A communications calendar is a combination of messaging and timing.
You can create the most amazing appeal letter, but if it’s the only time your donors hear from you this year, you aren’t communicating well.
Or you can communicate constantly, but still miss because your channels or message are bad.
Getting it all planned now, at the beginning of the year, will help.
Begin with your goals in mind
This is key to successful communication with your donors. Spend time thinking about what success will look like.
Think in terms of dollars, but also donors. How can you really engage them in your cause? How will you know you’ve succeeded?
Goals are just dreams unless you can measure them. So determine those measurements now as you begin.
Think about segments
A communications plan that’s everything to everyone is nothing to no one.
You must segment your list to make your communications successful.
But maybe you only have 100 donors. If you don’t feel you can segment your list, then treat each unique donor personally. (Which means, you are segmenting… into 100 segments!) The upside of a small list is the possibility to treat every donor as personally as a major donor. Do it!
Segments don’t only have to be based on giving level. Think about interests. Did donors respond to a particular program?
Think about how donors give – online or through the mail. (And be careful as you do this because many donors moved by direct mail respond by giving online.)
This is your chance to be a donor detective. Dig into your list and really understand who your donors are and what they care about.
What do you want to say?
Look at the messaging that has succeeded in the past. Can you figure out why? What requests created the most response? What appeals brought in the highest dollars?
Look at what’s happening right now with your organization and what you expect in the coming year. Donors will want to know how your mission could be affected.
And remember external events can often impact your fundraising and your messaging. Are there opportunities there? Potential problems?
Always think about what your donors will respond to – not what you want to tell them, but what they want to know.
When do you want to say it?
I’ve worked with a number of smaller organizations. One of the biggest problems I see is a lack of communication.
One appeal a year and the same thank you letter you used last year just won’t cut it.
Relationships depend on good, consistent communication. Be present all year.
On the other hand, if you send many communications throughout the year, take a hard look at that. Could you communicate less but better? Are donors and potential donors tuning you out?
How will you communicate?
I understand direct mail has costs. But that’s not a reason to only communicate via email. Ditto your personal preference or what your friends say.
Remember how you were digging into your donors’ behavior? Use that as your guide.
Direct mail is still king. Yup. Nerdy, clunky, expensive, all that. But it’s still what more donors respond to. Unless your donors are radically different than most, you need to build direct mail into your calendar.
Begin plotting out your communications for the year.
I often use a simple Excel spreadsheet. That way I can map it all out, and color-code it (makes it easy to see trends or coverage).
A sample is below for you to use. Just set this up in a spreadsheet.
Real communication is two-way
Most important is thinking about your communications not just as a way to bring money in, but as a way to invest in relationships.
You will be more successful in the long run if you can develop donors who stick with you.
That’s because the income from those donors will be more dependable, but also because you will learn from them. Like any relationship, it will get better the more you put into it – the more time, the more care, the more attention.
And when you can’t build real one-to-one donor relationships, the next best thing is really well-crafted donor communications.
Put your heart into it. Use your words to invite people to be part of a good cause. Make them feel great about their involvement.