One of the most important parts of your fundraising program is your donor communications strategy. Your donor communications are the links between your organization and your supporters. They form the basis of the ongoing relationship between your fundraising team and your donor universe.
In order to be successful, your donor communications need to be systemized. Many non-profits have a “general idea” of their donor communications program… they know that they send out an annual report in the fall and a fundraising letter in the spring, with some e-mail newsletters sprinkled in… but that’s not enough. The most successful fundraising programs in the world use a donor communications calendar to create a systemized communications strategy for their organizations. Here’s how your non-profit can do it too:
What is a Donor Communications Calendar?
A donor communications calendar is a calendar of all of the communications that your non-profit will be sending out to donors over the coming year. This includes cultivation and stewardship communications, such as newsletters, annual reports, thank-a-thons, etc., as well as solicitations such fundraising letters and e-mail appeals.
Donor calendars aggregate communications that are delivered in any mass-communication format, including snail mail, e-mail, phone-a-thons, social media, invitations to events, etc. They do not include one-off communications such as personal phone calls or meetings with high-level donors.
Like good fundraising plans, good donor communications calendars include firm deadlines and responsibilities for each of the communications you send out. For example, your donor communications calendar for one month may be:
September Communications Calendar
September 5 – Send out E-Mail Newsletter (John)
September 19 – Send out E-Mail Newsletter (John)
September 22-24 – Board Thank-a-Thon Phone Calls (Linda)
September 29 – Mail invitations for Fall Fundraising Gala (Linda)
Daily – Social Media Communications (Pat)
Your non-profit should have a similar schedule laid out for every month of the year. Some non-profits also include the “action steps” necessary to meet these deadlines (e.g. gathering stories for the newsletter, getting final approval for the newsletter before it goes out, etc.)
Why are Donor Communications Calendars So Important?
Donor communications calendars are important for several different reasons:
First, they allow you to appropriately space your donor communications and ensure that you are cultivating, asking, and stewarding your donors in the right sequence. A good calendar will prevent you from sending out too many asks at the same time (e.g. sending donors an invitation to your fundraising gala and three days later sending them an e-mail fundraising appeal, both of which are asks), or from failing to make enough donor touches or asks in any one medium.
Second, your donor communications calendars will allow your entire team to understand your workflow for the coming year. Because your calendar includes firm deadlines and responsibilities, everyone will know when each communication will be sent and who is responsible for making it happen.
Finally, your calendar will ensure that your donors get used to your “fundraising rhythm.” In my experience, donor calendars help you raise more money because your donors and prospects will come to expect your annual appeal every March, your e-mail appeals every three months, and your year-end fundraising sequence in December (or whatever the schedule is for your non-profit).
Having a donor communications calendar does not mean that you can’t ever change things up for your organization. I encourage every non-profit I work with to test the communications that they are sending out (including ask, cultivation, and stewardship communications) and to dump whatever isn’t working and test new things every year. For example, if your snail mail annual report has stagnated and isn’t getting donor engagement, your calendar for next year can call for it to be replaced by a brief “state of the organization” e-mail from your board chair.
For more tips on figuring out which communication strategies will work for your non-profit, read 5 Rules for a Successful Donor Communications Program.
How Can I Create One for My Non-Profit?
Creating a donor communications calendar for your non-profit is simple:
Start by detailing all of the communications you sent out last year, including ask and non-ask mailings, e-mails, social media activity, etc.
Then, determine which of these items you want to keep for the coming year, and which you want to replace.
After you have this list, put it into chronological format, with actual dates attached. When are you going to send out each communication?
Then, look at the flow of your communications. Are you sending out enough cultivation pieces in between each ask? Are you using all of your available communications assets (online, offline, etc.)? Or relying too heavily on any one medium? Are you sending out tons of communications in March and April but none in May and June? Tweak your calendar to solve these issues.
Finally, assign a staff member or volunteer to each communication, and circulate your final calendar to your entire team.
It’s simple, but effective. A clear, well-planned donor communications calendar can provide a significant boost to your non-profit’s bottom line while at the same time reducing stress and uncertainty for your donors and your team.
Photo Credit: Dafne Chloet