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It’s About Time 

Enjoy This Timely Tidbit Before You Plan Your Next Fundraising Initiative…

Adapted from a recent toolkit we crafted for an awesome client, we knew it was about time we published some fresh food for thought.

This one is about taking a moment to put TIME on your side. And the value of the exhale. If you can spare a minute, read on…

It’s About Time ⏲️

Today I am writing to you to tell you that you are not alone if you are looking ahead to upcoming 2024 fundraising efforts with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Just thinking about potential revenue they could bring to your organization is what motivated you to consider them in the first place. Each time a fundraising opportunity knocks, you think, “I can fulfill our mission with that revenue,” or “Just think of the impact we could make with that money.” 

I get it. I have been in your shoes. And mine are usually cowboy boots.

A fabulous client recently asked me to put myself back in my boots and provide some tangible, meaningful, and timely insight for the weary nonprofit leaders and staff who are already looking ahead to post-summer fundraising efforts.  Let’s be honest. There are a LOT of them in the fall and winter. They happen in a rapid succession that seems to spiral each year just when we think we’ve (barely) recharged from the last one🪫: Back to School/Back to Work, Fall galas, Fall picnics, Halloween (always a trick not a treat), regional or local giving days, Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, all those December holidays, and the always horribly timed Year End Appeal 😱 are just a few.

You know these things are coming. But there’s a few months before they will hit. So what do you do? It’s almost summer. Graduations are happening. Sunny beaches are beckoning. Your long awaited PTO is just around the corner. Your personal battery is about to go on Low Power Mode. It’s so tempting to wait until (choose your favorite month: July or August) to deal with this.

I have a challenge for you that will not deplete but instead RECHARGE your battery a bit. 🔋 Can you carve out a few minutes in the next 72 hours? If so, keep reading.

Granted: Permission to Step Back

I want to grant you permission to step back for a moment, take a breath, and think of the bigger picture. It’s like zooming out on your phone camera. Or better yet, putting your phone down altogether, getting up, and taking a walk in the neighborhood you call home.

It’s ALWAYS a good time to back up a few levels and look at the bigger picture. That applies to our nonprofits as much as it does to us as individual, special, precious human beings. You may wonder if and how this pertains to your fundraising events and your likely already overwhelmed brain? It does. It’s directly connected.

If there is one thing I could tell myself when I was in your shoes, it would have been to step back a bit and make sure I’m not overcommitting to ANY fundraising effort, given the resources and time that I had. And to commit to only the highest priority initiatives. And to do this in partnership with my boss (which is, in some cases, a board of volunteers, not just one person). To give us all permission to create boundaries and priorities and stick with them.

How would I know how to do this? By using an ingenious tool that dates back 2000 years: the calendar 📆. The answer is so simple it’s silly once you realize it. Before deciding when, how, why, what, and who will fundraise this fall and beyond, how about stepping back and outlining a full year for your nonprofit? Usually reserved only for budget time, this exercise is life changing when looked at through a different lens. The lens of your organization’s own energy and the natural cadence of when your community needs you to be on your A game.

How to Get Time Back on Your Side

First, print out a simple twelve-month calendar (I have conveniently linked one for you here). Then complete this exercise, ideally with your boss/board, before you decide what else to do this year.

Start with the thing that matters the most: your mission. Place only the events/dates on the calendar that are mission-critical and non-negotiable: board meetings, facilities/campus openings and closures, outreach events, all program offerings to your clients. Busy seasons. Surge times. When does your nonprofit need to be “on” so that your community is taken care of?

Then, add in only your most likely to be successful and already “baked in” fundraising efforts. These should be ones that already work for you, for which you know you have resources and strategies, that you would always build into your budget. The ones you would only give up under duress.

Now, step back. What does your calendar look like? Can the fundraising efforts you already do, if executed perfectly, be done without endangering your mission and programming? Does your fundraising happen with enough lead time to fuel your mission? Are there huge gaps of time where nothing is on the calendar, or is it the opposite — that every week is already filled up?

Seriously, is even this basic calendar a bit overwhelming? What would your budget look like if you only did these things but did them perfectly, on both the mission AND fundraising side? Is there room to improve the foundation of your fundraising and programming efforts on this basic calendar instead of adding more? Creativity can get the best of us, but don’t get distracted by bright shiny ideas unless they are in alignment with your mission and you have the resources to make them a priority instead of a source of burnout.

That’s your 72 hour wake up call. ⏰

Show That Calendar Who’s Boss

You’ve filled out your calendar and taken a step back. Now I challenge you to sleep on what you see for a night. Or two. If you would change nothing, congratulations! You can skip to the Space it Out 🪐 segment below.

For the rest of us 🤣: Once you have had a chance to reflect, share your thoughts and discuss this undertaking with your team and leaders. This may mean one or several additional targeted meetings or conversations. How can you maximize just those things on the calendar? How can you space them to avoid burnout? How can you be sure you take care of yourself first so you can take care of others? Adjust all of that first. It may not even allow for more to be added. In fact, you may have to take some things off. 🧼

Keep going until you can look at the calendar without having high blood pressure. 🩺 Now you have recalibrated.

Space it Out 🪐

Once you have recalibrated your year, and ONLY as you have space (on the calendar and in resources and time), be mindful about what you add. Make sure you include the time and energy costs for yourself, your team, and your board and volunteers in your calculations, especially for incremental fundraising initiatives. For example, I have advised some clients that Giving Tuesday actually replace a Year End appeal. For others, it’s the opposite. If your highly successful signature gala is timed within three weeks of Thanksgiving, I say put all eggs 🥚🥚🥚in the gala basket 🧺 and skip soliciting on Giving Tuesday altogether.

It’s About Time it’s Just Like You Like It

I think of fundraising as building a menu. My favorite fast food restaurant Whataburger is genius at this. It knows its consumers. It delivers consistently. It’s SOOO Texas and it lets you know it. It adds new items only when it knows there is demand for them. It knows it isn’t McDonald’s. But it can compete with it. And it will always win my order. Just like I like it. 🤠

P.S. Never Forget the P.S.

I hope after reading this, you have been given well-deserved permission to stop and think. You are pursuing a noble cause in an industry that is thankless, underpaid, and underappreciated. And you matter.

Our helps others exhale, recalibrate fundraising efforts, and recharge batteries, one client at a TIME. ⏲️

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