Summer. It stirs up thoughts trips, outdoor activities, and school break. A pause in the normal routines of life.
Even though we're no longer in school, we still let that "summer mentality" affect us. Rest is good. But taking a break from fundraising in the summer can kill your fundraising.
"We'll start in late August"
Over the last few weeks, I've been hearing clients put off significant coaching and planning projects saying, "We'll start in late August or early September." Because of our learned rhythm from our school years, this feels good. We've both made a decision and put off having to work on it at that the same time!
Unfortunately, this thought process ignores two things:
- the actual amount of time change really takes, and
- the calendar.
Change takes time - so build time in
If you're planning on making "big changes," start now. Changes always take far longer than we think they will. And big changes often impact things we never anticipated. (Like finding out that extra fundraising appeal you're adding to the calendar will drop when the already scheduled event invitation does.)
Building in extra time to your planning allows you time to sort through these unintended consequences.
Donors give on the calendar year
More importantly, donors make donations based on the calendar year, not your nonprofit's fiscal year. Let's say your fiscal year starts July 1. Rather than going into a full force strategic planning process, it feels comforting to ease into the new year. You probably hear yourself making excuses like, "Nobody's around in the summer." and "They don't want to hear from us right now."
So we put of good fundraising tasks until the fall. Then we panic because we're so far behind with year-end fundraising planning. Donors are very generous in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year. It might be because of the holidays. It might be because of taxes. Or it could simply be that nonprofits tend to ask many more times that quarter than any other.
Whatever the case, people give more.
So plan for that now.
Don't jeopardize your fundraising
I've seen this happen alot with major gift efforts and capital campaigns. A nonprofit will work hard all spring pulling together components for a case statement and an expense plan for a capital project. Then they'll let it slide all summer.
Putting off their major gift project or feasibility study to September often means it really starts in October. And the first steps of both are often analyzing your database, assigning prospects, and interviewing them. These all take time.
By the time they're ready to roll out the major gift solicitations or secure leadership gifts for their capital campaign, it's January. They completely miss the time when donors are most generous.
Donors give in January. But why would you want to make it hard on yourself? Starting major gifts asks for campaign in January is like starting running a marathon by running up a mountain. Campaigns and major gift efforts are hard enough. Why not give yourself a boost by starting on the "down slope" of October, November, and December?
In one of my recent feasibility study proposals, I added this on timing:
It would be best to have the feasibility study worked on in the summer – June, July, or August. This will make maximum use of the fall – the most generous donation time of the year. A later study could postpone initial solicitations to January 1. It’s much harder to ask for leadership donations after donors have just been through the holidays.
Don't sabotage your fundraising - unless your nonprofit doesn't need the funds
If your nonprofit doesn't need the income, fine. Take off the summer, start planning in the fall, and work all winter and spring to hit your goals.
But if your nonprofit could use funding year round, take advantage of the next few months to get a jumpstart on your fundraising goals. Some fundraising activities perfectly suited for summer months are:
- Staff or board retreats: you'll be amazed at how effective a well planned off-site can be in motivating your team and helping get them all on the same page
- Auditing your donor communications: taking time to look over all the ways you're communicating with donors can help you see if you're using the same "voice" or if you need to tweek things
- Draft all your fundraising letters: whether you send 4 appeals or 21, there's nothing wrong with drafting all of your fundraising letters at the same time
- Planning your major gift relationships: these next few months can give you some space to plan communications with each of your assignments so they are about the relationship, not about an artificial check list
- Starting a feasibility study: people will still accept interviews over the next three months, but it's also a great time to do the database analytics