Those who know me, know that I’m what you’d call “a planner.” For example, before I take any trip–even if it’s a place I know–I research latest restaurants, places of interest, stores, and theater shows or exhibits. I make reservations well in advance. I sketch out a general itinerary to make sure I maximize my time. I have emergency contact information and multiple contingency plans. It took one crazy cab ride late at night on what should have been a transit through (not throughout) Naples to teach me to have alternative backup plans! Having a full sense of my options, needs, and resources well in advance puts me at ease and makes my trips much more enjoyable.
The same principles apply when you are planning your fundraising for a new fiscal year. You need to know where you want to go, internal and external factors that may help or hinder the success of that plan, and the steps to take to reach the finish line. The new e-guide, How to Create a Fundraising Plan, launched last week is a step-by step overview of how to create a plan that’s realistic and will help you build a sustainable fundraising model from which you can grow in future years. The key to knowing what plan to write is the prep work you do before you start to map out your course. I call it the “Getting Ready” stage.
First, and most importantly, is determining how much you will need to raise. When your organization begins its budgeting process for the next fiscal year, your senior staff (executive director, board, development director, senior leaders) can discuss anticipated overall expenses (be sure to include both programmatic and administrative!) and how much funding is needed to support your operations. This is essential. You want everyone on the same page when it comes to expenses so that you avoid unrealistic fundraising expectations and goals.
Equally as important to these planning discussions is ensuring everyone understands fundraising trends you’ve experienced in your current and previous fiscal years. These can be one-off events, bequests, or other anomalies that may not be sustainable or guaranteed future sources of funding. Sit down with appropriate staff members and discuss anticipated income. Understanding what’s expected through committed and potential sources will help you better calculate your fundraising goal.
You’ll have identified income you know you can count on from various sources and your overall organization budget for the fiscal year. And you’ll need to understand the “new money” you need to raise. When you start to write the plan, you’ll develop out a fuller pipeline of prospects and anticipated solicitations. If you don’t think you will have the donors and asks needed to reach your budget, now’s the time to discuss this with senior staff so there are no surprises later in the fiscal year. It might mean you adjust the fundraising goal by scaling back new initiatives or programming. It could also be a call to action to engage your board and other volunteers to fundraise in a more engaged way.
Once you’ve got a good handle on your financial needs and potential, take a look at revenue and expenses from your current fiscal year and the past few years to spot patterns in how your donors have behaved as well as overall industry and economic trends. This helps you identify where you should make course corrections in the future. For example, how has giving been to your sector? How has donor confidence been generally? To your organization? How did your fundraising revenue breakdown and what were your fundraising expenses for each donor type? What motivates your donors? Do they tend to give through events or to restricted programs? Learn and grow from what you know now.
Don’t worry about spending too much time finding the exact answers to the broader industry analysis questions. What’s most important is to understand your donors’ giving patterns and the external factors that can affect your organization’s fundraising (for example, does anyone remember the Stock Market plummet of 2008 and the many years it took to restore donor confidence?). Once you’ve done all of this assessment of your data, you’re ready to start building your plan. In my next blog, we’ll review how to use this information to set your course for the next year.
This blog originally was featured on Network for Good’s page in 2015 and has since been updated.