Write a Great Fundraising Development Plan: 7 Key Elements

Is there is really a benefit in creating a written development plan? Many organizations rely on the one in the chief fundraiser’s head, or the one sketched out in the income lines of the operating budget. Too often, those “plans” are low on accuracy and are unlikely to see strategic adjustments if the income does not come in as expected.
A good plan will contain these elements:

  • Analysis of recent fundraising results
  • Current contributed income need
  • A realistic projection of what can be raised
  • Infrastructure improvements that would benefit fundraising efforts
  • Goals and strategies by funder type
  • Relationship-building strategies
  • Timeline and accountability calendar

So, the plan is a terrific internal gauge. It highlights an organization’s recent fundraising results and trends. It builds upon them and allows for reflection. It also encourages conversation about the barriers that might be keeping the organization from attaining more: Are board members engaging prospective donors? Are employees making personal gifts? Are the area’s five capital campaigns taking a toll on the annual fund? As the year goes on, the plan lets everyone know, with specificity, whether the organization is on track to attain its income goals.

It is also a roadmap. If your major donors are dropping like flies, it is not enough to find another high net worth prospect. Your development plan will lay out the strategies that will help retain current donors. It forces you and your team to think through opportunities and weaknesses that form the foundation of all of your solicitations.

The plan is also an educational tool. Board members, and sometimes executive directors, can have outsized expectations about the ease of the fundraising process. A development plan that includes all of the requisite elements illustrates the many pieces that lead up to a gift. It can provide the back story on why last year’s goals were not attained, or the resources needed to make this year’s goals achievable. It can spark conversation about infrastructure needs. It also lets stakeholders understand how they can help. Anyone who has a hand in fundraising can read and comment on the contents. Good development offices will listen carefully to the feedback and incorporate it into the plan.
Maybe most importantly, a plan allows an organization to project realistic income benchmarks. Many organizations base their (sometimes unrealistic) fundraising goals on program costs, but development plans enable programs that have a realistic chance of being funded. That change in mentality makes a big practical difference.
When staff and board members review the plan at least quarterly and suggest tweaks that account for the unexpected, the document can become a backbone for the most ambitious and well-run fundraising operations.

Do You Want to Become a Fundraising Consultant?

Many nonprofit staffers dream about going to “the other side,” as a consultant.  There are many real challenges in making that leap, and even once you do, the career choice entails continuous learning around both the content of your consulting as well as business acumen.  The idea of running a business is quite foreign to many of us who come out of the nonprofit sector.  This year, I was privileged to edit The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook: Winning Strategies from 25 Leaders in the Field, with Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE.  The 25 contributors to the book, as well as hundreds of other consultants I have met this year, have helped me winnow down a few of the key principles that typify successful consultants in our field.

Seek the support of your peers

Yes, we are technically competitors, but this is one of the most generous groups of colleagues around.  I’d like to think that this generosity is a result of our roots in the nonprofit sector.  If you are a new or aspiring consultant, ask a respected colleague to serve as a mentor, and you are likely to get an enthusiastic “yes.”  Plenty of veterans still consider themselves green enough to hold onto a valued sage.  Many more seek the ongoing guidance of peers over time.  After all, consultants juggle business development; client relations; and the latest developments in grants, campaigns, technology, and the development field generally.  We need all the insights we can get.

Let your values guide you

Your knowledge of the field plays only a partial role in your consulting success.  The way you make that first impression, negotiate the contract, and regularly communicate with a client carries just as much weight—and there is no magic formula to perfect any of these things.  Solid ethics are the thread that runs through them all.  If you are honest, reliable, and a good listener, you build trust.  Trust is your number one asset.

Follow your path to success

What I loved most about compiling The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook was affirming the success of consultants with all sorts of business models.  I have met successful specialists and generalists, those who work locally and nationally, those with staff and those who are sole proprietors.  All are successful in their own right.  If someone gives you a prescription for their success, infuse it with your own goals and values before moving forward. For instance, if I had a dollar for every push I’ve gotten to move heavily into social media, I could take a nice vacation.  But my emphasis on targeted, rather than mass, networking and writing has resulted in a steady flow of clients.  Of course, others’ businesses thrive on social media.

Even if you are just beginning to explore consulting, consider using these principles to lay the groundwork for your business plan.   As with most things in life, solid advice—infused with a heavy dose of intuition—makes for the strongest foundation.