overlay Ideal Timing for Nonprofit Digital Projects

Nonprofit Project Planning Calendar

A new year brings with it so many possibilities. It’s a time to refresh, to reorganize, and to plan ahead. Usually in January we think we have tons of time, and then when December rolls around we ask, “where did the year go?” As you balance the budget, staff capacity, and external events that all impact how you plan digital projects at your organization, don’t overlook timing. Knowing when to start the planning process, and how much time to allow for a project from start to finish, can help ensure a successful launch.

Here are our suggestions for when to kick off fundraising, web design, email, analytics, and tool selection projects, plus the ideal amount of time to dedicate to each.

Peer-to-Peer Events

If you have peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising campaigns that are connected to specific in-person events, you need to start planning well ahead of time for events of all sizes. Your fundraising tools will likely add new features each year, so jumping into the planning process early means your team can take full advantage of everything new your tool has to offer. This lead time isn’t just about making sure the tools you’re using are up to speed—it’s about having enough time to update all elements of your campaign, such as landing pages, forms, and email templates. Early prep widens the window for the marketing and outreach you need to be successful and reach your fundraising goals. The earlier you’re able to finalize everything, the sooner your supporters can create their own pages, giving them ample time to solicit donations from their networks.

We suggest starting in late fall for events in early spring the following year. For summer events, January is the best time to get planning underway.

This lead time gives you the opportunity to:

  • Train your team on tool functionality updates
  • Update the designs of your landing pages and email templates
  • Launch participant recruitment campaigns
  • Provide your fundraisers with time to set up their personal pages
  • Increase your overall fundraising goal as donations come in

Early on in the planning process is also when you should decide if your organization is going to start a do-it-yourself (DIY) fundraising program. You need time to build separate landing pages and craft tailored email messages. Particularly if there are P2P participants who may not be able to attend your physical event, having a DIY option gives them a new way to support your mission. Planning earlier also gives you time to evaluate or migrate to a new tool that might work better for you, if your current solution isn’t meeting your needs. (See the last section of this post for more details on that process.)

Website Design and Development

Maintaining a fresh online presence is an ongoing process and it is a best practice to redesign your website every few years, as your budget allows. To tailor your project, you need to allot time for discovery, which will help you identify your ideal audiences and goals. Other tasks within a web development project include fine-tuning the design, migrating all the content, and integrating your other tools. Each design and development project is unique, and ultimately the exact amount of time it will take depends on the structure, capabilities, and content that your organization needs.

We recommend kicking off these projects at least a year, but no less than nine months, ahead of your ideal launch date.

Twelve months of lead time gives you the space to:

  • Collect data and information to understand and achieve your goals
  • Approve designs
  • Finalize your content
  • Test your site and train your team
  • Create a launch plan

You can start and wrap a website project at any time, but if your fiscal year starts on July 1st you should begin budgeting early in the first quarter of the year, particularly if you need to get organization leadership on board. That means the kick-off and discovery process can start right after your fiscal year ends and you can celebrate launch with your supporters early the following year. If your organization has a fiscal year that begins in January, start thinking about approval and budgeting the summer before you want to get started. Then you can aim for a late fall launch.

Year-End Fundraising

It may be hard to think about winter in the heat of summer, but that’s exactly when your development team should start thinking about its year-end fundraising strategy. This is the best way to avoid the stress and worry that often comes by waiting until fall to begin this process. Remember that Giving Tuesday is the unofficial start date for nonprofit end-of-year campaigns. Starting early means you can be ready to send that first email right after Thanksgiving.

If you start in August by outlining goals and the stories you want to tell, you can get moving on the details and technical aspects right after Labor Day.

This gives you time to:

  • Solicit for a matching gift
  • Brainstorm and strategize campaign theme and plan
  • Map out campaign calendar and write message content
  • Design and approve email templates, images, and additional assets
  • Create a wrap-up campaign for early January

Fundraising campaigns generally need to be flexible. You might get a late season match, there may be current events related to your mission that can inspire more donations, or you might end up increasing your goal as time goes on. Starting the planning process months in advance means you can prepare for these possibilities. Then adapting to the unexpected is as simple as updating your content with already approved images, graphics, and text.

Analytics and Testing

There’s no reason not to implement analytics and testing immediately. This data is valuable no matter when you start gathering it. Specific metrics that are useful as you work on a website project include the most common landing pages, the pathways people take through your site, and important pages that aren’t getting the traffic you want. Assuming you’re planning to use this information to inform a future project, the more data you have the better. Email testing is vital to improving your templates and content, and increasing conversions. Since the best strategy is to test only one element at a time, the process takes time.

We recommend gathering website data for a redesign project for at least three months. When it comes to email A/B tests, three months is a minimum time frame for testing as well.

Gathering at least three months of data means you can:

  • Set up and measure goals such as email signups or resource downloads
  • Track exit pages and improve their content
  • Plan for and use your Google Ad Grant
  • Update email templates, subject lines, and images for optimal open, click, and response rates

Google Optimize is a lesser known but equally useful tool if you’re hoping to improve your web forms. Google Optimize experiments give you the flexibility to test the layout, content, and process of forms. You should think about running these tests in early spring to improve your list growth and fundraising campaigns that take place later in the year.

Email Campaigns

Email campaigns take place throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean that early planning isn’t useful. For example, a re-engagement campaign is a great way to start the year, so you’ll need to start planning your content and journey in early December for a February launch. Another timing consideration should be external events that are relevant to your mission. Pride Month, Women’s History Month, African American History Month, or an election can be leveraged by organizations to promote their work. As can a local giving day, organizational anniversaries, or capital campaigns.

Give your team at least two months to get these campaigns queued up and ready to send.

Consider these tasks:

  • Prepare content for your website landing pages
  • Design and approve messages and images
  • Map journeys
  • Clean, tag, and segment lists
  • Test messages to make sure everything looks right on different devices

Spring cleaning isn’t just for your house either. Once you’ve wrapped your re-engagement campaign, Spring is the perfect time to clean your data. Purge those inactive emails, group your subscribers based on their subscription preferences, and keep track of new data protection regulations to help keep your list in good order.

Tool Selection and Migration

This is a biggie. Your digital marketing tools (email, fundraising, advocacy, etc.) are what keep your organization humming. It takes time to complete an audit of your tools, identify pain points, assess what you need, hold demonstrations of the tools available to meet those requirements, and implement your selected tools. You also have to propose a budget, get it approved, and create a plan for who does what on your team.

Depending on the size of your organization, what tool or tools you’re replacing, and how much data you have, we suggest at least one year to complete this process.

That may seem like a lot of time, but you need the ability to:

  • Participate in a tailored discovery session to establish needs and goals
  • Explore new tools through demonstrations
  • Prepare your data and assets
  • Migrate to the new tool
  • Train your team

Your timing for beginning this process also depends on the type of contract you have with your current tool providers and what your nonprofit’s calendar looks like. If you have a month-to-month plan you can move at any time. But if your contract is annual, you’ll need to factor in exactly when you can migrate based on when it expires. Calendar-wise, you don’t want to load up your plate with these migration tasks at the same time as your biggest event or campaign. Balancing all these factors will help you settle on an ideal start date.

Picking a Partner

There’s one step that all these projects have in common: choosing the right team as your partner to make them happen. You need organization, honesty, and someone who will listen and keep you on track. Look no further than our amazing project managers. We will guide you from start to the ever-important debrief after your project has wrapped. Give us a call or complete this form so we can chat about all your plans for the coming year and how we can work together to make them happen.

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