The Fundraiser’s Annual Calendar

This article is elaborated on our recent webinar, Crafting Your Annual Fundraising Calendar. Click here to view the full webinar.

There is a definite flow of philanthropic revenue, peaks, and valleys, throughout the year, distinct times, like the last quarter, when more donor giving is realized. You have to understand when those moments are, and what activities work best to capture the most revenue.

For example, we were humbled to see many citizens donate their Covid stimulus relief checks last year. Did you adjust your calendar to welcome that new revenue? Those donors put an enormous trust in our nonprofit hands, and count on us to deliver altruistic results. Telling those stories could be on your 2021 fundraising calendar when the new stimulus is released.

The annual fundraising calendar can help you honor and deepen donor trust because it keeps you organized.

Improve or Start Your Calendar: If you already have such a calendar (many of us keep it electronically in Google or Outlook) I suggest that you review it now, evaluate the returns from last year, weed out the less lucrative activities, and boost the one’s that bring a high return, like monthly giving. If you don’t have a calendar, I invite you to start one now. Jot down dates or activities that make sense for your organization. I’ll suggest a few you can adopt in a minute.

I find that most nonprofits are under asking, under cultivating, and under communicating with your donors. Committing to a schedule of cultivation and solicitation of your donors raises more revenue.

What’s The Standard? Eight interactions over 12-months with your supporters is a minimum standard and a fundraising best-practice. Marketers call these “touches.” They include mailing and emailing your newsletter three times a year, short 90-second videos, appeal letters sent three or four times, a value-align donor gift, to name a few.

Yet I know that standard may seem like a bridge too far for some. If that’s the case, then  work from where you are. If you’re doing just one mailing a year, perhaps schedule a second one?

If you already have a robust fundraising calendar, evaluating the return on investment of each activity is important. I’d be glad to set a time for a call to talk about how we audit the performance of your current development work to determine what should stay and what should go.


Here are critical periods in the fundraiser’s annual calendar that you should know about 
January, the Summer, and Year-end.

The January Surprise — This is the second most lucrative time for fundraising, followed by year-end giving. January is the second-best time to solicit gifts in the year. January is hot! While Year-End Giving peaks with the 12/31 tax deduction deadline, data shows that the curve of year-end giving continues into January. Some donors save your appeal letter, or just the reply envelope, until their budgets recover from holiday spending. Then they give. Other donors, those who had given away their budgeted charitable amounts long before 12/31, are now able to reconsider you in January because they are looking at their New Year budget. Therefore, for those who did not give to you in the last two months of the year, go ahead and ask them for support in January. It’s a good idea to focus these appeals on starting fresh and your plans for the upcoming year.

January is especially important to reach out to lapsed donors. Segmenting your “non-responders” and sending them a donor survey is a best-practice. You must find out what’s going on. I’ll say more about non-responders later on.

Summertime — July and August are statistical low giving times, but there are many exceptions. July and August are usually seen as the worst months for donor giving. Yet that doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising for two months! Take the time to plan ahead, and to refresh your skills.


Consider these action items perfect for the summer period:

Schedule donor cultivations and stewardship. Pick up the phone and call your major, and potential major donors (you know who they are because you did prospect research), even if you have to set Zoom or phone call times for after Labor Day.

Send out an informative newsletter. Last July, one agency that I support sent me an article about their work that had been published in the local newspaper. I read every word and it helped me better understand their programs. When their fall appeal arrived, they received my largest donation because I had greater affinity for them.

Learn more about fundraising processes and best-practices that you can bring into your year-end appeal. For example, did you know that “Donors are three times likelier to give online in response to a direct-mail appeal than an email appeal?  Because of this tip, I now always send a postal appeal whenever I send an email appeal. Think about how you can coordinate your email appeals and your postal appeal to raise the most money. Integrating the two boosted the annual return rate on appeals by 23% for another of my clients.

Get to know your donors by reviewing your donor database to see what information is missing and then designing a survey. Usually, five questions will suffice. After you ask for updates to their contact information, date of birth, and spouse’s name, ask questions about their preferences for how you contact them, their program interests, and what other nonprofits they give to. Here’s a sample donor survey that you can model. One nonprofit I worked with included their five donor survey questions inside their gift acknowledgment letter with a postage paid return envelope. They learned a lot and had a very high reply rate.


Year-End

November to December is the time of year when the most money is raised.

Thanksgiving is a time to say thank you to your donors. Organize your staff, board, and volunteers to call your donors to thank them for their support. Don’t ask for money, just tell donors what you’ve been up to over the year and let them know you appreciate them. You can provide a script to make this easy. You’ll be amazed by how much your donors like being thanked and how it will affect their year-end giving. Click here for more about Thanksgiving tactics, especially the effectiveness of sending a text the day before Thanksgiving.

#GivingTuesday is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. It was launched in 2012 dedicated as a day to giving back. Those who participated raised more money online that day than ever before. Send three emails on #GivingTuesday and promote it across all your social media channels—assuming social media is well established at your agency. To learn more about #GivingTuesday go to http://givingtuesday.org/ and go to my in-depth analysis to see if participating in #GivingTuesday makes sense for your organization.

Schedule major donor meetings. Most nonprofits do not have sufficient in-depth conversations with their donors and therefore don’t know as much as they should about them. I realize that we’re all busy, but as fundraisers, we are all about the personal relationship. By the middle of December, you should have talked with the top 30% of your donors and listened to their wishes. Click here for six tips about how to do that.  Set the dates on your fundraising calendar for when you’re going to set those video or phone calls. Sometimes group video calls work well. Meetings are also effective for your lead donors, those who give $1,000 on average each year. In any case, go talk, listen mostly, meet, and learn.

Non-responders (lapsed donors) need immediate special care. Sending just one year-end appeal letter is unwise. You need to plan to re-mail to non-responders within two or three weeks of the first mail drop. Apologize to them if their response and your reminder request crossed in the mail and let them know that if it weren’t so important you wouldn’t be asking again. This tactic is usually overlooked but if you include it, you’re likely to raise your revenue return.


Customization of Your Calendar

There are also smaller lucrative fundraising moments that you can seize and it’s important that you get these on your calendar too. Perhaps they are the birthdays of your top donors, or the marathon that your board and staff run every year that has become a morale booster.

Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are underused days to ask for support. People are drawn to value-oriented ways to celebrate these holidays, so giving in memory of, or in honor of, our loved ones or “Moms” works well. The histories of these holidays are rich and culturally varied, so you can take an approach that best fits your nonprofit. One example comes from an anti-war nonprofit who reminds their donors every year that Julie-Ward Howe reinvigorated Mother’s Day as an anti-war drive: she did not want her son to have to go fight in a war.

“Specialized” holidays in-line with your mission may engage your donors. Do you work to fight racism? February is Black History Month. Native American Day varies depending on the state. Do you work to help women around the world? – International Women’s Day is March 8th. Does your organization have an environmental mission? – Earth Day is April 22nd. Does your organization help soldiers and their families? Memorial Day is a great time to make an appeal.   You don’t want to go overboard but do pick one or two holidays that fit your mission and schedule it on your calendar.


Exceptions

Some nonprofits, however, will have a contrary annual schedule. For example, one agency with whom I worked, a summer camp, secured last-minute camperships from their donors at the beginning of every July. Their donors were accustomed to giving at this time and that never changed. Seeing the summer as the least favorable time to raise funds must be taken into your particular context.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it, to make a calendar of your fundraising activities, and evaluate it every year? Yet so few development offices have an annual calendar where their fundraising activities and deliverables are charted. What’s holding you back?

On our fundraising calendar we set a reminder far before a deadline so that we have enough time to manage all the production details. We bring in technical vendors like mail houses, graphic designers and copy editors when we need extra capacity.

I hope that these ideas get you started in planning your annual fundraising calendar.

Is your annual fundraising calendar already set? Would you like me to review it? Please send it to me and I will get right back to you.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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