A Pressing Question

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA


Q. One of our readers writes: Is a fundraising plan part of a strategic plan? If so, why is it important? Isn’t a strategic plan focused on what we will do to fulfill our mission not how we make the money in order to do it?
~Jennifer, an Executive Director from Boston, MA

Laurence Pagnoni, LAPA Chairman, replies.

A. Many nonprofits exclude mention of fundraising or a development plan from their strategic plan leaving the development department to create its own. This is often not the best scenario because it may lack a necessary integration between programs and funding.

Instead I encourage you to include fundraising in your strategic plan because the way an organization proposes to fund its future influences its fundraising approach, its capacity, and your potential impact. The development professional or fundraising counsel’s input is valuable, just as is the input of your program director. Your development director is not there to alter the organization’s mission, but instead to allow it to come alive in the donor’s real experience. A development professional can tell you if your plans for the future are realistic. Money is not the be-all-and-end-all, but it is needed to make the most impact and to achieve sustainability.

Here are some important fundraising questions to consider when creating a strategic plan:

  • What is it currently costing to raise a dollar?
  • How much will that cost rise over the coming years?
  • What revenue source is most likely to fund the proposed projects? Government grants, foundation funds, corporate giving, or donations from individuals?
  • Will you need to diversify our funding sources? If so, will the cost of diversification be higher than the amount needed to run new programs? For example, if your organization retains only a government grant writer, how much will the additional cost be for new staff or consultants? Should we consider outsourcing with a fundraising consultant instead? Should we have more special events?
  • Will our funding last beyond one year, two years, three years?
  • Will we need a capital campaign? If so, do we have enough of an individual donor base to secure the lead gifts needed to start? If not, what steps should we take to get ready for a campaign in the future?

Four elements should be included in your Strategic Plan’s Development Plan:

1. Case Materials
Your internal case for support materials are critical because it conveys the urgency of your need for funds. Writing the case for support is an art form and should be undertaken by someone with experience in crafting such. It’s a complex issue explained well here.

2. Budget
The best plan in the world will fail if it is not based upon a realistic projection of revenues and expenses. Setting goals and allocating resources is a critical part of the planning process and often the subject of lots of internal negotiation. Be sure to pay particular attention to the personnel costs as you plan your budget. Major giving is a labor intensive process.

3. Operational Plan
At the heart of your Development Plan is an Operational Plan that takes each of your goals and breaks them into a series of “SMART” (specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented and time-determined) Objectives and Action Steps. If you fill one checklist for each objective it should give you a tool to assign responsibility and track progress. It may be useful to think of each one as you create objectives for each goal. Ask yourself, “How does this relate to our Case for Support?” “What Board and Volunteer Resources will I need to accomplish this?” “What are the implications for Staffing and Leadership?” Make sure you are taking advantage of all of the opportunities in your plan for synergy among major giving, and other development activities.You should feel free to use any form that works for you, but make sure that it allows you a way to assign responsibility, track progress, and measure results.

4. Annual Calendar
One of the best ways to ensure coordinated planning among all of your development activities is to use this annual calendar to plan, schedule and track all of your activities.

Relying on the belief that “if we build it they will come” is usually foolhardy. Field of Dreams was, after all, just a movie. Reality dictates that you know what will be required of your fundraising program in order to plan for the
future. I suggest you have your development professional fully evaluate your strategic plan and invite him/her to the next planning meeting.

Click here to find out more about LAPA’s approach to strategic planning and advanced fundraising.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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