Last week’s article outlined some fairly simple steps that should help prepare you to write your development plan. Once you sit down to write, the elements that make up the final plan can vary drastically, depending upon your preferences, or those of your boss. The level of detail depends upon the size of your operation, the number of prospects involved, and your personal style. Most importantly, think about who will be looking at the plan and the amount of information that would be most useful to that group.
The following items make a strong basis for a plan:
- Begin with opportunities and challenges. When you synopsize the pros and cons of the anticipated funding environment, you provide the reader with the tone of what’s to follow. You’ll want to ground your analysis in terms that range from the state of philanthropy nationwide (or internationally, if that is relevant to your income stream) to your organization’s funding trends over the last few years. There are also many theories you can draw from looking at your financials, and you’ll want to comment on those that will most likely affect your outcomes. At a minimum, look at the year’s giving patterns to determine the percentage of repeat givers, number of donors versus number of prospects approached, and breakdown between unrestricted and restricted gifts — all compared to patterns in past fiscal years. A broad-based analysis of the climate in which you plan to meet your increased, decreased, or stagnant goal is a good way to begin your development plan.
- Outline major strategies. Once you’ve determined the environment in which you’ll be seeking grants, you should be able to develop strategies that feed into that particular situation. If you see your organization in need of more foundation contacts, you may decide to query and involve board members in solicitations with funders with whom they have contacts. If local funds are at a premium, you might branch out to regional foundations. Or if your most successful foundation relationships are the result of personal contact, you may choose to spend more effort meeting donors face-to-face.
- Prepare a standards-of-giving chart. Many people associate standards of giving charts with capital campaigns, but they can be just as useful in annual efforts because they will give you, your staff, and your board a realistic picture of the number of prospects you will need to approach at each giving level in order to meet your goal. The picture they paint can often be daunting, which may be just the tool you need to convince stakeholders that fundraising is a task that must involve many people for it to succeed.
- Create a prospect list. I use the word “prospect” loosely, to include everyone who is a potential funder in the upcoming fiscal year — including current and lapsed donors as well as funders yet untapped. If you’ve been keeping your eye out all year for new ideas, as suggested in last week’s article, then you’ll have a tremendous head start. In this drab economic climate, your tried and true donors will be your most likely supporters. But don’t forget to include lapsed donors, competitors’ funders, and prospects with whom your stakeholders have connections.
- Assign program ideas and estimated requests to each donor. More than ever, it is important to assign multiple program requests to each prospect. That way, if a program officer seems indifferent about an initiative, you have others at the tip of your tongue. Ideally, you should have enough prospects at each potential giving level to fulfill your standards of giving chart.
- Establish a calendar. This need not be an extensive project, especially if you keep a tickler file to track day-to-day tasks, but it is a good time to design a general flow of activities for the year. You may want to determine which funders are most critical to your campaign and the ideal times during the year to cultivate and solicit them. You may also choose to include application deadlines, foundation board meeting dates, or internal organizational landmarks, such as board meetings or staff retreats. These internal deadlines should serve to remind you of times when you might find a forum to recruit others to assist with your efforts.
- Write a stellar case for support. With war looming and the economy stalled, good news is welcome by all. Focus your case statement on organizational successes and client triumphs; select a few compelling statistics; and use graphics to create memorable visuals. Write two sentence, two paragraph, and two page versions of your case statement and distribute them to colleagues so that you’re all speaking the same language to funders. Memorize them, the shorter versions, anyway. Let them become your mantra for the coming year.
Don’t forget to update your plan as the year progresses. Once you establish a format you like, make a copy and use it to insert ideas for the upcoming fiscal year throughout the current one. Eventually, planning will become second nature and will make each successive effort easier and more fruitful.
There is no one way to develop or format a fundraising plan, but as the current year shapes up as another difficult one for grantseeking, you can only help yourself by carefully prioritizing the ways in which you spend your time.