August: Time to Get Your Ducks In A Row

Photo by Yotoen
08.14.2012By

Photo by Yotoen

Remember when August used to be a slow month? When everyone went on vacation? That last pause of summer before everyone dived back into the fall?

Yeah, me neither.

August is now when you get it together before the insanity of the fall fundraising season begins. It’s your last window of opportunity to get these ducks in a row, without breaking a sweat.

Website Development Partner

Please note, that’s partner not project. The difference? The “project” part means that if you wanted to reboot, relaunch, or redo your website this fall, you needed to have spent the spring and summer hashing out requirements to answer important questions before your website build-out begins:

  • — What do you want out of your site?
  • — What’s your budget?
  • — What is your timeline?
  • — What major events are going to butt up against your development timeline?
  • — How tech savvy is your staff?
  • — Who is going to manage the website on a daily basis once it’s built?

And that’s just a thumbnail.

The “partner” part means that if you’ve done all that due diligence, you now have one month left to find a development partner who will help you “Make it so!” Because factoring in all the fundraising, awareness raising, and flat out marketing that accompanies the fall and the holiday season, it’s wise to have your site up in beta by September with all bugs worked out by Halloween.

Come Thanksgiving if you’re still figuring out why a form doesn’t work or a donate button doesn’t connect, you’re fixing while implementing, with a standing order for Maalox and/or aspirin with dinner. And then the holidays commence, at which point your momentum slows, unless you’ve a huge budget that’ll keep people working through New Year’s, with a smile.

Settle on your website development partner by the end of August, so you’re implementing rather than building in the fall.

The Editorial Calendar

Ifdy Perez wrote a great post about this recently. But it bears repeating. Figure out what you’re going to write about, and think it out for at least a year. Literally chunk it out by the week if you can. And if you think that’s excessive, think how fast a week goes when you’re doing the work. Skip that whole additional stress of “OMG I just barely made one deadline and now I have to think up another topic!”-feeling of always running on fumes.

And I say “additional” because the other advantage to an editorial calendar is that it not only gives you the flexibility to adapt to current events (more about that in a bit), it gives you a safety net of content to develop when there’s nothing going on, like the summer, when your followers are still checking their blog feed along with the daily news, even if they’re not actively working.

Most important, the less you scramble for ideas, the more you spend refining what you want to say, and improving how you reach your target audience.

The Fundraising Calendar

Why is a fundraising calendar it’s own category of duck? Because although it overlaps heavily with the editorial calendar, it’s worth sitting back to figure out the best time to appeal to your supporters. Are they young singles or senior citizens who are likely to give during the traditional holiday giving season? Parents who are better able to give in February after college tuition’s paid and taxes are still a month off? Or maybe they’re religious and have patterns of giving that don’t hew to one big holiday?

Everyone wants a piece of you from Labor Day to Tax Day. Put yourself in your audience’s position, and think about what would make it easy for them to give–even, and especially, if that runs counter to what conventional wisdom and the crowded holiday market recommends.

Even more important, take a minute to think about what’s needed on your staff’s part to fulfill fundraising requests–whether it’s mailing out merchandise or sending out acknowledgment letters. Chances are, the smaller your staff, the bigger your need for fundraising, and the more strained your capacity to make it all happen.

So bring out a calendar. And figure out how and when and through whom you’re going to make good on your promises once your fundraising efforts pay off. Your accounting staff will be enormously grateful.

The Planning Calendar

This is probably the most useful document that too many organizations don’t have or even think about. Probably because it doesn’t feel necessary in a small organization where everyone knows who’s doing what. But as organizations grow, the puzzle gets more complicated–committees, sub-committees, working groups, volunteer corps, regular events, special events, fundraisers, friendraisers . . .

If you’re a lean organization, chances are your staff capacity hasn’t yet caught up with growth, and you need all those groups and volunteers to help you get things done.

Enter a planning calendar with chunked out, munchable tasks, goals, and routinized work that frees paid staff to forge ahead while allowing volunteers and supporters to jump in and be involved in ways that don’t include giving money.

Plan B (For An Election Year)

Remember how I mentioned the flexibility to adapt to current events? Well, this fall is one long current event with the elections. If you’re a US-based organization, no matter who you are, you’re going to be competing for your audience’s attention with the DNC, the RNC, the PACs, and the political ads.

If your organization clearly takes a stand on social issues and politics, you’ve probably spent the summer working through points 2, 3, and 4. But if you’re not, do you have a plan for breaking through the clutter? Are you sitting out the fall and staying away from all things political? Are you going to acknowledge the elephant in the room by pegging your cause to non-partisan things like reminding people to register and vote? Or maybe you’re going to go with the flow but up your game after Thanksgiving? Lots of ways to go. And August to figure out the plan.

Come along, ducklings.