Some nonprofit organizations do a good job of communicating with their donors, but many do not. Often the only times you hear from organizations is when they’re asking for donations.
Raising money is only part of the fundraising equation. You also need to thank donors, keep them updated on how their gifts are helping you make a difference, and build relationships.
To do all that you need to communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. If that’s stressing you out because you don’t think you can pull that off (you can), then you need a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).
I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all-year-round.
A communications calendar will take a little work at first, but will make life easier for you in the long run. Once you have a system in place you can update it as needed.
This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together. Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it. You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.
As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year, but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use a number of different channels when you send a fundraising appeal or promote an event.
Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks. You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.
While this post is primarily about setting up a communications calendar, you also have to share high-quality content your donors will be interested in. I’ll write more about that in future posts.
Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time sensitive and others won’t be.
You need to keep your donors updated on how they’re helping you make a difference. Your print and e-newsletter should be included in your communications calendar. If you don’t do a newsletter, make a plan to share updates another way – maybe by postcard, email, or social media. Sometimes short updates are more effective.
There’s a lot going on in the news these days (a whole lot). You won’t be able to predict news stories in advance. However, if there’s a hot item in the news that’s relevant to the work you do, that could be something to share or use as an example of how you’re helping to make a difference for the people/community you serve.
Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates, and thank them for getting involved.
Time of year
Is there something going on during a particular month that’s pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness or foster care awareness month.
Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into a good story to share with your supporters? In addition, think of creative ways to connect at other times of the year such as Valentine’s Day, spring, and back-to-school time.
However, your organization’s anniversary doesn’t mean much to donors unless you can tie that in with how they’re helping you make a difference.
Does your organization hold any events? Besides your events, are there other events in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? This is a great thing to share on social media.
Fundraising and recruitment
Be sure to add your fundraising appeals to your communications calendar. You want to highlight these and not inundate your donors with a lot of other information at that time.
If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well.
Thank your donors
This is crucial! Find different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You can combine a thank you with an update. Do this at least once a month.
If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client success stories (either in the first or third person) are best. You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.
Create a story bank to help you with this.
Keep it up
As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar so you can stay connected with your donors/supporters throughout the year.
Here is more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar, along with a couple of templates.
How to create a donor communications calendar