Ten Strategies for Creating a Comprehensive Development Plan

Thursday, October 17, 2019,
Scandinavia House, New York City

By Susan Fields, CFRE

"The process of creating a development plan is as
important as the plan itself.” 

Moderator Susan Shapiro, President

“Analyze what motivated giving in the past as a guide to
what might be possible for the future.” 

Panelist Rachel Cytron, Executive Director
Row New York

“If your board is a headache when it comes to fundraising, you have a core problem that needs to be addressed.”

Panelist Josh Cherwin, Chief Advancement Officer 
and Deputy Director for Institutional Advancement
National September 11 Memorial & Museum

“Work with the strengths of your team to ensure buy-in
and avoid pushback.”

Panelist Janice Hotzman, Chief Development Officer
Row New York

“Creating the plan comes from a different mindset than fulfilling it, which requires the ability and willingness to ask.”

Panelist Rachael Gazdick, Chief Executive Officer
New York Edge


Fundraisers are often tempted to sidetrack infrastructure activities in order to focus on getting money in the short term. This choice will return to haunt them in the form of lackluster financial growth for their organizations. One of the most important things a nonprofit can do is to create a comprehensive fundraising plan. In addition to insuring the organization’s future, the process of developing the plan will foster a team environment among staff and supporters, integrate fundraising with program activities, and minimize crisis management. If this is the first time you will be spearheading this endeavor, or have done it many times in the past, review the following steps, strategies, and ideas for building a plan that will make your fundraising soar.

Ten Strategies for Creating a Comprehensive Development Plan

1. Educate yourself. A development plan is a document that organizes your organization’s fundraising activities over one to five years. Although you might think you know what a fundraising plan looks like, you could be limiting yourself as to the range of components that it might include depending upon the age, size, and resources of your nonprofit. Do some research as to what such a plan might contain, the process of writing it, and how it to implement it once completed. Check out the myriad of online information and templates available, talk to other professionals in the field, or contact a consultant to assist in the process.

2. Decide who will write the plan. Depending on the size of the organization, the author/s of the plan could range from an entire team to the Director of Development in collaboration with the Executive Director, President, or CEO. Larger organizations might include members of the development staff who are given the responsibility of gathering the information necessary for organizing the document. Keep in mind that the more people involved, the more complex things will become, creating unnecessary boondoggles. Often it is best for staff to create the plan with the board brought on for input and support once it is completed.   

3. Analyze your organization’s budget. Work with your CEO and CFO in reviewing your nonprofit’s financial needs, where the revenue is coming from, and what percentage is derived from fundraising. Some organizations have sources of income other than charitable contributions, such as tuition fees,  membership dues, ticket sales, or government funding, while others rely entirely on fundraising to meet their budget. Regardless of which category your organization falls into, it is important to determine the funds needed to meet the organization’s expenses in the years to come.

4. Set a goal. Do not under estimate the power of projecting a vision of success into the future. Nonprofits are always working to enhance their programs, extend their outreach, and increase their impact on service recipients. The purpose of the fundraising plan is to determine the financial needs of the organization in advance and increase fundraising to meet those demands. Goals for the coming year or years are made based upon a combination of variables—increased operating costs, launching of new programs, endowment campaigns, and brick and mortar projects. Once the needs are determined, set the target with the certainty it will be achieved, and move forward in creating a plan to make it happen.  

5. Examine your organization’s fundraising history. Where has the money come from in the past? Who are your donors? What are their interests? Are there potential constituencies that you have yet to approach? Define the tactics/vehicles that have proved the most successful—events, direct mail, major gifts, planned giving, telephone drives, foundations and corporations, special projects? Is there anything that you haven’t tried that might enhance your fundraising efforts in the future?  Don’t be hesitant to contact CEO’s, Development Director’s, or board leadership from you organization’s past to gain input and information.

6. Make your plan comprehensive. For a one-year plan Include every fundraising activity you will be promoting during the next fiscal year, their individual monetary goals, and how you plan to market these components. Also include the manner in which you plan to cultivate and steward donors for each vehicle whether it is an event, a direct mail campaign, or a one-on-one ask. To keep yourself and staff in tandem, devise a calendar that tracks these efforts for each year that you have planned into the future. A means of evaluation should also be implemented which might include weekly and monthly revenue reports.

7. Get the board involved. The most anxiety about fundraising is on your board. The number one reason that members avoid asking is that they fear failure. Work individually with each trustee to determine one thing they can do and support them in accomplishing it successfully. This will build confidence for future endeavors. Members can assist in reaching fundraising goals through making their own personal or business contribution, recruiting potential donors, and taking part in one-on-one asks. If all else fails, ask members to volunteer at special events. Don’t fall into the trap of looking at those with major wealth as your saviors as they will often wait to see if the plan has traction before committing.

8. Spice up your programs. If your organization’s programs are stale and stagnant, it will be difficult to raise money. Donors like to see projects that have emotional appeal as well as a direct impact on service recipients. There is a difference between an after-school activity that helps middle school children develop writing skills and an initiative that involves writing, publishing, and selling their own book. Integrating your organization’s development team with its program team is an excellent way to collaborate in creating exciting programs that can be segmented to appeal to the interests of a broad range of donors.

9. Try something new. Many nonprofits get into the habit of sticking with the same old fundraising vehicles. Try launching a legacy gift club, recurring gift drive, or a crowd funding initiative. Look at potential new constituencies you may be ignoring. Search your community for local foundations who might be willing to make a grant to one of your programs. Network at the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club to identify bankers, real estate brokers, corporate executives and politicians who might be willing to serve on your board or be honored at the annual gala.

10. Don’t forget to ask. Development plans do not raise money—people do. Each and every component of your plan is an invitation to inspire a potential donor and ask for the funds your organization needs to fulfill its mission. But without the simple act of asking—over and over and over—not one cent will be raised. Writing is easy, but asking is hard as it requires getting the attention of another human being and asking for help. So once you have created your plan—understand that the work of fundraising has just begun. 

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