Fundraising Planning for 2016 – Use a Planning Calendar

Fundraising Planning for 2016 – Use a Planning Calendar


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


I remember years ago, working for TNC in Wisconsin. We were working on several big thorny complicated deals, and we were struggling with how we were going to get everything done. Each project was inevitably going to come down to the wire in the same two or three week period.

To help facilitate, I cut up strips of paper, each representing the length of time it would take to finish a particular task. And we started moving the strips around on the table to graphically get our heads around how to make the impossible possible.

When you do this, you quickly realize two things: First, some things cannot start until other things are done. For example, you can’t start printing your fall appeal until the boxes of letterhead arrive. And you can’t raise money for a particular land acquisition until the landowner has accepted the purchase offer.

There is software that will work all this out for you if you have enough patience and time to learn how to use it. (It turns out that not being able to start something until something else is done has a name – “critical path.” The critical path, then, defines the shortest period of time it takes to get a large project done. I love that.)


Fundraiser’s Almanac – October

Fundraiser’s Almanac – November


Second, you realize that some things can be done completely out of context to their due date. For example, you could print all your renewal letters for the rest of the year in March, completely removing the task from the craziness of the Holidays.

Regardless, as you consider the parts and pieces of your fundraising plan for 2016, it will help you to use a calendar approach. Calendar not only the due dates, but also the work. Look for critical path elements and bottlenecks that you can eliminate by moving work out of context to their due date. Shade in weeks that appear to be “full.”

Here are some other generalized things to think about as you plan for 2016:

  • Schedule your big organizational dates first – board meetings, annual meeting, and big fundraising events. If you haven’t set those dates yet, consider setting them for the entire year NOW. In fact, I encourage you to set them for 2017 now as well.
  • Schedule your BIG ROCKS next. (What’s a BIG ROCK?) A BIG ROCK is something big and important enough to have to plan around, yet not particularly urgent right now. Your vacation is one example. If you let it go, you’ll be taking a vacation at a time when you really should be doing something else entirely. (And probably feeling guilty about that.) Other examples of BIG ROCKS are connecting with major gift donors about current projects four or five times during the year, planning a Spring Appeal, visiting a new project personally, and thinking about people you might wish to recruit to the board – someday. (Hint: having coffee with a $1,000 donor is a BIG ROCK. Getting pictures uploaded to Facebook is not.)
  • Break down big projects into bite-sized pieces that might be accomplished in a few days or a week. So instead of “Organize the Donor Appreciation Dinner,” you might have “Secure a Speaker,” “Secure a venue,” and “Solicit five possible lead sponsors.” Then schedule those pieces.
  • Schedule your work based on your own personal style. I can’t write a long complicated report in short time blocks between other projects. I need to take a deep dive into the writing, often turning my phone and email off, and sometimes even writing away from my office. Many people can write in the middle of chaos. Some write well in the morning, some late at night. Whatever your style and work needs, use your calendar to create space to get work done effectively and efficiently.
  • Schedule the grant deadlines for all of your foundations. Schedule them so that you submit the grant requests a week early. Schedule them in order of ask amount so that the largest grant requests get scheduled first. Then schedule sufficient research time, writing time, and internal review time.
  • Schedule Asks. This post is about creating a plan to raise money for your land trust. Make sure that you are planning to ask for money. And make sure that the sum of the asks is greater than the actual goal. Not everyone will say yes, so you probably need to plan to ask for $100,000 to get $80,000 – assuming all those people gave money last year. Scheduling foundation asks (grant requests) is easy, because the foundations publish their due dates. It may not be as easy for individuals and corporations, but it’s just as important and for the same reasons.
  • If you find your calendar has bottlenecks, move the work out ahead of the bottleneck to the degree possible. I used the example of renewal notices printed in March as one example. By March 1st, you know everything you need to know about who will need renewal notices and for how much for the rest of the calendar year. You could segment the entire audience as a whole; import their renewal month along with name, address, and gift amount; and stuff, seal, stamp, and box them up by month, ready to be mailed at each appropriate time.



There are two objections to this kind of planning. “I don’t have enough time to plan,” is one I hear often. Planning does take time, but I also argue not having time to plan is a natural consequence of not planning.

The other complaint I get is about planning creating a barrier to innovation. “Plans are like straightjackets. The more planned we are, the less flexible we can be, and the less innovation we can cultivate.”


After some trial and error, I started planning only about 60% of my time. It seems like there’s something coming in from left field often enough that scheduling any more than that can lead to over-extension. In other words, I plan to be flexible.

One last thought about planning: Consider that there is great comfort in being chronically over-committed. When your job is to do 120-150% of what could reasonably be done given the time and resources you have, everyone understands that you couldn’t possible do it all. So what you actually end up doing, then, is whatever you find easiest to do, the most fun, or seemingly the most urgent. Extroverts rejoice inside when the phone rings, because it means that they can take a break from writing that newsletter article. Introverts avoid making enough appointments with donors outside the office, because they have to finish up that analytical report.

Planning means that you have a better chance of not over-committing. This gives you a better chance of getting the most important things done regardless of whether they are also the most comfortable or urgent.


So what are you doing in November 2015 to plan your 2016 work?



David Allen


Related Posts

First Take – Fundraising Planning for 2016

Fundraising Planning for 2016 – I Dream of Board Fundraising


Photo credit: Autumn Bridge courtesy of Walt Kaesler.


Find out how David can help you with your fundraising campaigns here.

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  • David Allen
    Posted at 20:48h, 02 December

    (From my email this week…)

    Hi David,

    “Hope this finds you warm and well! Love this email from your listserv. It’s a good reminder for me to check your blog posts, too.

    “Question: you wrote “For example, you could print all your renewal letters for the rest of the year in March, completely removing the task from the craziness of the Holidays.” How do you suggest handling the variable data or customization of the letters when they are generated so far in advance? As you know, we are constantly driving to increase membership. This (hopefully) means we have many more year end gift appeal recipients by October than we did in March.

    “Thanks for fielding this question amid the holiday craziness!”

    Warm regards,

    • David Allen
      Posted at 20:52h, 02 December


      The specific premise of preparing letters in March assumed that an organization might have had renewals throughout the year. Forget the specific month for a moment and consider the larger point: that you know right now everyone who should renew their membership in the next nine or ten months. And you know enough about their giving history to make a very educated guess about how much to ask them for come renewal time. So you could – theoretically – prepare, print, stuff, seal, and stamp their renewal letters NOW. Will you have to pull a couple and redo them based on changing information? Sure – you might. But that is far less work than starting from scratch.

      The point of the blog post was that you don’t have to plan the work right on top of when it’s due. If there is a bottleneck in the fall, you can back out the work into another time of the year.

      Happy Holidays!

      And Cheers,


  • David Allen
    Posted at 16:52h, 10 November

    (From my email this week….
    Thanks, Anita!)

    Nice post
    I just forwarded it to my co=workers. So many universal concepts here!


  • Lisa Haderlein
    Posted at 12:31h, 10 November

    David – Thank you for this post. I was just starting to work on a calendar for 2016, so this was very timely! I love the idea of BIG ROCKs – great thing to include on the calendar. Also, using the calendar to identify where there might be bottlenecks, so we can plan around them.


    • David Allen
      Posted at 20:02h, 12 November

      Thank you for your comment, Lisa. I’m glad to see you’re thinking about 2016 fundraising planning this early! -da