The Lay of the Fundraising Land

Me, beating a broken drum.  To have a successful fundraising program, you must have a comprehensive fundraising plan.  Taking the time to develop such a plan really in worth your while. In an earlier post, I wrote about the value of a capacity study and gave you an outline for the things you must look for.  Let’s face it, a plan that is beyond your abilities to follow it, is less than worthless.

While everyone acknowledges the wisdom of Yogi Berra’s famous saying, “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else,” no one seems to consider the other truism that Yogi himself didn’t mention:  If you don’t know where you are, you cannot possibly map out a route to get somewhere else.  Okay, so I’m not as eloquent as Yogi.

Nevertheless, in order to create a successful fundraising plan, you do need to understand where you currently are.  Write a few paragraphs, or create several bullet points (style is not what matters here) about the lay of your fundraising land.  For example, “During its 30 year history, the organization has received 90% of its revenue from government sources.  Over the past five years, these sources have been drying up, forcing the organization to look elsewhere for revenue.  Three years ago, we held an inaugural event—a dinner dance that brought in $25,000 (gross).  While the event seemed to grow in year two, bringing in $36,000 (gross), last year, the gross was a disappointing $19,000 (gross).

In June, we also instituted a board give or get…..”

While I hope your narrative is a bit more uplifting, I also hope that you can see the value of simply laying things out.  This is also the space where you want to consider changes that are occurring, issues you think will impact (or already have!) your fundraising capacity.

I’m a big fan of charts and tables, and in addition to the narrative, I like to visually show how charitable funds are currently being raised:

Vehicle Goal this year This year to date Last year Two years ago
Direct Mail $158,000 $72,000 $123,000 $110,000
Gala $  50,000    0   $  19,000 $ 36,000
Private Grants $ 75,000 $37,500 $   68,000 $ 68,000
Board Gifts $  25,000 $10,000 $      7,500 $ 1,000

By charting this out, you can see growth (and decline)—opportunities and threats.  It makes a great visual that clarifies you Goal for the year, and depended on the date, whether your will probably meet your goal.

Oftentimes, the development plans I create with Board and staff (and note—doing this alone in your office with no input or buy-in may turn into an exercise in futility), is also going to be used as a training tool.  If that is the case, I will spend time making sure there is enough information so staff and board understand what the plan is about and, hopefully, all end up on the same page.

For that reason, even if I don’t include a tutorial on basic fundraising (geared specifically to the client), I often still put in definitions.  This may be as basic as “Annual Gifts are those charitable donations from individuals that we can count on year after year after year.  These gifts tend to be smaller and are given as unrestricted gifts (regardless of the vehicle by which they are secured). “ Or I may be telling them about a more sophisticated technique: “ Moves Management is the process by which major gifts are raised.  This is a formal way to develop individual strategies and document activities for major donor prospects.”  Again, what matters is that it is aimed to your organization and your audience.  Cut and pasting is tempting, but ultimately a waste of time.

Once you know where you are, you can begin figuring out where you want to go.  We’ll embark on that part of the journey in a later post.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Working with them to define the most effective ways for them to raise funds is a big part of her practice.  Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and—if you are in Los Angeles—check out her current classes (