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.