“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Embarking on a new year—whether it’s a calendar or fiscal year (or both!)—is always an opportunity for a fresh start. After all, that’s why resolutions are written at the start of a new year. New year. New goals. It’s the same with writing a development plan for your nonprofit, which you can think of as a business plan for fundraising. It helps you develop the discipline of looking at what you’ve done well and where you need to improve, setting your sights for the year ahead, and mapping out what you will do to reach your goals. Simply put, it translates your wishes to goals.
Let’s pause for a moment to think about the 30,000-foot view. Fundraising is not just about raising money. The core of our work as fundraisers is as relationship architects between our organizations and the donors who currently or, we hope will eventually, support us. Our goal is to create two-way conversations that are not transactional or circular exchanges of asking and receiving money. We know this isn’t sustainable in the long term. A development plan is more than just a set of lists, calendars, and activities. It’s a strategic compilation of all the ways you can connect and communicate with your donors which, if done effectively, leads to increased revenue. It’s a competitive market out there. There are 1.8 million nonprofits in the US with about 75,000 new ones registering with the IRS each year. If you feel like the room is getting crowded, so do our donors. What makes the difference to them is if they feel valued by you and connected to your organization. If not, they’ll go somewhere else to give.
So, your development plan should focus on four key areas:
1. Balancing your portfolio:
If your funding generally comes from one source more than others, it’s time to think about how to rebalance things. This might mean looking at how to welcome more individual donors instead of relying primarily on foundations and/or corporations. It could also mean thinking about others ways to build donor relationships besides the one major gala or one major direct mail appeal you do each year. Putting all your eggs in the proverbial basket is not sustainable.
2. Setting the stage for major gifts:
Every organization no matter how small can, and should, be raising major gifts. A successful major gifts program does not focus on high net-worth individuals with no connection to your organization. In fact, you probably already know who your major (current and potential) donors are. Your next major gift will likely come from one of these donors who has the capacity and who has been supporting you for a long time (and not at particularly high levels) and may also have been involved as a volunteer. Carving out a little time for more personal interactions with these donors will help you qualify those who can make larger gifts down the road.
3. Creating greater donor engagement:
It’s easy to become complacent and think that just because donors have chosen to invest in our cause, they will unconditionally support us and that when we ask again they will give. Nonprofits on average lose more than 60% of their donors each year because they haven’t figured out the right way to connect with their donors. Good donor engagement involves a regular calendar of touchpoints, updates, and communications that highlights stories of successes, progress, results, and even failures and challenges. Donors want to see, feel, and touch the impact their gifts are having. They want a donor relationship and an exceptional donor experience. You are most likely already doing it without defining these activities in that way: annual reports, newsletters, special webinars hosted by your key program leadership, holiday and birthday cards are all examples of ways to leverage communications to enhance your relationships with your donors.
4. Laying the foundation for tomorrow:
Without question, your limited bandwidth should be focused on donor retention because once you lose the donors who already opted to give to you, it’s hard to get them back. That said, it is still important to plant the seeds for the next pipeline of donors to your organization. The best potential new donor names are people who self-identify in some way or who are connected in some way to you. Perhaps it’s through a sign-up on your website, following you on social media, attendance at an event, or a visitor book if prospective donors can visit your facilities. This is also a way board members and other volunteers can play a key role in introducing your organization to their networks. Every follower, volunteer, and the new name that crosses your doorway should be considered a potential investor in your work. Welcome them.
For more thoughts on how to propel your nonprofit forward, download our free Fundraising Plan eGuide.