Fundraisers know all too well the chaos of the December giving-rush. Nearly one-third of all giving occurs in that month alone. If you’re reading this, you made it to January safe and sound. Congrats!
But the start of a new calendar year does not mean that your work is done. It’s now time to refocus your efforts on finishing your fiscal year strong and to ensure that your path to June 30th doesn’t become another end-of-the-year scramble. Of course, not every organization ends its fiscal year in June, but the process of meeting your revenue goals—regardless of end date—can be similarly hectic. Here are some tips for a measured approach to that strong finish.
1. Know your numbers
Before you can even begin to think about your strategy moving forward, it’s crucial to settle your books from the first half of the fiscal year (July 1 to date). Reconcile your revenue numbers with your colleagues in finance—making sure that your numbers match up with theirs. Are you on track, ahead, or behind your goals? How much still needs to be raised in these next five months, or prior to your fiscal year closing?
Once you’ve completed the reconciliation, take a moment to analyze the results to date. Start by answering these questions: How did your fundraising revenue break down by donor type? What worked well? What didn’t work at all? Next, compare these numbers to last year’s numbers. What donor types are behind? What donor types have surpassed expectations?
Next, identify the fundraising gap left to meet before June 30th. Take that big number and break it down by donor type and high-level activities. You’ll get into the granular in the next step. I encourage you to have a “just meet budget” goal and a “stretch” goal if you have a strong year.
2. Create a plan and develop your tools
Create a work plan (a Gantt chart, for those who aren’t familiar) by starting at the finish line and building backwards. Identify key milestones that you need to hit along the way to your goal—and plug in any cultivation events, stewardship opportunities, planned mailings, e-appeals, annual gala, or other event or activity to your work plan. As you look at your strategy holistically, plug in clear, numerical, fundraising goals by week and larger goals by month. Stick to these goals, but remember that fundraising is an art, not a science. Your work plan should be a living document—flexible enough that it can be updated weekly according to changing circumstances.
Put all of your prospects into a moves-management chart—one of the most useful tools in a fundraiser's arsenal. The chart should track all of your cultivation and solicitation steps and their associated due dates between now and June 30th—including all grant and reporting deadlines. Every mid- and major-level donor should have her or his own clear path to the individual ask. Doing this prep work now will save you time, missed opportunities, and frustration later on.
Most importantly, keeping these tools updated is key. It’s one thing to create a work plan and a moves-management chart and another to actually update and use them daily! Some databases do much of this work, but make sure you know how to utilize them appropriately. If all else fails, nothing beats Excel.
3. Engage your leadership
Once your team is clear on the numerical goals, and the path to reach those goals, it’s time to engage your organizational leaders in the process. Meet with your executive director or CEO to review the plan moving forward. Find the appropriate time to engage the full board or some subset in this work, possibly the Development Committee. If there are individual board members with particular interest and ability to assist, personalize a meeting with them so that you can best use the specific strengths, resources, and connections they offer to help you reach your goal. Use this time to discuss their own personal recruitment goals. Make goals that are ambitious but achievable.
Your board members are your greatest advocates; show them that you recognize and appreciate their invaluable efforts through calls, handwritten letters, and, if appropriate, high-fives.
4. Identify a clear message
You now know what you need to fundraise, the timeline, and tools to make it happen. But when it comes to the fundraising itself, how are you going to ask for those major gifts or solicit through annual appeals? Great messaging is a key to great fundraising. Your message should be clear and consistent, but personalized for each donor type and level. The larger the gift, the more personalized your communication must be. And don’t forget the wide diversity of messaging mediums—online, email, mail, and in-person opportunities, to name a few. Keep your messaging fresh by trying new mediums while keeping messaging concise and digestible for all audiences. Leave the verbose language for the grant writing.
Messaging should not just ask for a dollar amount. Instead, great messaging should be a means to cultivate a deeper relationship between your organization and donors and to cultivate new relationships with prospects. But always include a strong solicitation statement. If you don’t ask, they won’t give.
5. Create a stewardship plan
A personalized “thank-you” goes a long way, whether it’s via mail, email, phone, or lunch. The process of thanking and retaining donors requires a thoughtful and organized plan. Create a stewardship plan early.
Freshen up acknowledgment letters and plan a donor update in the spring. This is a great way to engage volunteers and board members; everyone loves to be thanked, and delivering that “thank-you” is rewarding and fun for your organization’s members, too. Remember, your greatest source of donations will be renewals and new gifts from those already in your network. And you never know—someone who gave early in your fiscal year may be ready to give again now! Never underestimate the power of stewardship in bringing in your next (and bigger) gift.
In closing, with these tips in mind you can concentrate on setting achievable goals, getting investment from your leadership, and staying focused over the coming months. Go get ’em!
The preceding is a guest post by Lisa Keitges, senior associate director at Orr Associates, Inc. (OAI). Io Jones contributed to the post. OAI is a dynamic consulting firm to the nonprofit industry that takes a change-management and entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy. We pride ourselves on building custom and unique solutions for nonprofit fundraising needs. Our mission is to help our nonprofit partners raise funds to make a greater impact on the lives of us all. We are grateful and humbled to be a part of an industry that makes the world a better place.