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(Adapted from Boards That Love Fundraising: A How-To Guide For Your Board)

Does your nonprofit have a written development plan with a calendar that specifies the kinds of fundraising that you plan to do in the next six months to three years and the people responsible for planning and implementing your campaigns? If not, you're flying blind. While it is always important to do fundraising planning, tough economic times make it imperative. The best fundraising is done systematically, not episodically.

This requires a development plan, which is a blueprint for raising the funds required to achieve the goals stated in your strategic plan. It is the board's responsibility to direct staff to prepare a fundraising plan, or to commission a consultant to do so. If you choose to proceed without a consultant, the fundraising committee must help staff determine strategies and set goals. The staff is then responsible for drafting the plan for the committee's review. Once the plan is completed, the fundraising committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the plan and reporting to the full board on developments.

Program Determines Funding
The first step in the solicitation process has nothing to do with raising money! Before you begin your fundraising??and certainly before you begin drafting letters and proposals ?? you must give serious thought to the purposes for which you intend to solicit money. Keep the following rule in mind: Program determines funding, not vice-versa. That is, you must decide what your organization hopes to accomplish in the next one to three years and what it will cost to meet your goals. These decisions have nothing to do with fundraising. Assuming that your board of directors has a written and updated mission statement and a strategic plan (or at a minimum a vision for the future), you are ready to begin your analysis.

Planning Committee
Assemble an ad hoc planning committee of executive staff and board members to review current projects and to make recommendations for the future. Hint: Often smaller organizations assign this planning to development staff but that misses the opportunity to engage others in the fundraising effort. The executive director and board president should serve on this committee, as should the development director, the finance director, appropriate program staff, and interested members of the board. If your board has a program committee and a fund development committee, representatives should serve on this new planning committee. The planning committee's first job is to review your nonprofit's current projects.
How many separate projects does your organization operate? How much staff time is devoted to each project? What does each project cost?

The committee must next consider what the organization will be doing three years from now. Which current projects will be continued? expanded? eliminated? What new projects might be initiated? Money is not a factor at this point. When your organization begins its systematic effort to raise funds, certain projects may fall by the wayside. At this stage, however, the planning committee should concentrate on the projects that your nonprofit hopes to operate within the next three years. Once all projects are listed, they should be arranged in priority order. Now that you've decided what you want to raise money to do and how much you'll need, it's time for or planning committee to review your organization's fundraising efforts to date and to plan future development efforts.

Assessing Your Fundraising to Date
The assessment includes a detailed evaluation of all fundraising and public relations activities undertaken by the organization in the recent past (usually three years), with particular emphasis on the board's enthusiasm for fundraising and the adequacy of staff and staff time devoted to fundraising and public relations. For a review of what the board's fundraising responsibilities are see Boards That Love Fundraising: Specific Responsibilities. For a few points about staff see What the Board Needs to Understand About Fundraising Staff." Armed with information culled from the review of materials and the interviews, the people preparing the plan are ready to write an assessment of your organization's fundraising to date. For a list of questions about your fundraising to date email.

Strategies for Fundraising
After the assessment is complete, the second step is to review new or expanded development strategies not yet initiated by the organization. When considering an expanded or new fundraising strategy here are just a few questions to ask:

  • Has our nonprofit utilized this fundraising approach? If so, how much money was generated? How much staff, board and volunteer time were utilized? Was the effort cost-effective?
  • If we have not employed this fundraising technique, should we try it in the next one to three years? This will depend on the appropriateness of the technique for your donor constituency and on the staff, board and volunteer "people-power" available to your organization.
  • Which fundraising approaches correspond best with the projects that we intend to continue or to initiate in the next one to three years? That is, does one project offer the heart-tugging potential that can make a direct mail campaign a smashing success? Does another match up nicely with a potential online campaign? Might a third appeal to foundations? What about major donors? Or perhaps it's bricks, which calls for a capital campaign.

Admittedly, this is not a simple task. If you don't have an experienced director of development on staff, you might consider employing a fundraising consultant to assist with this portion of the assessment. Once these questions have been answered, you're ready to prepare a formal fundraising calendar.

The Fundraising Calendar

The final and most important section of the fundraising plan is the task list calendar. The calendar includes a semi-annual list of responsibilities within each fundraising category. Included are the particular tasks in each category, the person or persons responsible for those tasks, and the financial goal. The plan is a document covering a period from one to three years--depending on the needs of your organization. The plan includes each appropriate fundraising category, the tasks to be accomplished during each six-month period within that category, the individual(s) responsible for carrying out those tasks, and the amount of money your nonprofit hopes to raise in each category. The plan is a user-friendly document that can be conveniently displayed above the desks of every board member, the executive director, the development director, and other appropriate individuals.

It is critically important that nonprofit organizations leave behind the "hand-to-mouth" fundraising that has bedeviled our sector. With the systematic planning approach described above, your nonprofit will be equipped to seek funding in an effective and timely fashion.

P.S. For a list of questions about your fundraising to date email.

Copyright 2008 Zimmerman Lehman.

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