Development Professionals: Maximize Your Summer
This article originally appeared in Hayidion.
If you want to increase your fundraising, improve your relationships, align your staff and get creative, summer is your golden time. As June 30 approaches, we urge you to plan to use this valuable time wisely, even though it can be hard to be a 12-month employee at a school when the majority of your colleagues are off-campus for the summer. Reframe the summer time as a tremendous opportunity, not a burden.
Setting concrete goals for the summer is key. It’s important to shift perception of the summer as a “break” from direct donor work to critical and foundational planning and preparation time. We have created four categories of work for the summer: cleanup and organizing, professional development and self-care, nurturing relationships, and preparing for the fall. We suggest some objectives for each category of focus. You can use this outline to create a meaningful summer plan that will help you rejuvenate and give you a head start on the next fiscal year.
CLEANUP AND ORGANIZING
Often during the hustle of the school year we don’t have time to keep up with the mess, both the literal one on your desk and in your email inbox, and the figurative messiness of donor relationships that are complicated. During the year, we generate a lot of correspondence, notes and data that will be needed during the coming school year.
Set several targets for your personal cleanup and also for the development department. You might consider setting aside two days for physical cleanup and tackle projects like decluttering your desk and reordering supplies for the year. Electronic cleanup is also crucial in an age where most of our donor communications happen online. Create a system for filing donor emails in online folders so you can easily find the communication later in the year. Assess your filing system in general and make a plan for organizing both paper and electronic communications with donors over the course of the year. Consider moving towards electronic files for ease of use during the busy season and to be kind to the environment. You may also want to review tools that you are using for intake information and what information is being collected by other departments, such as any grandparents covering tuition for a family or students who are not returning to your school.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND SELF-CARE
It is important to take advantage of the slower summer season to focus on yourself. That may mean giving attention to your own self-care by taking a true vacation, exercising during the middle of the day or taking half-day Fridays. To alleviate feelings of exhaustion that often well up by end of fiscal year, set a personal self-care goal for the summer and discuss it with your supervisor so that you can both hold you accountable for recharging your battery and creating more balance.
Summer is an excellent time to make progress on a professional-development goal. Take the chance to invest in your own professional growth while work is at a slower pace. You might identify a particular skill you want to sharpen such as public speaking, facilitation training or data management. If you are able to focus on a specific area of growth and set a deadline to obtain more training in this area, then it will be easier to find the appropriate opportunities. Consider looking into local universities or professional associations in your area like AFP or NAIS, or consulting Prizmah. The summer may be a good time to start working with a coach as well.
While you and your colleagues are in the summer zone, take the opportunity to reinvest in your professional networks. Make a plan to get together with other Jewish day school development professionals in your area or plan for a road trip. Contact the development professionals at your local independent school to schedule a coffee and start building a relationship and your arsenal of local colleagues.
In addition, spend some time thinking about your personal professional goals for the coming year. Some examples might be experimenting with a new time-management system, committing to blogging or writing, taking on a leadership-development goal within your school and reenergizing a committee that has petered out.
During the regular school year, we don’t always have the time we would like to spend with people and nurture relationships with our staff, new prospects, donors and board members.
Your staff has all worked hard to close the school year. Celebrate the end of the year with your staff. Make the time to debrief, train and brainstorm about what went well this past year and areas for growth. Share your self-care goals with your team and encourage them to prioritize their own objectives for this summer.
Make five new friends. Not everyone is away. Who can you meet for coffee that you don’t have time to see during the regular year? Even if your prospects are not available in the summer, chances are fewer organizations are reaching out to them, so you can grab their attention by email or phone and try to set a meeting for the fall.
Summer is also an excellent opportunity to spend time with your top donors out of the cycle of soliciting them. Consider a nontraditional activity such as golf, tennis, a glass of wine in the backyard or a walk around a local reservoir. In addition, look over your entire donor list. Pay attention to people who increased their gifts this year. Are there donors who moved from $180 to $360 or from $1,000 to $1,800? This is the time to reach out to them and begin building a deeper relationship when you don’t have to ask them to renew their gift. Partner with your admissions team to review the incoming students and their families, and queue up any key cultivation meetings that need to happen in the early fall.
Communicate with your board members, if applicable, at their summer locations. Tell them about the work you are doing over the summer and plans for the coming year. Send out the board meeting calendar for the year and update contact information. Ask your president or head of school to go with you to meet with each board member over the summer for an informal meeting to hear their thoughts about their board service and how they hope to use their leadership for the coming year.
PREPARING FOR THE FALL
In order to hit the ground running in mid- to late August when families and faculty return, it is important that you have several areas of your campaign organized.
The first step is to review your organization’s strategic plan. Did the money you raised this year move you closer to achieving your organization’s vision? It is critical to report on the impact of last year’s campaign to motivate donors to renew support. Prepare your case for giving and vet it with your professional and lay leadership.
With the marketing department, create a comprehensive calendar that has all mailings, events and solicitation campaigns clearly planned out. Don’t forget to mark the community calendar so you can avoid conflicts with other organizations. The Jewish holidays always sneak up on us; consider printing Rosh Hashanah cards in July and having them signed and ready to go in the mail. You will thank yourself later!
Once the high-speed pace of the annual campaign kicks off, it can be hard to find time to focus on prospect review. Use the summer months to evaluate your top 100 prospects. Who needs to come off, as they are no longer appropriate prospects, and who needs to be added, particularly from your incoming pool of families, including grandparents? Try to do a little research on 25 prospects. Don’t worry about Lexus Nexus or iWave, you just need Google and you can even get a summer intern to help you, possibly a school alum.
Your database, social media presence and website all need some TLC this summer. Make sure your database is up to date. Remember all those bounced emails and returned invitations? Use that intern to clean up your database. You can also get ahead by prewriting some social media posts and content for your website and having it ready to go.
The more you use the summer to get organized, the smoother and more productive the fall will be and the better a head start you’ll have on achieving your organization’s development goals for the next fiscal year. It all starts with reconceptualizing how you think of the summer. Instead of being on break or feeling like you can’t move forward because your volunteers are away, use the time strategically to set concrete goals, clean up, develop and care for yourself, nurture relationships and start the fall with a leg up feeling calm, energized and organized.
Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is President of Fridman Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is a frequent trainer, workshop presenter, speaker and facilitator. Nanette is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.” Nanette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Weinstock has more than 20 years of experience in major gifts and development and is currently the director of development at Gann Academy in Waltham, MA, and a Wexner Field Fellow. Jennifer can be reached at email@example.com.