So, it’s October and you still haven’t gotten around to making a plan for your fundraising through December.
Yeah. You’re screwed.
No, just kidding. You can still make this work. But you need to start today.
Why not just wing it? Just do what you always do, right? Who has time to think about this when there’s so much doing that has to happen?
Trust me, you do. Why? Well, first because doing what you’ve always done will – at best – give you similar results. Did last year’s final quarter kick big butt? If your answer is “no”, then you need to make a few changes.
Second, because if you spend some time now, you’ll save more of it later. And you and I both know things won’t slow down between now and December 31st. So block off some time and get your plan organized now.
At the very least, do this:
Review your budget and goals
You have to know where you’re aiming if you want to get there. How much do you need to raise between now and the end of the year? How much do you have to spend to raise it?
Review your list
You know what you need to raise – but where will that money come from? Run a few reports. Which dependable donors haven’t given yet? Do they usually make their gift now or has their usual date already passed? Get granular here – who gives what and when. Figure on some increases, and figure on some donors not giving. Get a good estimate of what you might hope for from this group.
Then do the same with past donors. And make a guess, based on your past results, about new donors.
All this just gives you a baseline idea of what you’ll need to do. But it will also point to where you should focus most of your effort. That’s probably with your loyal donors. And even more specifically, with the loyal donors who make the biggest gifts. Don’t write these off by assuming they’ll be there. Chasing new donors while taking your old ones for granted isn’t usually successful.
Get basic segments identified. Target as specifically as you can. But if all you can do is identify donors who “gave recently”, “gave in the past few years but not recently”, “have never given”, that’s miles better than directing the same message to the entire file.
Collect your stories
You’ve already got a folder somewhere with stories and anecdotes about your work, right? If so, you can review it and decide on a story or two to use. Remember, you don’t have to come up with brand new stories for every communication. No one will pay as much attention to your messaging as you will. When you’re sure donors are tired of hearing it, it’s starting to sink in for them. If you have one great story, use it. You can find different ways to share it.
Story folder empty? You’ll need to hunt some down. Talk to your program people. What would they like to share about why the work matters? Can they illustrate that with a story? Is there someone they think you should talk to? Reassure everyone that it’s OK if you use a different name to protect privacy.
How about donors or volunteers? Give a few a call and ask about their experience. Why is it important to them? Why do they volunteer or give?
Put it all on a calendar
Here’s where the work now will really help later. Plot it all out – who will receive what and when will they receive it? What channels will you be using and for which people? Having it all on paper (or a spreadsheet) and not in your head will make a huge difference. It gives you a chance to see where gaps are. It allows you to take advantage of particular dates – a thank you message around Thanksgiving, for instance. It also allows you to start building deadlines based on these dates.
Don’t forget your website! Is the donation page ready? Even direct mail donors often look at your website before sending a donation. Be sure the messaging on the site matches the messaging in your mail and email appeals.
On the practical side, don’t forget to talk with any vendors you’ll be using. I recommend finding a great mail house and sticking with them. I’ve seen organizations bounce from one to another each year, looking to save a few bucks. It doesn’t pay off in the long run. Find people you can trust and work with them. You’ll have a better grip on scheduling and you’ll save time communicating with them. You’ll speak each other’s shorthand. They’ll understand what you do and how you do it.
Now you should know:
How much I need to raise.
How and when will I ask?
Deadlines and assignments: who will do what or how you’ll organize your time if you’re doing this solo.
Time to start putting together those appeals. You have a story – now you need to use it. That topic is bigger than a blog post. But I’ve written about writing your appeals here and here. How many to write? That will depend on your organization, your list and your budget. But don’t be afraid to communicate often. Just make sure each message is compelling. Relevance matters much more than frequency.
Don’t forget the thank you!
Don’t forget to build gratitude into your schedule! Saving acknowledgements until after the year-end rush is not acceptable. Mailing just a tax receipt is not acceptable. Or not if you’d like to keep your donors.
Here’s what I suggest: write a great thank you letter as you write each appeal. Code each of them, so donors receive a thank you that matches the appeal that triggered their gift. Here’s some advice on creating a great thank you letter.
Save time through the busy season by setting up a monster template document in Word with nested merges. You’ll run thank you letters once daily and get specific letters for different donors. Here’s a pretty thorough explanation of mail merges if you’re not already comfortable with them.
Try to build in some additional thanks as you plan. A grateful, human letter is a must. But don’t stop there. A thank you call from you or a board member is wonderful as well. Handwritten notes really stand out these days. Take exceptional care of your donors now, and you’ll raise more money in years to come.
UPDATE: Thanks to Tony Martignetti for inviting me to share year-end fundraising tips on Fundraising Fundamentals on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s site. Listen here.