As marketers and communication masterminds, it can feel like we live in a constant state of production. This can be particularly true in nonprofits – where a slow day, week, month gives the perception that we’re not hustling for the next large donation. What is important to remember, though, is that our world exists with seasons – and so should our marketing calendar and our life. Let’s first breakdown the reasons why thinking about your nonprofit communications in terms of seasonality is important, and then dive deeper into how to communicate this to your ED and Board.
I once had a very wise woman tell me that I need to think of my own personal journey each year as a walk through the seasons. She also said, my spring might not align with the months of April to June. And you know what, she was right. I become excited and energized in fall: it feels as though I come alive with the changing of the leaves. For me, autumn is my spring. It means I’m ready to ramp up into the winter and by the time real spring comes around, I want to take it slow and ease into summer hibernation. Knowing this about myself, I am able to plan accordingly – I can load extra projects into the fall and can take extra care in the spring not to burden myself with too much when I lack focus.
Your donors have natural seasons too. They naturally gravitate toward you in the fall, when thanksgiving is on their minds and the year-end financial calendar is speeding closer. Understanding that the nonprofit year should have some natural ebb and flow and look like the seasonal cycle, will prime you for donor-focused relationships that provide clear direction when to engage and when to “let it simmer”.
There is a reason many annual campaigns begin with the fall: school is back on, winter is coming, and with those daily necessities comes a routine we can more easily anticipate for meetings, events, and touch points. When we think about a nonprofit’s communication’s calendar, it can be very worthwhile to picture the seasons and plan accordingly.
Please know, I am in no way advising you should stay away from your donors for 2-4 months. Retention is the largest issue nonprofits are struggling with, and it is important to stay relevant and stay engaged. However, it terms of annual messaging and the journey of an annual campaign, it is important to think in seasonal terms. This allows us to be proactive rather than reactive in planning and execution. It also allows us to hit hard at key times and pay it gentle the rest of the year.
Annual campaigns are based on the assumption that donors give once per year, every year, and that donation will come at the same time in perpetuity. If this is the case (which we all know is too simple an assumption, but let’s go with it for this post), then we can create the following progression:
|JULY||WIN||Analyze data from last campaign
Create direction for next campaign
|AUGUST||WIN||Review campaign direction with leadership
Bring creation of campaign messaging
|SEPTEMBER||SPR||Release early, “soft sell” messaging
Give donors a reason to be excited with your future plans
Remind them of the great things you did in literal Spring & Summer
|OCTOBER||SPR||Annual appeal mailing released
New engagement (widen the funnel)
Annual report released
|DECEMEBER||SUM||Year-End appeal reinforcement|
|JANUARY||SUM||New year, new plans – engagement of lapsed donors|
|FEBRUARY||SUM||Large corporate ask proposals created/finalized for 18/19 year|
|MARCH||FALL||Spring programming & summer plans|
|APRIL||FALL||Spring newsletter – “be a part of our great work”|
|MAY||FALL||Graduate & thank yous|
Wrap up campaign and begin again
While this progression is quite general, it does present a natural, seasonal outline for your annual campaign. It allows you to think months ahead and plan. With a seasonal outline we are able to orchestrate how donors will be engaged and take then through a carefully curated story. It’s all about being in control. (Go further with this calendar and add your fundraising and friend-raising events too! Do their dates line up with the seasonal flow? Does their messaging?)
Quantifying the need
Just because you have a calendar planned, doesn’t mean your fundraiser does – or that your leadership will think its the greatest thing since sliced bread. Getting people on board is important; it’s also important for those same people to understand how important you are to the fundraising calendar. As marketers and communicators it is our job to increase the funnel, it is our job to make sure the fundraising messaging lands. Show your leadership in terms of numbers and engagement. For example:
|MON||MESSAGE||PPL TOUCHED||PLL DONATED|
|SEPT||Soft Sell Message||4,000||100|
|NOV||Giving Tuesday Blast||4,400||250|
By providing data on the return on investment, it is possible to prove the formula can work, and how quiet some “down time” can be. The above example shows that the annual campaign began with 4,000 possible donors in September. (This includes donors who gave in spring.) It shows that that number increased by 500 possible donors over the course of the initial push. It also highlights how many donors gave at each touchpoint. At January, we are able to say that while we gained 50 new donors, we still have 500 lapsed donors – a net loss of 450 people. This isn’t ideal, and so the spring push would again focus on retention and re-engagement.
Thinking seasonally allows us to create different communication pieces for those who have already given. We want them to feel apart of the good works we are doing; we want to remind them how thankful we are for their gifts. Their messaging should not be hard sells to give more money.
Notice also, that we’re focused on numbers of donors, not amounts of donations. While both are important, marketers have to be more focused on keeping the funnel strong. This is one of the key differences between what is most important to a communications warrior and a fundraiser.
Thinking seasonally not only provides us with a roadmap, it gives us some breathing room. We don’t have to (and shouldn’t) be “on” all the time. When we are able to plan ahead, we are able to keep our creative and work tanks full – and will get far more milage out of what we look to execute. So in the spirit of vibrant colors and brisk breezes in the air – let’s fall in love with our calendars and look ahead to the new year.