I have worked in many small development offices, defined here as staff of three or less, and the majority of my consulting clients have small shops.

In my experience, it is the rare small shop that regularly draws up annual development plans. While they have fundraising goals and fundraising calendars, few small shop development directors annually assess their nonprofit’s fundraising systems, resources and past strategies and then chart a course for the new year.  

The small shop development directors I know say that they are overworked and understaffed and cannot find the time to pull an annual plan together.

I know there is always too much to do, but if your nonprofit is going to be successful, you cannot afford to skip the annual development planning process.  In fact, you might currently be wasting precious staff and volunteer time and budget pursuing funding strategies that do not work.  Creating a plan helps you to focus the majority of your efforts on the fundraising strategies that have the most potential to sustain your nonprofit.

Annual fundraising plans are a key element of successful small shops in the best of times.  In economically shaky times such as these, plans are even more important.  Has your nonprofit lost government or foundation funding over the past year?  How will you work to replace this money?  What do you think will be your best funding sources this coming year? The focus required to create a plan will help you to answer these questions. 

Many nonprofits are about to start a new fiscal year on July 1, so March and April are good times to consider how this year’s fundraising efforts have gone, and plan accordingly for next year.

Here are some key questions to consider:

1.    Your Donors

  • Who are your current donors? 
  •  What strategies are you using to cultivate and keep current donors, upgrade gifts where possible and recruit new donors? 

2.    Infrastructure:  

  • Do you have an effective database? 
  • Do you need additional technology to take advantage of social media and online giving?
  • Do you have systems in place for regularly communicating with donors, sending timely thank you notes,  and following up on new leads?

3.    People

  • Do you have an active Fundraising Committee?  Is this committee provided with adequate training and staff support?
  • What is your development staffing plan, and is it working effectively?
  • Do your professional staff need additional fundraising training?
  • Is your Board of Directors actively engaged in fundraising? 
  • Does your Board recruitment process prioritize finding members with fundraising experience and connections?
  • Does your nonprofit clearly articulate and communicate Board fundraising responsibilities to incoming as well as current Board members?

4.   Strategies:

  • Which funding sources might you have to move away from given the changing economy?
  • Which fundraising strategies provide the biggest “bang for your buck”?  Do you have plans to expand on these successful strategies?  Do you have plans to drop the fundraising strategies that are not working?

5.   Communication strategies

  • What communications vehicles might need to be added or upgraded in the coming year?  Your website?  E-mail and snail mail materials? Your newsletter?
  • Do you have a plan for using social and interactive media to reach new supporters?

After considering some of these questions, you will need to prioritize.  Which of the above require attention this year?  Which should you find ways to address over several years?   These are only some of the things to consider in planning.  In future posts, I’ll talk about the Board and fundraising and the importance of having a revenue plan that includes individual donors.

Most importantly, find a way to create an annual development plan.  I know you are busy, but you cannot afford to waste the time caused by a lack of planning.  In the end, we all need to remember the saying credited to Alan Lakein, the time management expert:  “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

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