Fundraising Blueprints

Often I am asked if I can share a sample fund raising plan. Sure, but it is kind of like asking an architect to show you a house plan. You may get to see blueprints for a 5,000 square foot house on a interesting 5-acre lot where the person building has millions to put into construction. Great if that’s you, but I have a flat, small plot of land with only industrial views and not even close to one of those millions to spend. Blueprints for my project would be very different indeed.

Now, what I may see—and benefit from should I hire this architect—is the creativity, attention to detail and skill that he or she brings (or doesn’t) to the job. And I may learn how to read a blueprint, or in this case, to set up a basic fundraising plan

But style is one thing; substance is entirely something else. It is the substance of your fundraising plan that will make the difference.

Fundraising plans should not be stand-alone items (just as fundraising should never be disconnected from the rest of the organization). A good development plan sits on top of the organization's strategic plan and links that to the annual business plan.

Now, what do I mean by that?

Too often fundraising is just something we do because, well, we need money. We don’t consider what makes a good gift in the context of our mission. Nor do we build our program plans based in part of how well they lend themselves to fund development.

While that may appear to be appropriate, what I’ve seen is too many cases where a staff member or volunteer is telling someone about the work of the organization and the person asks, “How can I help?” Without a fundraising plan, the response is often a variation on “Uhhh, well, ummm……” At best, there is a blurted “you could give us some money.”

Now picture that conversation where there is clarity on what something costs and how much of that something must be raised from private donors. “That program costs $75,000 each year, and we have to raise $35,000 of that annually,” gives that potential donor a feel for what he or she can do that will make a difference.

Your fundraising plan, of course, would be more comprehensive than one program. I said a few paragraphs back that it should sit on top of your strategic plan. That presupposes that your strategic plan presents a roadmap for what your organization wants to look like over the next 3-5 years with a concrete idea of what that would cost.

Without knowing the cost of your goals and objectives, your strategic plan is just air. Once you know the price tag, how much comes from what sources, you can set your fundraising goal. And you can begin to develop which of the parts of the plan are most marketable for fundraising. And which fundraising techniques will be most appropriate for which parts.

But the strategic plan is long range. So your development plan also needs to consider the business or work plan. What, exactly, are we doing in the next 12 months? How will this change what we need to do?

Once you know the what, you have to consider the how. How you go about raising funds depends in large part on how you’ve gone about raising funds in the past.

No, I’m not suggesting that you blindly do what you’ve done and only that. What I am saying is that you must assess what you’ve done, see what is successful that you can build upon; what’s not been so successful or seems tired that needs to change. But you have to do more than that.

What you can do depends in large part on your resources. What size prospect pool do you have at every level? How involved and engaged is your board? Is there money and human resources to have a full comprehensive development program, or are you a one-person office with no budget? Do you have the technical expertise as well as the technology to take advantage of electronic ways on connecting with your donors?

There are no right answers here. The answers to these questions will, however, provide guidelines to help you develop the plan that works for you.

I recently worked with an organization that wanted to raise a large amount of money in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, they had been totally dependent on grants as their sole fundraising effort. They had no database of prospects and the board didn’t believe that it was their responsibility to either give or get.

The plan I wrote—which they hated—took a long view and recommended steps for building first awareness of the organization and then, slowly, major donors. They, of course, wanted instant gratification and felt that because their program was good, people should support them. I tried to explain that “if you tell them, they will give,” is not quite the whole picture of fundraising. And besides, no one should support anyone. We have to make a compelling case for their support.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at