Can you believe it’s September already? I certainly can’t believe how quickly this year is passing.
With school starting again this month, it can seem like the start of phase of non-profit fundraising work. Specifically, the start of year-end fundraising.
Depending on your own experiences with year-end fundraising, you might be excited for this time of year. You might also feel some panic or even dread about the volume of work that comes our way during this season.
I’ve had a spectrum of experiences with year-end fundraising over the years. I worked at a non-profit years ago where I felt totally burnt out in December. I’ve also had other years where I feel like I was actually able to enjoy the holiday season. From those better years, I’ve learned a few lessons about how to prepare for year-end fundraising. These lessons have helped me create a to-do list that I use for consulting projects related to year end fundraising. Today, I want to share with you the 5 things I do in September to prepare for a better year-end fundraising season.
#1 – Start with a brain dump
Like a brainstorm, a brain dump is where you list out all the things you have to do. Since we’re talking about year-end fundraising, create a giant (and hopefully exhaustive) list of everything you need to do between now and December 31. I suggest blocking off an hour in your calendar, go someplace quiet and bring tools for brainstorming like paper pads and good pens.
#2 – Create a master calendar
I cannot stress the importance of a master calendar enough. Having all your projects listed in one place for everyone to see is immensely helpful. Now that you’ve down your brain dump, it’s time to schedule out your tasks on your calendar. Write down the dates your direct mail gets mailed and emails get sent. Then work backwards and make note of any other important milestones. My general rule of thumb is to give myself 50% more time than I think I will need to get things done. For instance, I know it usually takes me about 2 weeks to write a direct mail letter, but I always budget for 3 weeks in case something unexpected comes up.
#3 – Evaluate your processes
One of the things that has the tendency to create a lot of chaos is December is the sheer volume of donations coming in. Take some time now to evaluate processes like donations processing to make sure can handle the workload during year-end fundraising. Determine where your processes might need some extra support, which volunteers might be able to help with.
#4 – Decide on your themes and messaging
This to do list item is a bit different from the first three, but it is equally important. NOW is the time to decide what your appeal themes and messages will be. I suggest this because for two reasons. 1) Sometimes you have to get messages approved, and you want to make sure there is ample time for this to happen. 2) So many aspects of your appeals depend on the message, such as the story you tell.
#5 – Find your story
Much like deciding on your themes and messaging for year-end appeals, sometimes it can take a little while to find a story to tell in them. Once you have decided on the message, get to work finding the story to tell. I always give myself a soft deadline of finding a story by October 1. For tips on finding stories to tell, check out these blog posts: 5 Tips You Need to Know to Keep the Story Pipeline Flowing and FAQs about Collecting Stories.
Those are a few suggestions for your September to do list to keep you on track for a successful year-end fundraising season.
What else is on your to do list this month? Leave a comment below and share what you are working on.