Year-end fundraising season is upon us! I started having conversations with clients about year-end campaigns a couple of weeks ago. With over a decade of direct response fundraising experience under my belt, this time of year I’m always reminded that time is our friend in fundraising. No matter what size year-end fundraising campaign you’re running, you benefit from starting the planning process early.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” This advice absolutely applies to year-end fundraising. So how can you save yourself time and stress in December? Here’s how to prepare for year-end fundraising in 5 easy steps.
Create a Master Calendar for October through December
When I start planning a year-end campaign, I start by understanding the big picture. For me, this means using a monthly overview calendar to write out all the important dates that I need to be aware of. These days, we’re running multiple campaigns at a time for different clients and we rely on the calendar view in ClickUp to do this kind of planning.
Here are some of the dates you’ll want to get on your calendar now:
- Dates when emails are going out
- Dates when direct mail goes to the printer
- Dates when direct mail is dropped in the mail
- Thank a thons
- Board meetings
- Giving Tuesday
- Dates for mailing holiday cards
- And any other deadlines associated with the campaign
The goal of this step is to just get everything out of your head and into a place where you can better keep track of it.
Create a Master Task List for Year-End Fundraising
Let’s face it, there is a lot going on during year-end fundraising between emails, asks, stewardship, and the holidays themselves. One of the most useful practices that I started implementing was to create a master task list. Once I know what the key projects are and I have them on the calendar, my next step is to literally write out everything that has to happen for each of those projects. What I do is create a separate sheet in Excel for each project. My headers typically are Task, Deadline, Assigned to, and Notes.
Each day when I am creating my to do list, I can open that document and do exactly what needs to be done. What is most helpful about this is that it gives you clarity. You don’t have to spend time figuring out what you need to do. It’s already outlined for you and now you just have to execute it.
Develop Or Update Your Systems for Fundraising Success
A system is basically a process that you use for a task that happens repeatedly. For example, you might have a process for acknowledgment or donor stewardship. You might also have a process for sending out fundraising emails or donor newsletters. These systems can be sanity and time savers. But the key is understanding what the system is and what role(s) others play in it.
Here are a few systems you might want to consider or update:
- Your system for processing donations
- Your system for getting thank you letters out to donors (ps – need to update your thank you letter for your year-end campaign? Here’s ten tips to write a better thank you letter.)
- Your system for making thank you phone calls to donors
- Your system for getting emails approved and sent
Mapping out your process for recurring tasks is an essential step if you want to delegate work to your team or volunteers. I’ve written more about the importance of systems in non-profit communications here.
Determine the Messages and Stories for Your Campaign
It’s never too early to start working on your direct mail and email appeals. My first step for clients’ campaigns is to map out the messages and the stories for the campaign. I do this inside a project brief.
Start by developing your key message for your campaign. These are the 1 to 3 key messages that you want to continuously get across to your audience.
If you’re new to developing key messages, another way I think about messaging is the argument I’m constructing for donating. Here’s a run down on what a well-constructed fundraising argument looks like.
Once you know your key messaging, you can start to figure out what stories to tell to bring the messaging to life.
Start Writing ASAP
Your BFF in fundraising writing is time. I often tell people at my trainings that editing is where the magic happens. You need time to noodle over your ideas, massage words and sentences and polish your copy into something brilliant. So give yourself the gift of more time to write and edit this year!
Need some writing advice for your fundraising appeal? Here’s some of my best articles on writing to get you started:
- How to Write Your Best Fundraising Letter
- 5 Tips for Writing Great Giving Tuesday Emails
- How to Write Fundraising Emails that Hook Readers
What tips do you have for preparing for year-end fundraising? Please share your ideas in the comments below!