How to Develop a Tactical Fundraising Calendar for Your School

Every school, no matter how small or large, should include a diverse range of fundraising tactics as part of its annual development efforts.  The tactical strategy for your fundraising should not be random, and it shouldn’t be based on a “we’ll figure this out as we go along” mentality.  Your best bet to ensure maximum revenue is to lay out a tactical fundraising calendar as part of your overall fundraising plan.

A tactical calendar, as its name suggests, is simply a calendar that shows when your school will employ each of the fundraising tactics it is planning to use in a given year.  Every standard fundraising tactic, with the exception of your ongoing personal asks, should be listed on your calendar.  For example, at a mid-sized private school, your tactical calendar may look something like this:

January – Prospecting mailing.  Facebook fundraising campaign.

February – E-mail fundraising letter.

March – Housefile mailing.

April – Hold annual gala fundraising event.

May – E-mail fundraising letter.

June – Hold one hosted fundraising event.  Walk-a-thon.

July – Mid-summer networking event.

August – Hold one hosted fundraising event at the beach.

September – Launch annual board giving campaign.  Prospecting mailing.  Hold annual golf tournament.

October – E-mail fundraising letter.

November – Begin yearly annual fund calls.

December – Housefile mailing.

The tactical calendar for your institution will almost certainly vary from this example.  What is important is that you have a tactical calendar laid out for the year.  This calendar, of course, will change from year to year as your school learns what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be tweaked.

Determining Your Tactical Calendar

So, how should you determine your fundraising calendar?  Let’s talk a couple of key fundraising principles that we’ll need to remember for this process:

Don’t Ask Too Often

The first thing to remember is not to ask the same donors to give too often.  If a donor is constantly receiving direct mail solicitations, e-mail asks, fundraising event invitations, as well as visits from your development director, he or she is going to feel overwhelmed and put-off.  Be careful how many times per year you are asking each donor for money.

Don’t Ask Too Rarely

On the other side of the coin, be sure that you don’t ask for money too rarely.  If donors never hear from you other than the occasional e-mail update, they won’t think you need the money, and will start giving elsewhere.  Asking for money regularly keeps your school’s financial needs front and center for the donor, even during those solicitations where they choose not to give.

Diversify or Die!

Finally, be sure to utilize a diverse range of fundraising tactics at your organization.  I can’t tell you how many schools I have seen that rely 90% on events or 75% on direct mail.  While your institution may have an unusual level of success with a particular tactic, relying too heavily on one or two fundraising tactics can lead to disaster.  If that strategy dries up, and you don’t have enough other streams of revenue, your school will be sunk.  Keep a diverse calendar of tactics to remain stable and sustainable.

Digging Deep with Deadlines and Goals

Once you have your high-level fundraising tactical calendar prepared, I highly recommend that you also develop a “priorities list” or simplified “critical path” for your staff (or for yourself, if you are a one-person shop) that lists the exact tasks that will need to be performed in order to meet your goals.  This list should note the person who has responsibility for each task as well as the deadline by which it needs to be completed.

For example, on our high-level calendar example above, in May we set a goal of sending out an e-mail fundraising solicitation.  Your “deadlines and goals” for this task could be as follows:

Action Person Deadline
Update e-mail mailing list Samantha April 15
Write first draft of e-mail solicitation Christian April 20
Edit / review e-mail solicitation Samantha & Joe April 25
Format / layout e-mail Samantha May 5
Final review of e-mail solicitation Christian May 7
E-mail solicitation sent Samantha May 10

As you can see from this example, just one task on your tactical calendar, “Send e-mail solicitation,” can result in a number of different tasks.  Tactics like major fundraising events will generate even more tasks (in the case of a gala event, perhaps as many as 50 individual tasks).

The key to making a tactical task list like this one a success is to be specific: note the actual task to be accomplished, the person who is responsible for it, and the specific deadline for each goal.  Then, hold a weekly meeting to talk through your priorities list to see what is on track and where you need to devote additional resources.

One other tip on developing your tactical calendar: do it all at once.  I like to sit down and write out a tactical calendar for the entire year, including the priorities list for the year.  It takes a good amount of time, and it certainly changes throughout the year, but the simple act of listing out all of the fundraising priorities for the year not only helps me make sure the schools I work with have an integrated fundraising plan that will work, but it also allows my team to see what activities and time commitments will be required throughout the year. 

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