By Pearl Lerner Kane
Your fiscal year has come to an end and the annual campaign comes to a close. It feels like it’s time to put your feet up. Maybe toss out the unsold silent auction items and wonder aloud why you printed an overrun of your ad journal. Take a break from fundraising. You deserve it.
And yet, there’s no denying that development requires a twelve-month commitment. Fundraising is a competitive sport to some and a sacred activity to others. Whatever it is to you, there’s no time to waste, even in the summer.
Between the summer vacations and all the other days off throughout the year, the number of days available for financial resource development seems to be limited. Pacing yourself is key. It is crucial to use the summer productively – of course, after you have taken some time to relax and clean your office. Let’s look at four essential things you can and should do in July and August to get your team – professionals and lay leadership both – ready for the intensive work that will begin in early September.
FIRST and FOREMOST: EXPRESS GRATITUDE
Thank everyone who was involved in the campaign. Thank every single volunteer, without exception. If you are a professional, plan to take your key leadership to lunch, breakfast or coffee and show your profound appreciation. If you are a lay leader, make a time to show gratitude to the professionals who worked tirelessly to achieve success. Most important, of course is to recognize and thank all of your donors, even if you have thanked them once already. There is no limit to the amount of times you can say thank you. While you are at it, tell your donors just exactly how their contributions made a palpable difference in the lives of your constituents, their families and the rest of the community.
HOW DID IT GO? Evaluation of the Campaign
During the summer, it’s desirable to begin the work of crafting your new fiscal year’s development plan. You cannot really do this without evaluating the year you have just completed. You need to examine all of your data, ask good questions and then convene a meeting of your team to identify what worked, what didn’t and how you can move ahead to be even better in the new year.
A quick guide to get you and your team started…
I. Ask Good Questions, such as:
- Did you meet your financial goals? Was your goal realistic?
- How well did the organizational structure of the campaign work?
- Did the solicitors feel prepared? Were the preparatory materials helpful and sufficient?
- Was the campaign nimble enough to troubleshoot problems and fix them?
- How did the professionals perform?
- Which volunteers performed well and who fell down on the job?
- What do you think donors will say about their experiences? Why not actually find out?!
II. Figure out the Financials
What was your gross fundraising revenue? Remember, it costs money to raise money so be honest with yourselves and compute your direct and indirect expenses. What’s the revenue look like once you calculate your expenses? What’s your percentage of overhead? It is healthy not to run expenses for fundraising above 25%.
II. How Did You Do Getting and Keeping Donors?
Here are some numbers you want to take a look at:
- Total number of donors
- Attrition rate (number and percentage of donors from previous year who did not renew)
- Number of first-time donors this year
- Number of lapsed donors
- Lapsed donor renewal rate (lapsed in previous year but renewed this year)
- Upgrade and downgrade percentage (how many increased, how many decreased their gifts)
IV. Assess the Performance of Individual Fundraising Activities – Person-to-Person Solicitations, Events, Mail, Crowd funding etc. Yes, it’s true in fundraising as it is in many other things – sometimes less is more. We think we have had an exciting event or did well on direct mail but when we calculate the real data points, we discover that we could have raised more money and spent less time when we upped our game in person-to-person solicitations. Face the facts and evaluate every fundraising activity from the year and be bold about doing away with activities that are not getting you where you want to be. Assess factors like:
- Response rate
- Average gift
- Actual cost
- ROI (return on investment of both time and money)
To gain the deepest, broadest perspective, you may line up at least one-year prior or better yet, two. A three-year, year over year analysis is a very helpful tool to guide decisions for you new development plan.
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER? HOW ARE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS GOING?
Every organization should be in the business of cultivating new donors and stewarding the ones you already have. Sometimes we lose touch with people, and it hurts us. We not only lose touch, we lose credibility when we fail to communicate other than the annual “ask” and ultimately we lose critical financial support. At least a couple of times per year, your team should get together and review your key relationships, both long-term and others that are just forming. Here’s a good checklist.
- Family status: new child, new grandchild, divorce, widow, remarry, move?
- Occupation status: new job, change in job title, new academic degree?
- Relationship with organization: good terms or problems?
- Connections in and with organization: who are their connections? Who are their friends and social circles? Who do they care about and depend on?
- Communal connections: with other social sector organizations, civic organizations, local government? Do they hold positions on boards?
- Life-cycle events: anniversary, retirement, graduations?
- Giving history: prior year and comparisons.
- External variables: what is going on in your community or in the world that may impact your relationship?
Have your team address these questions and issues confidentially and makes notes in your database. Use this information to plan for continued cultivation, ongoing stewardship and eventually solicitation of these friends of your school.
AND FINALLY, DRAFTING YOUR NEW DEVELOPMENT PLAN
What better way to spend the dog days of August than by sitting in a cool room and beginning to write your development plan? If you have never created a development plan before or need a refresher, a keyword search for “development plan” in Google will net several helpful templates to get your team started. (Or call in a consultant!) If you are a seasoned planner, then take it up a few notches by taking calculated risks based on good data. Make a deadline of handing the final draft to your development committee and board at your September (no later than October) meetings. Remember, approval and investment from your lay leadership team is essential for successful fundraising.
Hello, September! Sigh … summer is gone and time to get back into deep development work. As for you and your development team you are not scrambling for time because you have a leg up on your planning. You are officially ready to launch your new annual campaign. And the cycle begins again in full swing!
Pearl Lerner Kane, MSW is the president of PLK Consulting Group, has over three decades of experience in the nonprofit business field – planning, growing boards, financial resource development and coaching. You can contact Pearl at: firstname.lastname@example.org