Gearing Up for the Fall: Harnessing Energy for the Year’s Final Lap

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

Whatever your Jewish nonprofit organization’s fiscal year, the end of the summer signals THE time to plan for what becomes the most critical six-month period of fundraising, recognizing that the fourth quarter of the calendar year, followed closely by the first quarter of the next year, together represent the most activity by donors. Combining the High Holidays with the calendar’s “end of year” truly represents fertile ground for fundraising success.

We throw down the gauntlet and challenge each Jewish nonprofit to consider a new action plan now or to shake up that which has been done for years!

Even though the languid last days of summer can feel slow, now is the right time to rev up the fundraising engine, plan for success in 2012’s last three months, anticipate strategically for the activities and efforts that will welcome in 5773 and 2013, and consider new approaches to motivate donors.

Experienced fundraising and nonprofit executives are geared to think about end-of-year steps because statistics show how traditional American donors behave: the last quarter represents the lion’s share of pledges and payments for charitable gifts, followed very closely by the first quarter of the new calendar year. Even though most donors take standard deductions, including their charitable gifts, American donors have become conditioned to use the turning of any calendar as an opportunity to encourage giving.

So now is the time to take stock of past successes and plan for future gains and tactics. The following four steps should serve to propel any organization:

Step 1: Address “housekeeping” and other internal priorities

A strong fundraising strategy often involves a great deal of “silent work,” those unseen tasks and functions that can be essential to success, but may not be the most riveting topics for discussion around the office. Hopefully, organizations have used the last few months researching and identifying prospective donors, sending follow-up emails, and making strategic calls and visits to clients and colleagues.

We note, however, that so many of our current and former clients know so little about their constituents. Do clergy reach out to their members and set “get acquainted” coffee sessions? Do board presidents call to “schmooze” their donors?

Therefore, we urge that one-on-one meetings between executive and staff members and important leaders and stakeholders, even in an informal setting, take place as soon as possible. With colleagues: express genuine interest in all of their obligations but propose new strategies and review ones that require fresh approaches. You just might find some great tactics that have been kept “hidden,” simply because no one has asked about them. With organizational leaders and volunteers: talk about new contacts, associates, friends or acquaintances who could be attracted to your cause as donors or friends.

Step 2: Review Organizational and Fundraising Goals

Every fundraising plan for the next four months should be directly tied to organization goals in the short, medium, and long terms. The determination of these goals should involve everyone on the team. Working from the “top down” as well as the “bottom up,” broader perspectives increase buy-in from all members of the team, and in turn makes it more likely that all will work hard towards achieving the goals that they helped to create. Therefore, set aside time immediately for a goal review session with colleagues as well as involved volunteers; a mini strategic review allows for adjustments in goals and considerations about next steps for 2013.

But use the calendar strategically, too. Now is the time to think about using the lighting of the first candle on Chanukah (Saturday, December 8th) as a fundraising opportunity!

Step 3: Are we the same today as last year?

Often, internal and external factors can influence the process for achieving fundraising goals. The economy is different now from a year ago so does that represent an opportunity or a challenge? Perhaps there have been organizational or programmatic changes in the last few months and some institutional knowledge has been passed by or lost.

Understanding what challenges are “beyond your control” will enable you to focus on the areas that are within it: namely, how you are going to respond to the challenges and what steps you will take to mitigate them … or amplify any positive windfalls you may be swept up in.

Step 4: Evaluate Past Successes and Frustrations

Every year has its ups and downs. Tried and true methods are improved upon, but sometimes things just don’t go along as planned. Being open and honest about the year-to-date’s achievements as well as the challenges will inform planning intelligently and ensure that resources are best used. Now is the time to amplify what works, and fix or discard what doesn’t.

As the great planner and inventor Benjamin Franklin once said, “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” The final days of summer represent the ideal time to plan out the nuts and bolts of fundraising strategy. We suggest the following planning initiatives:

  • Finalize the language and theme of your High Holiday appeal. What sets this year’s appeal apart from previous ones?
  • Discuss prospective donors with Board members and other key members of the team and plan for them to sign personalized letters requesting their increased support.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook; TWITTER: @EHLConsultGrp; EHL Consulting Group Blog: