I like to emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with your donors throughout the year. During the pandemic, this has become more important than ever, even though it may be harder due to everything that’s going on.
Your donors want to hear from you and don’t just want to be blasted with fundraising appeals. The good news is that better donor communication (thank yous and updates) can help you raise more money.
Ideally, you should communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. If that sounds impossible, it will be a whole lot easier if you put together 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.
Some of you may already have a communications calendar, which is great. Now is a good time to update yours for the coming year. For the rest of you, here are some suggestions to help you get started. Even though it will take a little time to put together, it will be worth it in the end because you’ll be able to do a better job of communicating with your donors.
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 (and I hope you do use direct mail), but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use several 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.
Your communications calendar is a fluid document and this last year is a good example of how you needed to make changes, especially as the pandemic started. We’re still in unchartered territory even as the vaccines roll out, so be prepared to keep things current.
Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time-sensitive and others won’t be.
Current Events/News stories
At the beginning of 2020, most of us couldn’t predict the year we were about to have. In other years, current happenings wouldn’t dominate your communication as much as they did this year.
At the start of the pandemic, I hope you reached out to your donors to wish them well and update them on your clients/community.
After George Floyd was killed, many organizations professed their support for Black Lives Matter. I hope that was the beginning of any communication about systemic racism and not the only one.
Our world has changed a lot this past year and many donors will expect more communication about social and economic issues. Keep them apprised of how all this is affecting your clients/community.
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, and/or social media. Sometimes short updates are more effective.
Share your success and challenges, especially as we continue to navigate through the current climate.
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. Many donors will be receptive to this type of involvement.
Time of year
Is there something going on during a particular month that’s pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness or domestic violence awareness month.
Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into an engaging story to share with your supporters? This will be an especially hard winter for many people.
Keep in mind your organization’s anniversary doesn’t mean much to your donors unless you can tie that in with how they’re helping you make a difference.
Fundraising and recruitment
Be sure to add your fundraising campaigns to your communications calendar. Obviously, these campaigns are important, but you also want to show gratitude and send updates during this time without inundating your donors with too many messages. Planning ahead will help you strike this balance.
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.
Your organization may not be holding any in-person events next year, but perhaps you’ll continue to do virtual events. Besides your events, are there other events (virtual or in-person) in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? If so, you could share it on social media.
If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client stories (either in the first or third person) are best. Your stories need to be relevant to the current situations, so you may need to create some new ones.
You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.
Put together 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. Information will be changing quickly next year, so you’ll want to keep on top of it.
Here’s more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar. A couple of these links also include templates.