The key to successfully executing on an annual strategy is having a well-structured blueprint to follow. For non-profits across the globe, the mission of fundraising involves much more than soliciting donors, including developing a donor journey that cultivates support for years to come.

The most efficient way to plan for this type of engagement is to outline the activities and communications involved in your organization’s strategy in an annual plan. Institutions rely on these plans, or fundraising calendars, as an internal tool to navigate the team’s approach through the fiscal year.

The calendar is built out as a schedule based on all of the key dates and deadlines for the efforts you intend to follow. As the strategy pivots during the year, the agenda changes as well to reflect new plans and goals accordingly.

So why is it so important to create an annual calendar of donor-focused activities and events? Because this calendar becomes your source of truth.

It helps you and your team keep track of annual goals, donor correspondence, and important dates for fundraising marketing. It also serves as a fundamental guide that allows for better management of resources working toward these objectives.

Learn more about best practices in developing the timeline that is right for your institution, scheduling fundraising activities and initiatives, and maintaining your calendar below!

When to plan…

Confirming all fundraising efforts and building these dates into the calendar well before the end of the fiscal year is vital to your success.

Institutions using this resource ensure that planning for the upcoming year is in place during the final two months of the current fiscal year. Even if some of these dates are tentative, it’s a great way to highlight what’s coming for your core team to review ahead of time.

Having a meeting to assemble the team who will participate in the upcoming year’s fundraising plans is the perfect way to close out one fiscal year and start the next. You will want to make sure that all team members who will play a significant role in this strategy are present.

Consider the following departments:

  • Annual Giving
  • Advancement Staff
  • Development Officers
  • Major Gift Officers
  • Marketing & Communications
  • Technical Support
  • Donor Relations
  • Gifts Processing

Verifying commitment and gaining internal buy-in from key players is one of the goals here. However, a second objective is to confirm that those committing are comfortable with the plan for the year ahead.

You will likely want to share the fundraising calendar two weeks prior to meeting so that all attendees can come prepared with questions and suggestions on how to proceed.

Adjust the calendar as you see fit based on the feedback and then share the updated schedule with the team before the next fiscal year begins.

How to plan…

Some teams work from a physical calendar to start the planning of their initiatives. However, using a chart or spreadsheet can be very valuable and perhaps easier to digest because it’s all in one view.

When constructing your fundraising calendar for the coming year, be sure to reflect on the previous year’s efforts that brought success as well as the ones that potentially cost too much funding, resources, or time.

In evaluating these factors, it will become clear which initiatives are most important to focus on as part of the approach. You must consider the annual strategy and the goals of your team, while also being conscious of your donor base and the most convenient channels of engagement.

Those determining this plan and building out the calendar itself must be realistic in the approach by having a clear understanding of budget and resources that will be applied.

With all of these considerations, where does one begin?

Start by determining goals.

While you may be looking at the year as a whole, it can be helpful to break down the annual plan a bit further by separating the calendar into quarters. This helps the team to first understand what each quarter entails in regard to the workload and it while better defining goals on a quarterly basis.

Stretch goals for the year will then turn into smaller goals throughout each quarter. This encourages the team to focus on numbers that are more attainable each season or semester rather than chasing after a bigger number all year. If goals are surpassed or not reached early on, having this quarterly approach allows your team to pivot and adjust the goals and strategy as the year progresses.

Some smaller teams who might find that the quarterly planning is too much of a commitment tend to break down the annual plan into months. Instead of having a quarterly strategy and goals, these teams have a monthly focus which is a bit looser and easier to plan.

After breaking the calendar down into quarters or defining a focus for each month, start with the key dates that are already on the books for the year ahead.

This list will include dates such as major giving initiatives, capital campaign start and end dates, digital fundraising events, timeframes for securing major gifts, phone-a-thons, stewardship activities, or onsite events benefitting your organization.

Having confirmation of the timelines in advance secures these periods on the calendar and gives your team a realistic view of hard dates and deadlines that are already determined.

After these activities are added to the calendar, consider what other tasks each commitment entails. All of these fundraising initiatives will most likely include a number of deadlines that go along with the solicitation.

Some of these tasks will incorporate segmented marketing to donors in the form of a phone call, direct mail, email or social media asks. Additionally, once gifts start coming in there will be stewardship efforts applied.

Take time to consider all of the smaller action items that are included in each one of the activities you are adding to the calendar. Add the tasks as well to paint a clear picture of time and commitment that will be needed to carry each one out. This creates awareness for what is already planned for your team and helps to prevent scheduling conflicts as well fundraising overlap and potentially asking donors for another gift before thanking them for the last.

How to Maintain…

Now that your calendar is filled with all of the fun and exciting initiatives for the upcoming year, it may seem as if all of the hard work is done. However, that is only partially true. Maintaining this calendar and committing to the schedule and strategy it outlines can be just as time-consuming as the planning process. It is important to understand this ahead of time so that you can set your team up for success by preparing for the maintenance aspect of it all.

You can prepare in advance by scheduling quarterly meetings to check up on the status of the activities planned. These pre-established gatherings will set the tone for the quarter ahead by reviewing the strategy, understanding where team members are at with specific commitments and evaluating how these efforts apply to the quarterly or annual goals. Are you are target to hit these goals? If so, make sure to keep track of what is working for your team. If not, considering pivoting with the strategy to meet the goals that have been set. Or, tailor the goals to meet the needs of your institution.

Finally, after each meeting, share an updated online version of the calendar as an internal reference. This keeps all tasks and objectives transparent for those involved. Saving each version of the plan can be beneficial for next year’s planning because it will show the progress made each quarter with that amount of staff members, resources, and time applied. It makes it easy to iterate and enforce a stronger and potentially more predictable plan for the next year.