Guest post by Kristin Hanson
You just closed calendar year 2021 – congratulations!
After a well-deserved pat on the back, think back to what you were doing about two months ago. Were you rushing around to come up with a plan for your year-end solicitations or stewardship communications, frantically searching for compelling stories to share while navigating the schedule shake-up of the holidays?
Was that an enjoyable experience? Did you really get the most impactful stories your organization could tell? And did your donors respond to them?
If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” or “I don’t know,” now is the time to start planning for your year-end 2022 communications. Yes. Now.
Here are six steps you can take in the next three months to produce better stories with less drama when it’s time to set up your next end-of-year campaign.
Assess your 2022 efforts. Before January ends, take stock of your 2021 campaign. Gather the metrics from your emails, your direct mail solicitations, and your social media campaigns. Set up informal conversations with gift officers to discuss their prospects’ responses to your institution’s year-end campaign. What content performed best? What fell flat? Take some time to consider ideas that came to mind that you didn’t have the time to pursue. With months of advance planning, what could you achieve with your 2022 campaign?
Think about your two or three big 2022 fundraising priorities. What are the overarching areas of emphasis that most of your fundraisers are working toward this year? It may be scholarships, professorships, capital projects, student emergency funds, or something else. Consult your division’s strategic plan or try to schedule conversations with people involved in executing that plan to get more information. Then distill what you learn into two or three big categories in which every part of your institution can see themselves reflected.
Draft your plan. Once you complete steps 1 and 2 — ideally by early February, if not sooner — merge what you’ve learned into a single plan. What kinds of stories can you tell about your institution’s big priorities in the formats that performed well for you in 2021? What ideas did you have for 2021 that you’d like to try in 2022 — and how could those ideas promote your institution’s fundraising priorities? Write your answers to these questions down: This is the backbone of your content strategy.
Start talking to your sources. With the skeleton in place, it’s time to put meat on the bones. Reach out to the people on your campus who know about the people, places, and things that can be the stars of your stories. Ask them: Are there students you can follow over the course of a few months to give a full picture of their campus experience? Will there be summer research projects that lend themselves to arresting photography? Is a new facility being built that would make a perfect time-lapse video? Make these asks a couple of times in case good stories pop up later in the year. Gather as many ideas as you can, then work with your team to narrow your ideas into a flexible, manageable plan for execution.
Connect with your content producers. The last thing you want to do is put together a great plan only to find you don’t have the staff to do the work. Your content producers may work in other institutional departments, such as a university photographer or videographer. You may need to reach out to freelancers. In either case, start having conversations about rates and timelines. You may not have exact dates written down or contracts signed just yet, but this is an important step to ensure your content strategy is executable (and affordable), and to make early changes if it isn’t.
Set checkpoints for yourself. Don’t let your end-of-year content strategy wither after a few weeks like your New Year’s Resolutions will. Put appointments on your calendar that will remind you to revisit your content strategy at regular intervals (monthly is a nice cadence). Have major priorities changed? Have you collected your story ideas? Have you put plans in motion for photography, video, or design projects that will take a long time to produce? Use these checkpoints to keep you and your content producers on track no matter what immediate work falls in your lap.
Yes, January is busy. Yes, it’s hard to ramp back up to racing speed after taking some time off in December. Yes, this is technically adding more work to your already very healthy plate. But they’re manageable tasks. They’re effective tasks. And come September and October next year, you’ll thank yourself for spending months — not weeks — developing a repository of resources to wow your donors in December.
Special thanks to Kristin Hanson for this blog post. Kristin is hands-down one of our favorite storytellers—a unicorn in the nonprofit writing space. If you're looking for a brilliant wordsmith to craft stories that resonate, check her out. We love her—and we know you will, too!