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Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

About Linda

Do You Need a Written Development Plan?

How many times has a well-meaning board member or volunteer come to one of your board meetings and offered this sage advice—“We should do a (golf tournament, gala dinner dance, art auction, walkathon, etc., etc.) because (the scouts, the hospital, a local church, etc., etc.) did one and raised $100,000?”

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Before the meeting ends, the whole board or committee is caught up in “event fever” and has the invitations designed, the flowers ordered, and the T-shirt sponsors listed. And there you are, the new development officer, trying to meet grant deadlines, straighten out the donor database that is a mess, and organize the other events that your organization is currently conducting. So, what do you do when the board is bitten by the “event bug?”

Another fatal mistake that organizations make is relying solely on a grant writer to raise all the money it needs for programs and operations. Given the fact that foundation grants only account for approximately 15 percent of all philanthropic giving in the United States, this approach seems equally as foolhardy as depending mainly on events to raise money for the organization.

And then there’s major gifts and planned gifts. What happens when the powers that be decide to cancel all direct mail contact with donors – including finding new donors – because they see major gifts as the place to focus their energies? It does not take long for an organization to lose a large donor pool and dry up prospects when small donors are not acquired, cultivated, and communicated with. By the way, most bequests come from those who started as small donors—the $5 to $25 type. Do your CEO, CFO, and board understand how this works?

While grants, events, and major gifts are important parts of a well-rounded development program, they should not be the onlymethods of fundraising used by nonprofits. Nor should relying on any one form of fundraising—be it direct mail, corporate sponsorships, or even planned gifts—be the source you depend on for your entire development budget. So how does a development officer handle these board suggestions, or (in some cases) mandates?

A Development Plan Is the Answer

Lots of people, do not really understand what a development plan is. The development plan is not your strategic plan, the case for support, nor the mission, vision, and values statement, although each of these documents plays a key role in writing your development plan. It is not your annual grants calendar, your special events plan, or just your annual goals with no plan to reach those goals.

Often boards and volunteers do not realize that events and grant research can be costly, not only regarding hard costs but in soft costs such as staff time and “opportunity costs.” In other words, what activities must you give up so you can focus your limited time on this proposed new activity? Your first reaction to the board or development committee that suggests either of these approaches should be, “Well, let’s pull out our development plan and see if this event/grant is part of our plan; if not, what other activities will we have to drop to concentrate on this event/grant?” What, you say you don’t have a written plan to pull out? Or, you haven’t seen the plan in a while? Or, the plan isn’t up to date? Or it’s not complete? We’ve found that many organizations do not have a development plan to reference. If your organization is one of those, this is one good reason why you should have a development plan.

What Should the Development Plan Include?

The development plan should start with an analysis of current development activities. Some questions to ask:

  • What has been the history of this activity; have results increased or decreased over the years?
  • What are the costs of this additional event, both hard costs, staff time, and opportunity costs?
  • Do we have the human resources to manage this activity?
  • Do we have the technology needed to manage this activity?
  • What are the subsidiary benefits of this activity, i.e., if the activity is a cultivation or awareness raising event, should we continue the activity even if it does not raise money?
  • How do current trends affect this activity?
  • Are there ways we can increase the effectiveness of this activity?
  • Does this activity fit with our mission, vision, and values?

Once the current activities have been analyzed, a decision should be made to keep the activities, focus more time and energy on them, or drop some of them.

A solid development plan lists detailed goals for each activity. Goals do not always have to be monetary ones. For example, a goal might be to raise constituent participation by 5 percent this year, increase the size of the development committee by four people, or personally visit three major donors each month. Without specific goals, it will be impossible to measure the success of the plan next year.

There are two major benefits of a development plan. The first is having a year-long plan provides for preplanning on the print collateral side. For direct mail, bulk printing of common package elements that will not change throughout the year can save thousands of dollars. More importantly, having an annual plan with schedules and budgets provides for organizational-wide and leadership buy-in to major program elements. This, in turn, eliminates or minimizes last-minute changes to program strategy that are made because basic plans have not been adequately vetted before launch.

A development plan also helps the development office justify its budget, provides measurement tools to be used in performance appraisals and provides donors with a sense of confidence in the organization. So, is there any reason your organization does not need a development plan?

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