Summer is a quiet time for many nonprofit organizations. Donors are on vacation, students are out of the classroom, and many staff members take well-deserved time away from the office.

Summer is also an important time to plan for the months ahead, when development activity quickly swings into full gear. By mapping out a thorough game plan, you’ll be glad you took advantage of this time.

Here are six tips for making the most of the summertime to get ahead:

Tip 1: Develop a Calendar and Set Goals for the Fall and Winter Months

At the beginning of the summer, develop a fundraising calendar that takes you through the next six to eight months and set goals to achieve during this timeline. This will lay a strong foundation for upcoming donor activity and provide benchmarks to work towards important deadlines. Include key external fundraising events, such as a gala or cultivation dinner, as well as internal meetings with development staff. Make sure that everyone in the development office receives a copy so they are aware of and prepared for upcoming events. If the calendar is iterative, it’s important for staff to have access to a live version.

Developing your calendar is just the beginning. The challenge is working by it. Organize your time so that you are able to meet deadlines and prepare necessary development materials before fundraising activities pick up after Labor Day.

It is also important during this time to challenge yourself to set personal goals that are ambitious but also attainable. Ask yourself: How many donors will we meet with each month? How many gifts will we solicit by Thanksgiving?

Tip 2: It’s All About the Research

Prospect research is vital to developing thoughtful donor engagement strategies. In particular, the wealth and philanthropic indicators included in your research are critical to informing an appropriate target ask amount later on. However, conducting thorough research takes significant time.

The summer months are a great time to conduct prospect research, whether it’s for incoming parents at an independent school, new donors to your Annual Fund, or current donors whom you would like to approach for a special capital campaign gift.

Create research profiles that provide a snapshot of each donor, using key wealth and philanthropic indicators to illustrate capacity. Typically, a research profile includes, but is not limited to, the donor’s relationship with your organization, professional background, board affiliation(s), and notable philanthropic contributions.

Thorough research will enable your organization to better understand prospective donors and position them for a meaningful contribution to your campaign. Identifying who your donors are and how to best cultivate relationships will give you an edge when the time comes to meet in person.

Tip 3: Revisit Your Pipeline

Driving prospect activity is what leads to gifts. Leverage the summer downtime to identify your top 25 prospects and develop a personalized cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship strategy for each of them. Some questions to ask yourself include:

• What should each donor’s personal six-month trajectory look like?
• What needs to happen between now and when you solicit this individual for a gift?
• How will you recognize this donor?

Build on last actions and identify meaningful touch points that will inspire the donor to think big about his or her giving.

On a more technical level, make sure your pipeline is up-to-date and includes key information to inform your strategy and guide activity. Maintaining quality data – such as the source of wealth, lifetime giving, most recent annual gift, etc. – will help to ensure that a donor moves smoothly through the key gift stages.

It’s easy to put off updating your pipeline, but it’s important to allocate fifteen to twenty minutes daily to update your donor activity. If you have notes to add for two donors or ten, get into the habit of inputting them into your pipeline in real time. You’ll be happy you did!

Tip 4: Prepare Marketing Materials

Marketing materials are important tools that articulate your organization’s mission and highlight key programs that distinguish your organization from others.

Spend some time over the summer refreshing the language and visual design of your fundraising and marketing materials. Effective materials incorporate compelling images, statistics, and infographics to highlight key case elements that drive giving. Make sure to factor in time for printing. By the time summer is over, you’ll have a great set of materials ready to share with prospective donors.

Tip 5: Plan Cultivation Events for the Fall

September and October are busy months for fundraising. Take advantage of the quieter summer months to plan events for the fall so that you can kick into full gear after Labor Day. Check off the logistics sooner rather than later: Secure venue? Check. Confirm catering? Check. Develop guest List? Check. This way, once the event is just a few weeks away, your main responsibility will be managing the guest list and ensuring a strong program.

As an example, one independent school in New York hosted a series of current parent breakfasts with the headmaster in September to celebrate the start of the new academic year and to discuss the culture of giving at the school. The development office planned the breakfasts in July to ensure that logistics such as the venue, seating, audio, and food were confirmed well in advance. Once school was in session, the development team was able to focus on managing invitees and ensuring that the event was a success (which it was!)

Tip 6: Celebrate Recent Wins

No one said fundraising was easy. Take some time over the summer months to celebrate successes as a team. It is important to recognize the professionals (and volunteer leadership) that provide the expertise, support, and oftentimes long hours to ensure that you meet your goals. Celebrate recent or notable wins by taking your team to lunch or planning an afternoon excursion. It will build the energy, community, and momentum that will fuel a successful year ahead

This article is an update from a previous post published in April, 2014.

About the Author

Elizabeth Abel is an Assistant Vice President with CCS. Throughout her CCS tenure, she has partnered with diverse institutions in strategic campaign planning and management, development operation assessments, feasibility studies, interim development management, and case development. Elizabeth holds a Masters in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University.