Building a Fundraising Timeline: A Step-by-Step Guide for Success

Without a fundraising timeline, how will you know the key milestones in your strategy? If you’re planning an event, how will you map out everything you need to do? And how do you define the steps that will help you reach your fundraising goals? 

It’s impossible without a well-structured, comprehensive and flexible timeline. So, to help you create one that works for your fundraising strategy, we’ve got a step-by-step guide to building a successful fundraising timeline. 

Understanding the Importance of a Fundraising Timeline

A fundraising timeline will be central to your fundraising strategy. By tracking every stage of the process, you’ll know exactly what needs to happen when. You’ll also gain a clear understanding of how long different elements will take and the resources you need in place to make it happen. 

With everything tracked in the same place, your staff will be organised as they’ll know exactly when they’ll need to do certain tasks. Plus, they’ll know who’ll be responsible for taking on each task too. And when things are ticked off the list, it gives a sense of momentum that you’re getting closer to your fundraising goals. 

Without an effective timeline, there will be no clear indications of roles and responsibilities. People may double up on jobs or things can be easily missed, creating unnecessary pressure in the lead up to your events or fundraising activities. 

Defining your Fundraising Goals

Whatever your fundraising activities and overall strategy, it’s important to define your fundraising goals. The SMART principle is key here. 

Your fundraising goals should be: 

Specific: Be clear about the amount you want to raise. Don’t just focus on raising “more money than last year” for example. Set detailed goals and clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring success. 

Measurable: Have a specific number and then aim to raise that number. You’ll also want KPIs mapped out along the way on your timeline too. 

Attainable: Yes, ambition is good, but your goals must be attainable. If you set goals that feel impossible, it can have a negative impact on your team. 

Relevant: Your goals should be relevant to your organisation and mission. This will help people get behind them. 

Time-based: Making your goals time-based creates a sense of urgency. 

Your timeline plays into your overarching goals and strategy. With a timeline that tracks your progress and measures if you hit your targets, you have essential clarity on the success of your events and campaigns. If you’re lagging behind for example, with an effective timeline you can look at gaps you can potentially plug with fundraising offers or quick-to-implement initiatives. 

Identifying Key Phases of Your Fundraising Campaign

If you’re planning a fundraising event or campaign as part of your strategy, there are certain key phases you’ll need to integrate into your timeline. They include: 

Planning: At this stage, you’ll need to set your goals for your campaign and define how you expect to achieve them. Brainstorm ideas, map out important milestones, look at your potential budget and assign responsibilities. Proper planning will make or break your campaign. Creating a fundraising committee is essential at this stage. 

Pre-launch: Before you launch your fundraising campaign, you’ll need to understand every element and make sure it’s accounted for. This can be in terms of the technology you need, your budget or the people in place to make it happen. 

Have you got a social media plan to launch the campaign? How are you collecting funds? Are you using digital fundraising methods? If so, you’ll need to set up your campaign page and have everything in place to be able to receive donations. Map out all the responsibilities for the launch and ensure you have the people on the ground to take on specific roles and responsibilities. You’ll also want to promote it effectively prior to your launch, whether using social media or more traditional forms of PR. 

If you’re running a fundraising event, you’ll need to pack up your supplies for the event and get everything in place for the big day. Do a dry run of the event if possible and make sure everyone knows exactly what they need to do and where they need to be once you open your doors.  

Launch and implementation: Your campaign is live. But the work doesn’t stop here. When you’re running digital fundraising campaigns, promotion is essential. Focus on the story behind your campaign and tie this into your goals. How close are you getting to your target? Which people have donated the most? Don’t forget to shout about this in your social media posts. 

If you’re running a fundraising event, once your doors are open, remember to engage with your attendees and offer them lots of different opportunities to donate. You’ll need the right people in at their stations, making the role of your event coordinator super important. 

Evaluation: So, how did you do against your fundraising goals? What KPIs do you have in place to measure the success of your event? Proper evaluation will help you understand what worked and what didn’t. This insight can all be used to help you plan your next fundraising campaign. 

Estimating Timelines for Each Phase and Task

It’s incredibly important to give yourselves adequate time to plan out each phase and task. Don’t rush through the planning. By taking your time at this stage, you’ll be able to properly map out each element and phase. You can understand the tasks within each phase and whether or not you have the team in place to execute it (link to fundraising team article). 

When it comes to the timeframes for the launch and implementation of your campaign, this can play into the mindset of your potential donors. For example, a digital fundraising campaign that’s too long may foster a sense of apathy amongst donors. They may plan to donate at some point, but because they have so much time it doesn’t actually end up happening. A shorter digital fundraising campaign can bring a sense of urgency and make people do it straight away, so they don’t miss out on the opportunity. 

Also, don’t rush your evaluation stage. It’s too easy to gloss over this and start thinking about the next campaign. But if you spend time here, you’ll be able to gather effective insights about successes and failures that you can tap into next time. 

There’s no hard and fast rule for how long each stage should take. It will depend on your individual campaign. However, by doing everything properly at the planning stage and effectively mapping out all requirements and scenarios, you’ll get a good idea for how long each phase should take. Look at factors like number of volunteers, complexity of each task and the resources you need. If you have a small team with a lot of tasks, you may need to extend your timeframes or potentially revisit your strategy. 

Building your Fundraising Timeline

Let’s start with your goals, after all everything flows from here. We’ve already covered the SMART principles, but when setting your goals, it makes sense to look back too. If your timeline covers a full year or just one quarter, look back at the last year or quarter. How much did you raise? Was it a success? What worked and what didn’t? How can it be bettered this time around? Once you have an idea of your goals, you can start mapping out potential events and fundraising ideas to help you achieve them. 

The key thing is to write everything down. Get your fundraising committee together and run through each element of your potential plan – this could be a fundraising event or a digital fundraising campaign. Either way, it makes sense to have all stakeholders in the room, as they will likely have valuable experience across different areas and will know what’s required in each phase. 

Once you have this down in rough form, in excel or word for example, you can then look to create visual timelines that each stakeholder can access. Project management tools like Asana and Workfront enable you to add tasks, assign them to people and track progress. Every member of your team will be able to log in and update when they finish their tasks. They will also have an overview of the personal jobs they need to complete as well as an overarching view of all the tasks within your project timeline. You can view it on a calendar with jobs that need to be completed daily, on a person-by-person view or simply as an overview of your entire timeline. 

To help you build your timeline from scratch, you can download fundraising timeline templates which act as a good guide to work out what you need to do at each stage. However, once you have your rough timeline, we recommend using project management software as you get into the granular detail of every single task and monitor progress in real time. 

Monitoring and Adjusting your Timeline

No fundraising timeline should ever be fixed. Maybe you’ll get things done quicker than you expected, perhaps certain elements take longer, or you encounter some unexpected bumps in the road. 

You should regularly review your timeline in your ongoing huddles with your fundraising committee and key team. Ask team members for verbal updates on their tasks as well as running through your project management software together. It pays to be flexible and to change things up as and when you need to. 

However, it’s also important not to lose sight of your goals. Every time you catch up with your central team, your discussions should always revert back to your overall goals. Remember, your goal isn’t to hold a fundraising event, it is to raise a certain amount of funds. If it looks like your event may not work, don’t be afraid to change it up for something that will. And if you’re raising more money than anticipated through digital fundraising, a little flexibility means you can pivot your strategy towards more effective forms of fundraising. 

Making your Fundraising Timeline Central to your Strategy

With an effective fundraising timeline, you’ll understand your goals and what you need to do to get there. Every stakeholder on your team will have clarity on their roles and responsibilities. Plus, you’ll have the insight on what’s working and whether or not you need to change things up. Your timeline is an essential tool in your strategy.