Starting a New Fiscal Year

Posted on 07/08/2020

Fundraising can feel like a never-ending cycle. There are always appeals to produce, emails to send, and thank you notes to sign. There are always constituents to engage, donors to cultivate, and volunteers to support. There are reports to run, pledges to remind, and gifts to steward. That’s why a fiscal year is so important: it provides an opportunity to stop, evaluate your efforts, and set the stage for the days ahead. 

This year’s fiscal “reset” will be especially important. Over the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned many school advancement programs upside down. Teams have had to abandon existing plans, adjust priorities and goals, and think and work in entirely new ways. As a shadow of uncertainty continues to loom over the semester ahead, advancement professionals need to clear their heads and figure out how to begin the new fiscal year on a positive note. Here are 6 tips to help:

  1. Give thanks. Identify those people who really went above and beyond—especially over the past few months—and let them know what a difference they made. This could include donors, volunteers, colleagues, and supervisors, and could involve something as simple as an email or a phone call from you. Even in the age of digital everything, don’t underestimate the value of a simple handwritten note.
  2. Look back. Set aside a couple of hours to review your results from the past year. Don’t make any assumptions. While many may find themselves down compared to the year before, that will not be the case for every program. If you had a down year, try identifying when and where the declines occurred. More importantly, though, ask yourself why those declines occurred and what can be done to reduce similar declines in the year ahead.
  3. Talk to peers. Reach out to colleagues at other institutions to find out how they did. Don’t just ask if they had a good year or bad year. Dig a little deeper. What was their biggest success? Their biggest failure? Their most innovative idea? Their proudest moment? What did they try that was new or different? What would they go back and change if they could?
  4. Set short-term priorities. The world’s outlook is still very uncertain and things seem to change with each passing day. Although you’ll need to have goals for the year, it may make sense to establish targets and evaluate progress in 3-month increments. Operating in “quarters” will help to keep your program focused and nimble while making it easier to pivot if needed.
  5. Keep your eye on the big picture. Define success for the year ahead. While there will likely be many things that you’ll be expected to accomplish, set one overarching goal to guide everything you do. Ask yourself, “How will I know if I’ve been successful regardless of what changes and challenges come my way?”
  6. Develop a contingency plan. Who knows what the future will bring, so hope for the best and plan for the worst. Determine what you will do if the pandemic surges, classes get cancelled, or the recession deepens. Doing so will reduce your anxiety and keep you from worrying too much about things you can’t control. 

Above all, though, remember to pause. The change and uncertainty of the past few months has no doubt been taxing on you and those around you. So stop, relax, enjoy some time off, or simply take a deep breath. Because when you come back, the fundraising cycle will start all over again.


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