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The Secret to January

A To-Do List for Smart Nonprofits

In the quiet weeks after a frenzied year-end push, nonprofits have a rare chance to do a few things that will set them up for success all year. Here's our list.

The Secret to January

We know, we know. You just got through the biggest fundraising push of the year. You’re exhausted and desperately seeking a reprieve from dreams of major gifts and obsession over sustainer retention. We get it.

But there’s a secret to January. And it’s this: While every other nonprofit exec is exhaling and finally putting their feet up, you have a window to do just a few things that will set you up for success the rest of the year.

You can still steal a nap here and there, but let’s look at some smart strategies for the month of January.

Eight Smart Moves for Nonprofits

In no particular order, here are eight seemingly minor to-dos for nonprofits. Investing a little time—maybe tackling two a week for the whole month—will set you up for success as the new year rolls in.

  1. Chances are good you’re preparing an annual report. Mine the pages for some interesting facts about how you’re accomplishing your mission! Grab a few statistics that illustrate your impact and flag them to be included in emails, direct mail pieces, and social media posts. These stats will come in handy throughout the year.
  2. Choose a number of donors—preferably those who didn’t give in your year-end campaign—and thank them for their support. Have a real conversation with them about what your plans are for the new year. You can call five donors if you’re a one-person shop or 500 if you’ve got a team able to help. Ask these donors how they’d like to re-engage. They can donate, volunteer, become a monthly sustainer. What does this do? Creates or strengthens the donor relationship and hopefully encourages them to commit to some type of support in the new year.
  3. Review your year-end stats and see how many new donors contributed to your campaign. Don’t let these supporters go! Plan an automated email sequence to engage them. What could the sequence include? A thank-you/welcome note, a compelling impact story, some of those stats you pulled, a look at what campaigns or goals you have planned for the new year, options to volunteer or come visit your offices. Your email sequence won’t require much effort, but it will feel like a warm hug to new donors.
  4. Make a list of in-kind donations that would help your nonprofit. Make this list comprehensive: everything from a box of manila envelopes to a printer to a car or van. Often, there’s no strategy for in-kind gifts, and nonprofits gratefully accept anything sent their way. We aren’t suggesting you get particular about what you accept, but knowing what you need means you can solicit the gifts that will make a difference for your organization and possibly even say no thanks to some offers that won't help.
  5. You knew this was coming…make a plan. Pull your team together for lunch. Say thank you! Then, come up with last-year lists of what worked, what didn’t work, and why. Did your emails bring in the most gifts? Was a text-to-give campaign a hit? Was there an image that resounded on social media? Repeat what worked and ditch what didn’t, and set a fundraising goal a little higher than last year’s total. Put pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard) and create a monthly plan that includes goals, campaigns, asks from major donors or grant applications, number of new donors you’d like to engage, and who on your team will spearhead each effort. Trust us! You’ll be in better shape to jump into the second half of January once you have an idea of what you’ll be doing.
  6. Pretend you’re a prospect (or, even better, grab a few neighbors) and navigate (or enlist them to navigate) through your website. Have a list of tasks—donate, sign up for a newsletter, read about the mission, get tax documents—and make sure it’s easy and directions are clear. We talk a lot about frictionless giving, but a frictionless user experience is critical to conversions on your website. If you enlisted your neighbors, ask for their opinions about the site. Conducting an informal usability test can illuminate some easy fixes that will lead to big results.
  7. This might seem odd, but let’s talk about volunteers. How many do you have that show up event after event? How many do you need for what you’ve got planned? All you must do in January is note this information! In the next few months, you can launch efforts to build up your volunteer army if you need it.
  8. Since you have the luxury of a little time, consider crafting a primer on your organization and its mission. Many nonprofits were founded on a dream—what was it? Who had it? How far have you come? This is a foundational marketing document that will help communicate with donors and keep your team focused.

A Little Lift Now for Big Results Later

Yeah, it’s easy to ignore this list of seemingly minor tasks. But in our experience, the nonprofits that cover the basic foundational to-dos in January have a much easier time fundraising, campaign planning, and nurturing donor relationships as the year progresses.

Check off these items; then you can put your feet up. No one knows what this coming year holds. We learned a while ago that the best-laid plans are no more than hope and optimism! But we can push forward with the tried-and-true tactics that are proven to work, and missions will find their supporters.

Happy New Year from the CharityEngine team!