Research has shown that one of the top indicators of fundraising success in a nonprofit organization is whether or not the organization has a fundraising plan.  It doesn’t matter what’s in that plan, simply having one leads to more effective fundraising, period.  This is because any plan, even a sub par one, will promote proactive rather than reactive fundraising.

But lots of nonprofits don’t have a fundraising plan.  There are plenty of excuses: it seems too onerous to put one together, they don’t know where to begin or because “they aren’t a fundraising expert.”  Well, I’m here to say that ANYONE can put together a fundraising plan.  It doesn’t need to be 20 page document and you certainly don’t have to be a fundraising expert.  Here’s my easy three step process for writing a simple, effective fundraising plan (in an afternoon):

Step 1: Evaluate

You can’t write a fundraising plan without first looking at where you currently are.  Finding out what is working and what isn’t is definitely the first step.  However, fundraising produces a lot of data and you can waste a lot of time over-analyzing it.  So the key is to track and analyze just the few key metrics that will provide you with clear insight.  Personally I track 10 metrics, here they are …

The best fundraising analysis tool that I have found is James M. Greenfield’s Nine-Point Fundraising Performance Index.  The index can and should be used to evaluate all solicitation methods for a charity.  As James puts it “Each of these nine elements is, in itself, an indicator of performance success.  Together they provide more than adequate detail to allow not-for-profit organizations to interpret their results and estimate future income with reliability based on how well each solicitation method has proven its mix of ingredients for success.”  You can learn more about this tool (and download my free excel spreadsheet that makes it simple to put into use) via my blog post, Evaluate, But Don’t Over-Analyze.

The tenth metric that I track, and perhaps the most important one of all, is the organization’s overall donor retention rate.  My easy definition for donor retention rate is “How many donors that gave two years ago, gave again last year?”  The US national average is 46% according to the 2015 edition of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project; however, it’s not that hard to do significantly better than this with a bit of effort.  This is the number that you’re really looking to improve because it’s far easier to keep the donors that you already have than it is to find new ones.

Step 2: Plan (simply)

Now it’s time to review your data.  Simply look at the results of each fundraising strategy (e.g. direct mail, special events, face to face asks, email solicitations, etc.) and ask, “Is this something that I want to stop doing, do less of, continue at the current level, or do more of?”  Pay close attention to that ROI (return on investment) metric.  Ask “Is it really worth doing this, or are we just doing it because we have always done it?”

You also need to add some new strategies.  I recommend two per year.  As a fundraiser you should always be on the search for new ideas.  Keeping up with the news and attending conferences will provide plenty of ideas.  But the best way?  Read … every single day.  Keep an idea bank of these great strategies throughout the year, when it comes time to put together a plan simply pick your two favorites.  Here’s a few more thoughts on fundraising innovation and why I say you need TWO new ideas each year (not one, not five, TWO).

Now you are ready to put the actual document together.  This is where most folks get bogged down.  It doesn’t have to be a 20 page text heavy document.  In fact, I’m going to share my Simplified Fundraising Plan template with you (for free).  It’s really quite simple, for each strategy (“What we will do”) you need to list the following:

  • Rationale (“Why are we doing it?”) – 1 sentence
  • (Simple)Plan (“How will we do it?”) – 1 paragraph
  • Timetable (“When will we do it?”) – 1 date
  • Responsible Parties (“Who will do it?”) – 1 person
  • Projected Expense – 1 number
  • Projected Income – 1 number

As you’ll see in the FREE Simplified Fundraising Plan template, I find that a table for each strategy along with the some general data in the beginning is all you need. Don’t over-complicate it.  No one is going to read a verbose fundraising plan.  They just want to know what to do to raise the dollars.

One additional key tip here … IMPROVING DONOR RETENTION MUST BE A STRATEGY!  This means a focus on stewardship should be a key strategy in your plan … not an afterthought.  Boosting donor retention by just 3% next year would have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Step 3: Systematize

Once your plan is written, the final step is to put it into action.  A lot of times this doesn’t happen and the plan just languishes on the shelf.  Out of habit, we stay in reactive fundraising mode (responding to opportunities as they come along) instead of proactive fundraising mode (actively seeking new opportunities with a known highest return on investment).  Plenty of opportunities will come along to keep you busy, they just may not be the smartest use of your time.

There are two foolproof options to put your plan into action:

  • Make it someone’s job (have someone review the plan weekly and prompt the responsible parties to take action);
  • Transfer the tasks into your task/project management system.

There you have it a simple, effective fundraising plan that is based on data, clearly outlines the necessary steps for growth and provides a means of putting those necessary steps on autopilot.  That’s all you need … not a 20 page plan.  As long as you have good data to start with, a fundraising plan can easily be put together in one interruption free afternoon (hint: don’t try to do it in your office).  So download the template and get started today.

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