Giving season is right around the corner, and we know that, in between sips of pumpkin spice lattes, fundraising and development teams across the country are busy finalizing their plans to maximize giving opportunities. But have you ever considered that the months leading up to giving season are actually a perfect time to review your organization’s financial position?
Revenue goals are usually set during budget development time – several months if not a year before giving season. A review of the books can help you and your development team approach that critical time with strategy and focus. This is a time for group discussion at all levels of your organization – from board to staff. These conversations are not about blame, they are about shared learning. If you can set that tone with your team and be transparent with them, you can generate powerful insights and ideas during this exercise.
Here are six key actions we recommend that can prime your organization for giving season success.
1. Bring your financial data up to date. At the risk of stating the obvious, without accurate data, you can’t make informed decisions. So, if your organization is not in the habit of closing the books on a monthly basis, you’ll want to take the time to update your financials now. We recommend that you catch up on accounting data entry, reconciliations, and fund accounting through at least June 30th.
2. Pull some revenue reports and analyze your year-to-date fundraising goals versus actual. Once you have good data in your general ledger, you can run budget variance reports to see how the organization has performed relative to goals. (It might also be helpful to review this year’s budget variances compared to last year’s.) Focus on revenues and related development activities. What campaigns or fundraising initiatives have been successful? What wasn’t so successful? Variance reports, when presented correctly, can be powerful conversation starters. Pull together your leadership team/key staff and dialogue with them to get down to the answers. Get all the unsaid stuff said so you can look ahead as honestly as possible as a team.
3. Review program and operations variance reports and budgets. In this step, you want to look at both revenue and expenses. If your general ledger system is set up to track program income and expenses discretely, that can streamline this type of reporting. Highlight the funding shortfalls and windfalls, and examine expenses for each program relative to budget.
4. Dialogue with your team about the reasons behind variances. Again, it’s critical to be inclusive with this dialogue. What are the trends revealed in the data? Are expenses higher or lower than anticipated? Why? What has changed since your budget was developed? What upcoming revenue/expenses will affect the organization? Some of the answers will be obvious – e.g. you hired more or less staff than expected or got an unexpected gift from a new major donor. It’s important to name those, but the real goal here is to uncover anything that might not be obvious. Be aware that folks may get lost in the weeds during these conversations. If that happens, try to redirect to a macro view.
5. Decide which funding gaps you will work to close through giving season. Now that you have good data and a solid understanding of both your overall revenue needs and program-specific needs, the development team can frame your giving season appeals accordingly. If not readily available, ask your program and finance team to provide data to support your messaging. How many people have you served? How many lives are impacted by your work? What’s the impact of $1, $5, or $50? Leverage your most compelling data points to frame your messaging and asks. This is how you transform your campaign from generic – “We Need Your Help” – to focused – “This Family Will Have Meals for a Week Because of You.”
6. Get your board on board. Take your giving season campaign goals to the full board as soon as they are finalized. In particular, ensure that your development committee is ready to lead the giving season charge. If you are planning fundraising events, work with event committees closely so that messaging is consistent across events and online initiatives. Everyone on your team and board should be clear on goals and excited for campaign kick-off.
Hopefully you agree that a data-driven approach to giving season can help strategically shape your year-end giving goals and inform the messaging of your appeals. And if the process to review and leverage financial data with your board and team is authentic and sound, you might even build more camaraderie and create internal momentum at one of the most pivotal fundraising times of the year.
For more specific tips on how to manage the steps in this article, download our handy (and free!) Ultimate Nonprofit Finance Checklist for Giving Season. We’re pretty sure it’s the first list of its kind, so enjoy and leave us a comment below if you have any feedback.