthly goals to ensure all activities contribute toward your overarching strategy.
For example, your organization may have the goal to raise $5 million over the next three years in order to construct a new building. To achieve this goal, you decide to carry out a capital campaign. With a major project like this, a capital campaign consultant can assist you in defining the steps of your campaign to lay out in your fundraising calendar. These professionals can determine the proper timeline for each piece of the process, from performing a feasibility study to wrapping up the campaign.
However, your fundraising strategy is about more than just raising money for your organization. To achieve the greatest fundraising success, you must view your outreach as an opportunity to deepen and strengthen your relationships with supporters. Your supporters are the bedrock of your organization, and without earning and maintaining their support, your fundraising efforts will flounder.
Be sure to infuse your calendar with a focus on donor stewardship and retention. Create opportunities for donor appreciation events alongside your fundraising campaigns.
2. Determine non-negotiable dates and deadlines
While you should keep your calendar flexible to account for unexpected events or changes, there are certain events throughout the year with hard deadlines. Some events simply can’t be changed, whether they’re check-ins to assess progress or board meetings where everyone gathers at a set time. These events include:
- Recurring/annual campaigns. If your organization hosts an annual giving day, awareness month events related to your cause or any other annual fundraising campaigns, be sure to note these in your fundraising calendar. You’ll need to give your team ample notice before these events occur so you can carry out marketing and communications plans ahead of time.
- Meetings. Certain meetings have set dates throughout the year such as board or budget meetings. Mark these down in your calendar to give your team time to prep to keep each meeting focused and productive.
- Donor appreciation events. Set dates for your larger donor appreciation efforts such as personal video calls with major donors or a virtual appreciation gala. Putting these events down in your calendar ensures you’re striking the right communications frequency.
- Benchmark check-ins. Schedule several milestone check-ins throughout the year to assess progress toward your fundraising goals. If you discover you’re falling behind with your goals, you can adjust your strategy moving forward to pick up the pace.
- Goal deadlines. Certain goals should have set deadlines to keep your team on track for achieving long-term ambitions. For example, you might have a goal to sign up 1,000 more email subscribers by the end of the year or to contact 100 prospective donors.
Note these established events and deadlines in your calendar to keep your team on track to continue progressing toward your overall fundraising goals.
3. Incorporate your fundraising communications cadence
Without proper planning, it’s easy for your nonprofit to lose the rhythm of its fundraising communications cadence, leading to fundraising overlap and donor fatigue.
Fundraising overlap occurs when your organization loses track of where supporters are in the donor life cycle, potentially leading to a cardinal error such as requesting another contribution from a donor before they’ve been thanked for their last gift. These overlaps can make your donors feel unappreciated or like they’re just a number in your database.
Other fundraising communication errors include making too many major asks in a row, not providing timely campaign updates and sending mass messages to your entire contact list that are actually only relevant to certain supporter groups.
These mistakes can lead to donor fatigue, which occurs when supporters pull away because of failures in donor management. To avoid dreaded donor fatigue, ensure your fundraising calendar has a dedicated donor communications plan with segmented donor groups so you only send each group information that’s relevant to them. Some of these groups may be:
- New donors
- Major donors
- Lapsed donors
- Prospective donors
- Your supporter group at large
Your organization also needs a communication plan for thanking donors each time they make a gift to ensure you stay on the right track in managing the donor life cycle. Check out these templates for writing impactful, professional donor thank you letters to properly show your appreciation and improve your donor retention.
By segmenting donors and tracking your fundraising communications cadence, you can send messages and schedule events that are focused on stewarding and strengthening your relationships with each of your supporter groups.
4. Use past experience to adjust your calendar
Your organization likely has piles upon piles of informative data from past fundraising campaigns or annual events. Use this data to drive your fundraising calendar decisions as you determine which events or campaigns to continue going forward.
For instance, perhaps you’ve noticed that you haven’t had as much success with your annual fundraising 5K in the past few years, but that last year’s donor appreciation gala sparked an avalanche of donations, even though fundraising wasn’t the main focus of the event. You may consider scaling back or eliminating your annual 5K to concentrate on your appreciation events for longer-lasting fundraising success.
Also, certain times of the year can be busier or slower for fundraising. For example, you may have seen a lag in the summer but a major boost during the year-end months. Giving Tuesday takes place near the end of the year and supporters have their final opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation for the year at this time. Be sure to adjust your fundraising calendar to account for these ebbs and flows in fundraising revenue. You can put more marketing resources toward highlighting your year-end giving programs to give these periods an even greater boost.
If your organization wants to be better prepared with a greater backlog of fundraising data going forward, consider investing in quality donor management software. Charity Engine’s overview of donor management software includes top options for systems that can help boost your major fundraising campaigns. These software options contain fundraising tools, outreach tools and more to give your organization a better footing for planning campaigns and events throughout the year.
5. Collaborate and recalibrate as needed
Be sure to create your calendar on a collaborative platform that everyone on your nonprofit staff can access. You can use a cloud-based platform like Google Calendar or a calendar matrix that just shows deadline dates. This way, team members across all departments have an overview of your organization’s overarching goals and strategy and where their work fits into the plan.
For example, this image shows a representation of a calendar matrix that breaks down tasks to the bare bones to show only the fundamental information of what needs to be done and who needs to do it. Organizing your calendar this way can help keep all departments on task and eliminate distractions.
Additionally, use your check-in meetings to allow team members to provide updates on their projects. You can assess everyone’s progress and adjust your strategy accordingly to stay on target with your fundraising goals.
You may feel that your organization would benefit from professional advice for planning your fundraising strategy and designing your calendar. Hiring a nonprofit consultant can be immensely helpful in this process. These professionals provide thoughtful guidance for aligning your calendar events with your overall fundraising strategy and incorporating donor stewardship efforts at every step of the process.
By incorporating these strategies as you design your fundraising calendar, you can give your nonprofit an amazing resource to track progress and maintain momentum to reach your goals. Ensure you prioritize donor relationships and team collaboration in the calendar creation process to raise the funding you need to drive your mission forward. Happy planning!
Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations.
Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.
Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.