Raise your hand – how many of you have a formal fundraising plan? Don’t be embarrassed, in a survey of over 800 fundraisers and board members, international fundraising consultant Gail Perry found that only 43% actually had a fundraising plan in place. In fact, 20% had no plan at all. Without a plan we, as fundraisers, simply are not raising the money needed for our organizations, and we are burning ourselves out.
I am a planner, I always have been, but I had my ‘a-ha’ moment about fundraising plans when I first read Heather Yandow’s Individual Donor Benchmark Report in 2014. She looked at the data collected in that survey to determine the best predictor of fundraising success. She reviewed a variety of data points including board involvement and staff experience. The number one predictor of fundraising success was having a plan. And, it was not about checking that plan daily; it was the act of planning that created the benefits.
So even if your plan sits on the shelf, you still are getting the benefits from it because you went through the process, had the conversations, determined the priorities and thought about strategies, timelines and budgets.
The majority of Advancement Advisors’ clients are small to mid-size nonprofits, we work with human service organizations, arts programs, libraries and educational groups. My consulting experience reinforces Yandow's conclusions. In fact, I have found that smart planning is even more critical for nonprofits with limited staff and budget.
So why don’t a majority of fundraisers work with a written plan in place? It takes too much time; fundraising is not seen as an organizational priority; or maybe leadership and even fundraising staff don’t see the value.
Having a plan helps you stay out of crisis mode and control the flow of work in your office. A written plan allows you to shift from being reactive in your fundraising approach to being proactive, operating thoughtfully with strategic use of resources in a way that is donor-centric and mission-driven.
Ever wonder why your board or development committee members continue to suggest crazy fundraising ideas to you? Because they don’t understand what you are doing and they haven’t been involved in any process that shows the strategy behind your work. Working with them to develop a plan builds their confidence in you and your fundraising program.
A good fundraising plan is a roadmap to success, detailing how you allocate your resources of time and money. It provides the who, what, when and how much for each fundraising strategy and goal you are working toward. It includes both overall and specific fundraising goals, along with the potential sources of donors and strategies to reach those donors.
But your plan should not be just about asking for support. How will you thank donors and steward their gifts? How will you build relationships with them? Include non-monetary goals as well, activities and tasks that impact the success of your plan – things like creating a culture of philanthropy, board engagement in fundraising and building the necessary infrastructure to support fundraising.
Use the planning process as an opportunity for education – for your executive leadership, program staff, and board. By actively engaging them in the process they will gain a better understanding of the many layers of fundraising and the impact of what they do on fundraising success. Your plan will not be effective unless those who will be involved in the implementation are also involved in the planning.
Engagement creates a sense of ownership in the plan and its outcomes. Assign responsibility in the plan and create accountability for the work. Of course, this makes the process harder and often longer, but the results will be worth the effort. Your organization will be stronger, your culture more collaborative and, as the research shows, your fundraising more successful.
Don’t let the planning process become an opportunity to create more work for you and your team; instead, it should be an opportunity to work smarter. Evaluate what you are currently doing or have done in the past in terms of impact. Some things you might consider:
How does the activity align with the mission?
How does it raise awareness and build constituency?
What is the profitability of the activity? Taking into consideration soft costs, such as time and opportunities lost, what is the total cost compared to revenue generated?
The planning process will help you make decisions you might be grappling with. For example, if you have been producing an event or sending out an appeal for years with little return, use the planning process to take a hard look at how the event or the solicitation is achieving relative to the stated goals and objectives. List every step that goes into the activity so there is true understanding of both the strategy and process. Consider the resources you have available to devote to each strategy and evaluate for potential return on investment. Decide what you can do and then do it well. Remember to allow for strategic and organic growth over time.
In a nonprofit organization, fundraising is everybody’s job – from the hourly employee to the salaried CEO. When you mobilize your entire staff and board to be a part of the planning process, your fundraising capacity increases dramatically. When you have a plan that details how each person has an impact, a culture where everyone understands and values philanthropy will flourish. Better still, you will raise more money and maybe even make your job a bit easier and more enjoyable.
Raise your hand – how many of you are going to start creating your fundraising plan?
Maureen Mahoney Hill, CFRE, Founder and Principal
With strategy, creativity and integrity, Maureen Mahoney Hill, CFRE, counsels nonprofit clients to help them meet – and often exceed – their fundraising goals. Since starting her consulting practice in 2006, she has helped clients raise $16 million, bringing her career fundraising
total to more than $40 million.
As a Principal with Advancement Advisors, Maureen builds fundraising, communications and marketing capacity in nonprofit organizations. Her practice focuses on board training and development; coaching; planning and strategy development for major and planned gifts; fundraising plans; and audits and feasibility studies.
A long-time Certified Fund Raising Executive, Maureen recently added to her credentials by achieving the status of Master Trainer with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). Her vast knowledge and dynamic style make her a sought-after speaker. In addition to her direct work with clients, Maureen launched Advancement Academy in 2017, an ongoing series of training sessions for fundraising professionals.
To learn more about Advancement Advisors, please visit AdvancementAdvisorsGroup.com or call Maureen at 412-780-4708.