You’re still catching your breath from—or in the midst of!—yearend fundraising efforts. But Q1 is days away so it’s time to start thinking about what your development operation should be doing when everyone returns from the holidays. Here are three ways to make a strong development start in the new year.

(1) Set mailing schedule and projections.

  • Map out the year’s mailing schedule, including internal deadlines for copy, art, etc., as well as drop dates. Even if your organization only drops one or two solicitations, these should be scheduled appropriately on your development calendar. If you run a more sophisticated direct mail program, a separate mailing calendar is in order.
  • Project quantities, costs, and returns (number of responses and average gift size to calculate response rate and ROI). Do this for both housefile and prospecting. In your projections, you can also make notes about list selects and mailing elements (design tests, copy ideas, etc.), depending on how sophisticated your program is. Don’t neglect to schedule and project costs for non-solicitation mailings. If these kinds of mailings regularly bring in some donations, make revenue projections here too.

If you outsource your mail program to a direct mail vendor (remember our golden rule to avoid direct mail vendors who charge per piece—bad incentives!), that firm should develop the year’s mailing calendar and projections in consultation with you. If they don’t, it might be time to find a new vendor.

(2) Review your major gifts program.

Sit down and do a full review of your major gifts program—both foundations and individuals—using your moves management system.

  • Start with current For current foundations, be sure to note reporting requirements and deadlines for re-applying. For current individual major donors, set a timelined approach strategy, strategy amount, and probability for each donor.
  • Next, turn to lapsed major gifts, setting a timelined approach strategy, strategy amount, and probability for each with the aim of reactivating these donors.
  • Finally, review all major gift prospects and use the same process to assign strategy, amount, and probability.

In all cases, major deadlines should be noted in your calendar and each donor/prospect should be assigned a timelined and staff-assigned next move or series of moves—be it a grant report, a new proposal, a quick personal note from the CEO, a letter of inquiry, or a meeting request.

(3) Refresh your messaging template.

The new year is the ideal time to review and refresh your organization’s messaging template. This ‘reservoir’ of essential messaging should form the foundation of your grant proposal templates, letters of inquiry, meeting requests, collateral materials, etc.

Sit down with key staff to review—or develop—your messaging template, and attendant materials. If there are no changes to messaging, the review process reinforces template messaging in the minds of the key staff who need to be deploying these messages with clarity and regularity. The process also engenders a culture of buy-in and participation among employees. Often, however, an organization will need to make slight changes to messaging. Year-over-year, programs, the operating environment, leadership, influence and efficacy, and other factors affecting an organization change. These changes need to be reflected in the organization’s messaging template. These sorts of changes are small and minor updates, not a complete rebranding process or change in organizational identity. Mission, vision, about, and value statements must remain constant, save for a complete organizational identity overhaul (if that’s in order, save it for spring or summer and consider enlisting the help of outside counsel).

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It’s my personal and professional goal to strengthen civil society by helping purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft clear and compelling communications, and achieve greater influence. Please let me know if and how I can be of help to you. Feel free to shoot me an email at kraval@americanphilanthropic.com or check out our services online at AmericanPhilanthropic.com. We also have ongoing fundraising seminars and events throughout the year.