Your Communications Calendar: Plan Ahead for Fundraising Success
Creating a communications calendar is an essential part of a nonprofit organization’s annual planning.
If you work in nonprofit administration, you’re probably used to forecasting next year’s budget towards the end of the fiscal year. But are you doing the same for your communications? Having a strategic annual plan will keep you on track and help you streamline and target your messaging.
Even though we’re talking about fundraising success, this calendar shouldn’t just be for your development department. You need to make sure that your communications/marketing, volunteer management, and program teams are included in this process as well. Your constituents likely have many different touch points with the organization; a donor might also be a volunteer or even a client. One nonprofit sent out their most important annual fundraising e-appeal on the same day as a call for volunteer signups. The multiple communications diluted their messaging, leading to lower open rates, higher unsubscribes, and ultimately less funding to put towards their important work.
For very important communications like this, it’s important that the other departments are aware of any “black-out days” where they should not be sending their own communications. These are simple mistakes to make if you don’t know, and the reason why fundraising consultants and nonprofit consulting firms are thriving.
Each communication you send should have a goal. Whether it is to raise money, educate the public on your mission, or enroll clients, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve so you can measure the results. Just like your budget forecast, your calendar should be data-driven. Study your past communications and figure out when and how they work best. This might be anything from shifting your annual Spring appeal from May to April (when people are getting their tax refunds) to noticing that your emails sent on Tuesday at 10am have the highest open rate.
Even as you set dates and goals for the communications on your list, you need to build in flexibility as well. There will always be last-minute challenges and opportunities. What if you get the gala invitations back from the printer and there’s a typo? Similarly, there could be a big PR opportunity that arises unexpectedly and preempts your normal communications, like a big grant award or the appointment of a prominent leader to your board. An organization might have a large public policy/advocacy department that needs to be able to respond quickly to any political developments that affect their cause, such as new laws/bills, political appointees, or executive orders.
Once you have an annual calendar plotted out, it’s also much easier to plan your workflow for the year. If you know that you want your holiday cards to donors to arrive by December 15, and you know how much time it takes to design, print, sign and mail them, then you’ll know exactly when to start the process. That means you will avoid the last-minute scramble and can rest easy knowing that it’s taken care of.