The 4 Stages of PLAN
There are three months left in your fiscal year, and your expense budget is gone. Potentially successful fundraising efforts are shelved because there isn't any money left.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it happens too often, and nonprofits miss opportunities because the fundraising plan ran out of steam long before the year ran out.
Regardless of where you are in the fiscal year, here are four things to do right now to help you avoid the dreaded conclusion, "We can't because there is no more money."
No matter when your fiscal year begins, if you don't have a living fundraising plan in place -- and by living, I mean one that you are actually following, not just the one you had to put together for the board of directors -- do it now. Begin with what you know you must do (year-end appeals, for example), and then add in other fundraising communications in priority order.
Think multichannel; how can you send your message to your donors in multiple formats for maximum impact? What changes will be needed on your website to complement your fundraising efforts? How can you stretch your dollars both to communicate to your donors in the ways they wish to hear from you, and last all year long?
Put the plan in writing and post a copy where you will see it every day. A plan that never goes beyond your spreadsheet software or your desk drawer (or worse, your brain) isn't going to impact your day-to-day decision-making.
You've got your plan, so follow it. If it calls for an e-mail to be sent on June 1 and a direct-mail appeal to drop on July 1, figure out what you need to do to make them happen. If you are going to need a human interest story to add "heart," schedule time for an interview. Request the photos, or the endorsement. Be sure your letter signer will be available for copy approval, if required.
Sometimes "making do" is our only option. But when we live our fundraising plan every day, making sure we are constantly moving forward on it, we're less likely to end up sacrificing what we know is best for what we can get with minimal effort.
Living our plan is important, but flexibility is what makes that plan a vibrant tool. As the months go by, make changes based on what you're learning -- from your donors, from articles and seminars, and from colleagues in your nonprofit.
Your program staff is launching a new initiative in October? Great! How will you communicate that to your donors so they can share in the excitement? You want to incorporate e-mail appeals using best practices that you learned about in a webinar? How can you do that and still have money left to accomplish your plans for the last few months of the year? Wise adjustments that are thought through can mean a budget that stretches to cover the entire year.
A fundraising plan needs to be protected. You've created your plan based on best practices and past success. Don't give in to pressure to make changes without careful evaluation.
Will changing the theme of that mailing hurt the response rate? What will the impact be of sending your donors an e-mail inviting them to volunteer? Will mailing to deeply lapsed donors be profitable long-term?
None of these are bad things. But if they result in more expense and less income, you could find yourself short on budget for fundraising before the year is over.
Sometimes your best efforts to prepare, live, adjust and nurture your fundraising plan seem to be sabotaged by other needs in the organization. If that happens, don't give up. Fundraising is a journey; sometimes we make a wrong turn, but with a good map, we often have an opportunity to get back on course.
Pamela Barden is the creative juice and the copywriting machine behind PJBarden Inc. Pamela also serves on the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. You can follow Pamela on Twitter @pjbarden.