Picture: Copyright Bigstock.com/CandyBox Images. Used with permission.   Create a plan!

Picture: Copyright Bigstock.com/CandyBox Images. Used with permission. Create a plan!

In a recently concluded survey of 1200 fundraisers, Gail Perry of Fired Up Fundraising asked “What Keeps 1200 Fundraisers Up at Night?” The answers were almost all management related, painting a picture of pretty unpleasant places for many fundraisers to work. 

With the average tenure of Directors of Development now being less than two years and major gift officers being sixteen months according to a Nonprofit Times article out earlier this week, it seems fundraisers have good reasons for imitating the Runaway Bride, bolting out the door at the thought of making a long-term commitment to the organizations they serve.

In Gail’s survey, fundraisers mentioned too much to do, too little assistance, too little support from management, confusion about priorities, changing priorities or changing goals mid-year, and an absence of a coordinated fundraising plan. Yuck!

No wonder we’re unhappy with 57% of us planning to leave our current positions and 40% of us contemplating exiting the development profession altogether, according to Compasspoint’s oft-cited Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising. study. 

But, these challenges—an absence of clear priorities, shifting priorities, changing goals, too much to do, too little support, an absence of a coordinated strategy—can all be addressed by one thing:  a comprehensive fundraising plan and the planning process. A good development plan carefully lays out the strategy and the resources required (including the time and staff resources) to achieve each strategy. More significantly, the planning process, if done well, is a process of building consensus about goals, strategies, resource deployment, and accountability.

The development plan is not just something the development director should unilaterally write. The fundraising plan is something that should be written in dialogue with a team of organizational decision makers–development committee members, finance chairperson, Executive Director, marketing/communications (if separate from development), volunteer coordination (if separate from development), and other key fundraising leadership (event chairs, for example) so that the end product reflects a shared understanding of how the organization is going to achieve its fundraising goals for the year. When written this way, there should not later be shifting priorities, new goals or direction, or an absence of appreciation for development’s workload. There should be a shared understanding of the plan and the process.


The Beauty of a Fundraising Plan

A fundraising plan is a wonderful tool. Not only does it establish goals, fundraising strategies, priorities, and accountabilities for the year, but also, because the plan is made in coordination with the budget and with the input of the board of directors and the Executive Director, there is joint ownership of the plan and its goals, strategies, priorities, and accountabilities. Mid-year, when someone wants to change something or increase a goal, the conversation doesn’t have to be “Wait! You’re increasing my goal and my work!” but “Wait! Your changing OUR plan and OUR goals! How will WE do it? WE agreed that WE were only able to do this this year. I think this will have to go in the plan for next year….” 

The fundraising planning process brings clarity to the development office:  what has to be done when. It gives the development office a road map to follow. Each month, you can review your list of what has to be accomplished to stay on track. You can also remind others.

These reminders can be helpful in establishing protective boundaries, “I’m so sorry, I can’t take that project on. Remember: we agreed in our fundraising plan that I would make sure the donor newsletter got to the printer this month and that I made sure the gala committee booked a date and venue. I’ve got to get the committee together and the newsletter is still not at the press.  I’m so sorry. I’d love to help, but I can’t.” Then, those projects that always seem to slide—like the donor newsletter—get done! They don’t get pushed around by other people’s priorities and projects.  

In the planning process, if you have a month that is too full, that looks like it has a workload you can’t manage, highlight that in the planning process. Ask for direction in prioritizing or ask for help. Is there funding you can use to hire a temp? An intern? Can you borrow a staff member for a month? Will a board member volunteer or loan you some of their business’s employee labor?  Ask your board to brainstorm in the planning process.

Both the fundraising plan that you create and the fundraising planning process are wonderful things. That’s why, as we earlier highlighted on this blog, the 3rd Space Studio found in their research that creating a fundraising plan (and not necessarily regularly following it!) is the single most important thing your organization can do to improve your fundraising results.


 Copyright: Bigstock.com/Ivelin Radkov. Used with permission.  Map out your strategy, step-by-step!

Copyright: Bigstock.com/Ivelin Radkov. Used with permission. Map out your strategy, step-by-step!

Register Today: Learn to Create Your Fundraising Plan

We’ve created an awesome, hands-on 3-week class, Creating a Development Plan, to help you create your fundraising plan. Learn how to create a fundraising plan. Beginning next Tuesday, November 2nd. Learn more and register here.  You won’t want to miss this!  Register today!

Full participation in Creating a Development Plan is applicable for 6.0 points in Category 1.B – Education of the CFRE International application for initial certification and/or recertification.

If management issues keep fundraisers awake at night, then a fundraising plan helps them rest peacefully. Plan your work. Work your plan. Stay focused. Sleep soundly, fundraisers.


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