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Turn Up the Heat on Summer Outreach and Results

Countdown! Summer officially begins on June 20, which is why I’m writing this post as I recover from the sweatiest-ever spin class.

Flowers are blooming, temperatures are rising (it’s 87 degrees here in Maplewood, New Jersey), and the town pool is already open for business. So for many of us, it feels like summer is already here.

But instead of fantasizing about the good times to come, I recommend you focus on getting your people out of the heat and into action. To find the most effective ways to make that happen, I asked colleagues in the field what they do differently to get summer giving and other participation sizzling. They came back with a slew of great practices. Here’s the first batch.

Q: Is Summer Sizzling or Slow for Your Organization and Your Role?

Some slowdown. We plan, invent, and prep for a fast-paced fall.

Plan and Prep: “I’m going to take the time to revamp our approach to email timing and volume, and I’m very excited. We have a broad idea of where we’re going right now, but it’ll take a few months to plan the exact details and roll out our new program.” —Anna Besmann, marketing and communications associate, Interfaith Youth Core

Invent: “I just did a quick survey of people who’ve clicked in our member newsletter to get feedback. Looking to revamp it to an easier-to-read graphical layout and experimenting with bimonthly, shorter updates instead of longer monthly email.” —Megan Keane, membership director, NTEN

Downtime? What downtime?

“Slow down in summer? I recall there being one [slow summer] when I started 20 years ago. But now it seems to go faster and faster every year.” —Marc Pitman, Fundraising Coach

“Well, there’s less messaging in part because it’s not NTC time (our annual conference). But otherwise, we make no seasonal shifts with communications. Although I’m always torn between trying to make a special push for engagement during traditionally quieter months versus going with it and accepting that people are on vacation and hopefully not reading email.” —Megan Keane

“We just continue as in the rest of the year. Nothing changes.” —Jean Gazis, communications associate, Legal Momentum

Business as usual, and then downtime.

“The first half of or summer is intense! June 30 is the end of our fiscal year, so we’re pushing for year-end gifts and making a lot of specific asks. ‘Sally, you gave last year, and we accomplished XYZ things. Will you support the college again this year?’ We almost always have an end-of-the-year match by one of our trustees to encourage second gifts as well. The second half of our summer (July and August) slows way down, as students are gone, and we have fewer stories to tell. We spend those months doing thank you postcards, creating a year-in-review video, and teasing larger upcoming projects.” —Rebecca Henderson, assistant director of communication for development and alumni relations, Lasell College

The Most Common Summertime Shift: Focusing on Summer Programming and Outdoor Events


“We shift pretty heavily, since libraries fill up as the schools empty out and we have a ton of summer programming. We tend to feature a lot more real-time what’s-happening-now content with kids having fun and people reading.” —Gillian Ream Gainsley, communications and development, Ypsilanti Public Library

“Many organizations I work with focus on summer programs (camps, free lunch when school is out) or themes. Some send out messages less frequently, especially by U.S. mail, but keep their email outreach schedule all year round (with the typical boost at year end).” —Dennis Fischman, communications consultant


“Many nonprofit organizations I work with focus big-time on summertime fundraising events. Those that do walks, runs, golf tournaments, barbecues, etc., focus on turning people out to those events, and they do emphasize the fun and sociability to be had. One organization working to support those who are homeless puts on a Save Our Homes walk in May, a Taste of the City event in June, a barbecue in July, and a golf tournament in September. Most of their communications focus on getting people out to the events.” —Dennis Fischman

My Two Cents

Lighten up. This time of year, you want to be approachable. Even the most serious cause brands will want to embrace the mood and shift its tone and content to reflect the desire for feeling good, levity, unwinding, relaxation, and rewards for a hectic and accomplished first half of the year.

Bring summer vacation to your supporters and prospects. Although vacation isn’t on the books for everyone, you can make it happen for them with vacation-themed events.

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