Do you feel it? The airports and highways are filled with last minute vacation seekers. Back to school supplies are flying off shelves. The school buses are doing practice runs.

It’s almost the fall.

For whatever reason, people seem to “settle in” to a more regular routine once the school year starts.

And that impacts fundraising.

Fundraising Happens Year Round

Granted, fundraising happens when we ask people for funds. It’s as simple as that. We’ve heard stories this summer of clients receiving some remarkably generous gifts. Those clients were out there, doing the work, and connected with donors ready to give.

Yet, many of us find it easier to connect with people in the fall. And we find people actually respond to our mail and email better than they do in the summer.

This may be good news if your recent fundraising hasn’t been what you would have liked!

3 Steps for Planning Your Fall

  1. Assess the last six months

    The first step is to take an honest, hard look at the last six months. You’ll want “results” information which can be gotten by running reports of:

    • LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS: People who gave last year but unfortunately not yet this year and people who gave some year but unfortunately not yet this. (Most experts are saying to only go back 24 – 36 months saying donors who haven’t given in the last 2 to 3 years tend to behave more like people who have never given.) Tracking LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS will help you make sure you connect with people who have recently expressed support for your nonprofit.
    • People who gave this month last year but haven’t yet given this year. People often give in some sort of rhythm. So people that gave this month last year may well give this month this year too.
    • The amount of money you asked for versus the amount of money that was received. For major gift asks, I believe the only legitimate “ask” is one in which you specifically state a dollar amount. A “will you support our cause” isn’t a real ask. And it is disrespectful to the donor. The donor has no idea if you mean $250 or $250,000. So treat the donor like an adult and honer her enough to make a clear ask.

    You’ll also want to ask yourself “activity” questions like:

    • How many letters did you send?
    • How many major gift donors did you really make contact with?
    • Did you really send the thank you notes you said you would? (Or are they piling up on your desk?)

    It’s important to assess both the activity and the results. Too often we measure results (dollars in) without accurately tracking what actions led to those gifts being made.

    I really like the Veritus Group’s “Major Donor Dashboard” as described in their book It’s Not (Just) About the Money. The idea is for each of your assigned donors (up to 150 if all you do is major gifts), you should know how much you’ll be asking them for, when you’ll be asking, and what cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship engagements you’ll be making. You can find helpful white papers from them, including how to evaluate the performance of a major gift officer, at:

    Major gifts expert Amy Eisenstein also has a helpful video about four metrics to track – and offers free metrics worksheets – at:

  2. Draft the plan for the next six months

    Now that you have a solid sense of where your fundraising is at and why it is or why it is not where you want it to be, figure out where you need to go. What will the next six months look like. Yes, I’m writing this in August so that includes January. Too often we scramble to catch up on bookkeeping in January and forget to actually thank our donors. Acknowledging a transaction is good. But we need to also thank them for helping transform the mission with the impact of their gift.

    Many organizations send a direct mail appeal in early September. And then two or three from mid-November through the end of December. Also plan out how your email will coincide with your direct mail.

    You’ll also want to consider any special events you have planned. These can include anything: employee participation activities, fundraising galas, stewardship events, etc. Be sure to determine if you are participating in a giving day like Giving Tuesday.

    And you’ll want to look at the touches you make for each of your major gift prospects in your portfolio.

  3. Put the your plans on your calendar

    Assessing the past and planning the future is great. Doing those two steps will help you immensely. But putting the results of your work onto your calendar – paper or digital – will help ensure you and your team actually give time required to do the plan.

    For example, if you know you want a letter in the mail by November 15, you’ll likely need to have it at the mail house two weeks before then. And the final copy completed two weeks before that. And the draft done two to four weeks prior to that. You’ll probably need to get started on the November 15 letter on September 15!

You Don’t Have to Live in Stress

Running a nonprofit and fundraising are inherently stressful. But we often create unnecessary stress because we fail to plan. Or we fail to work our plan. 

Doing these three steps will help ensure you have as peaceful a fall as possible while still raising the money you need!

What are you doing to prepare for the next six months?

What about you? What have you found helpful to plan out the next six months? Tell us in the comments!

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