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December 4, 2021
Ten Steps to Creating Your Fund Development Plan
By Tina Cincotti

Tina Cincotti (new)
Tina Cincotti
A development plan sets goals that promote growth and create ownership among the entire fundraising team, which enables it to track progress, identify problems as they arise, and avoid crisis fundraising.

With a solid grip on the big picture, you will always know where you stand related to where you want to be. And, you will be able to proactively set and balance your priorities and avoid competing timelines.

The process of creating a plan requires 10 steps, including critical initial efforts to gather and analyze information before the first ask is even made.

1. Gather information on your past fundraising efforts
Based on last year’s fundraising and current year-to-date figures, determine the amount of money raised from all major categories of income ”“ individual donors, corporations, foundations, government, etc. Ideally, analyze two years of fundraising history to get a better sense of fluctuations from year to year.

2. Analyze your past efforts and fundraising strategies
As you look at your current fundraising strategies, consider these questions: What has worked well and what hasn’t? How can these activities be modified to become more effective? Are there areas to consider eliminating? Which sources are most reliable? Where is the greatest potential for growth? Should you devote more time to certain strategies?

3. Evaluate the current climate
Your goal should be based on the amount raised in the past as well as a variety of other internal and external factors ”“ not on how much money is needed to balance your budget.
  • Internal factors ”“ What’s going on inside your organization that could impact fundraising? These could be special opportunities that you want to take advantage of, or challenges that could make fundraising more difficult.
  • External factors ”“ What factors outside your organization could affect your fundraising success? Consider the economy, the relevance of your mission in the current political environment, and giving trends among donors, among other factors.
4. Recruit your fundraising team
The more people helping you, the more donors you’ll be able to build closer relationships with and the more money you’ll raise. Decide how best to involve board members, all staff (not just development staff), volunteers (including former board and staff), key donors, organizational allies, and others.

5. Set your goals
Think about two kinds of goals for your fundraising plan ”“ strategic goals and financial goals.
  • Strategic goals are non-monetary goals related to your development program. These could include purchasing a database, starting a newsletter, increasing board participation in fundraising, or becoming less dependent on foundation funding.
  • Financial goals are more traditional fundraising goals. How much do you hope to raise and from what sources?
6. Determine your fundraising activities
Think about your fundraising activities from three perspectives ”“ acquiring new donors, renewing current supporters, and getting donors to increase their support. Be sure to vary how you ask—in person, by phone, letter, email, etc.—so people aren’t always being solicited in the same way.

Incorporate donor relations into your plan, not just solicitation strategies. You don’t want to be in touch only when you’re asking for money. How can your team build closer relationships with donors? There are traditional tactics like newsletters, but also consider welcome kits for first-time donors, thank-you calls, donor surveys, communication preference questionnaires, invitations to volunteer, and no-cost cultivation events.

7. Create a timeline
Once you decide the strategies to implement, put them on a timeline. Some will only happen at certain times (such as your spring appeal) and others will happen year-round (calls to donors). Be sure to include your donor relations activities on your timeline too. They have just as much impact on the amount of money you’ll raise but are much more vulnerable to falling off your radar at crunch time.

8. Fill in the details
For each strategy, think about the amount your team expects to raise as well as expenses associated with raising that money. How many staff and volunteers are needed to execute the plan? Who is responsible for which pieces of the plan? What are their deadlines? Spell out these details for each fundraising activity you’ll be pursuing.

9. Decide how you will evaluate your progress
In fundraising, success is usually measured by the amount of money raised. However, other factors should also be evaluated. Consider measuring the number of donors who renew their support compared to the year before (your donor retention rate), the number of donors who increase their support or give more than once/year, the number of new donors acquired, the number of first-time donors who give again and become regular donors (the conversion rate), and other metrics.

The impact of your donor relations can also be evaluated. You can measure the frequency of contact with donors without asking for a gift, the amount of donor-initiated contact with your organization, and the frequency with which donors refer others to your organization.

10. Get group ownership of your fundraising plan
Last, but most important, be sure to include both the board and staff in the creation of the organization’s fundraising plan. When they participate in the process, they will be much more invested and more likely to commit to the plan that you have developed together. Involving everyone in the planning process is critical to building the ownership necessary for the plan’s success and for your organization to raise the money it needs.

Tina Cincotti is the owner and principal consultant of Funding Change, a fundraising training and consulting service. She can be reached at or 617-477-4505.
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