A nonprofit fundraising plan is your guide to raising the money you need for your mission. It’s how you bring the numbers from your annual budget into the real world and go from listing goals to describing how you’ll achieve them.
Planning how you’ll raise money is essential. A fundraising plan that describes what you’re going to do, what you won’t do, and roughly when you’ll do it can help you focus your efforts and work towards your goals proactively. It’s also a critical tool for unifying your team.
A fundraising plan is a document that describes your fundraising goals and the strategies you’ll use to reach them. It’s a map to follow and measure your progress against during the year. It includes key dates, campaigns, events, and fundraising activities, along with goals and roles for fundraisers.
Without a formal fundraising plan, it’s easy to get off track. While your plan should remain flexible enough to incorporate lessons learned and new data, it also needs to be firm enough to guide your activities. Otherwise, you risk getting overwhelmed by your goals or derailed by every passing opportunity.
Fragmentation, distraction, and losing sight of priorities all ultimately impact revenue. With a fundraising plan, you can avoid these risks and steer your organization to pursue goals with specific strategies and tactics.
If your organization has engaged in a strategic planning process, you already have many of the skills needed to create a fundraising plan and know the value of a plan to unite an organization. Your fundraising plan doesn’t just detail how you’ll raise money–it can bring everyone involved in fundraising at your organization together. Think of it as a fundraising strategic plan, designed to set the course and keep everyone headed in the same direction.
Like a nonprofit strategic plan, a fundraising strategic plan works best when all stakeholders participate in its creation. While you probably won’t need everyone to work directly on creating the plan, getting insight from across the organization can help you make a better plan. A development associate who focuses on data entry and acknowledgement will have a different perspective on your donor appreciation process than your executive director. A board member may have experience with other organizations that you can learn from.
To begin your planning process, invite input from everyone involved in fundraising at your organization. Share your budget goals for this year and your fundraising results from last year, so that everyone can come to the discussion with the same information. Identify who the decision makers are, but invite insight and ideas from others.
The value of this kind of fundraising strategic plan discussion extends beyond the plan you create. In addition to giving you a broader view of your fundraising, it can set the tone for more conversations about fundraising that are based on data and effectiveness, part of building a culture of fundraising at your organization.
Once you’ve heard from your stakeholders, you can start the actual plan. To create a comprehensive fundraising plan, you’ll need:
Your budget: Use your nonprofit’s annual budget as the guide for goal-setting and targets. Before you can make a plan, you need to know what you’re trying to hit.
A calendar: Divide the year into manageable chunks. Make sure your calendar accounts for holidays, local events, and other major activities at your organization to avoid double-booking yourself or competing against other goals or entities.
A breakdown of revenue goals: You can get to your big goal, but you can only take one bite at a time. Break your goal into bite-sized pieces–quarterly, monthly, maybe even weekly.
A description and schedule of fundraising strategies: What are you doing? When will you do it? Describing your strategy in the plan will help keep everyone on the same page.
An assignment of roles and responsibilities: Who will be responsible for what? Are certain projects or strategies “owned” by one person in the organization? Spell it all out to manage expectations and accountability.
If you’ve ever hiked a trail, you know the value of a “You Are Here” point on a map. It helps you understand everything around you, so you know how to proceed. In the same way, a good fundraising plan has to take where you’re starting into account.
What’s working? What isn’t? Where do you spend the most time? Where are the opportunities to grow?
Whenever possible, use data to guide your assessment, rather than your own feelings or preferences. Often, your gut can tell you things that data will prove wrong, like “everyone hates getting phone calls” or “direct mail seems to be over.” Look for the numbers:
With this information in place, your goals can be much more precise.
Consider taking a “zero-based” planning approach, even if you only do it as a thought exercise. What would your plan look like if you started from the absolute beginning, instead of with what’s always been done?
For a moment, clear your mind of what’s come before, all of the “well, we have to..” and “our donors expect us to…” and look at your priorities. If today was the first day of trying to reach those priorities, what actions would you take? What would you leave behind?
If you don’t have the real option to completely clean the slate, a zero-based planning approach can still be useful, because it can help you discover what’s truly essential. This can help you know where to put the most time and effort, even if you don’t have the buy-in or authority to cut activities completely.
The Donor Growth POT is a way to organize your fundraising strategies. It focuses on your highest priorities and presents your fundraising activities in a simple and deliberate way.
The Donor Growth POT has four components:
Priorities: What are the most important things?
Plays: What are you going to do?
Omissions: What aren’t you going to do?
Targets: What is the goal? How will you know you hit it?
Use the Donor Growth POT to plan quarterly, or even monthly, and you’ll have a solid framework to guide your future work and decisions.
Raising the money you need for your nonprofit to pursue its mission is the ultimate goal, but identifying specific priorities within that goal will help refine your plan. For organizations trying to grow giving, these will most likely fall along three categories, which all drive growth.
Retention: How you’ll inspire loyalty from your current donors
Acquisition: How you’ll engage new donors
Cultivation: How you’ll engage all your donors to grow giving
Setting these priorities will help inform everything that follows in your plan and ensure that you spend your time on activities that serve your goals.
A play is an action or activity you’ll undertake to get towards your goal. Plays are where the rubber meets the road. Until you choose plays, your plan will be largely theoretical; plays are where you put the plan into practice. What, exactly, are you going to do?
If you’re prioritizing donor retention, for example, you might choose plays like creating a donor welcome series or launching a thank you campaign. If you’re pursuing cultivation, you may choose to engage donors with personalized donor journeys, or more relevant communications. Tie each play with a priority and make sure the play relates to achieving it.
Before committing to a play, it’s worth analyzing if it’s the best way to reach the priority you’ve chosen. Is there another play that might accomplish the same thing in a better way that uses fewer resources, takes less time, or has a higher ROI?
For example, many nonprofits run large donor impact events as a cultivation play. However, upon examination they might find that they’d actually raise more and create more meaning for donors with a strong monthly giving program or even simply by segmenting their communications more specifically. If the event is never questioned, it will stay on the calendar, taking up time that could perhaps be spent better elsewhere.
There are a lot of good fundraising ideas out there, but not every one of them is right for you, right now, to reach your goals. By naming what you won’t do, you clarify things for everyone.
Every organization has limits on time and resources. You may find some activities would stretch your team too thin or simply aren’t possible with your existing technology. Others may be more suitable for later down the road, once you’ve completed your current plays.
It’s harder to get distracted by a play’s potential when you’ve specifically said you’re not going to do it. So, if you determine that paid lists are not where you’re putting your budget or energy, you won’t have to decide again at the time you’d normally rent the list. You already know the answer.
Likewise, describing what you’re not doing stops you from getting pulled into every fundraising idea that comes up. Instead of automatically going wherever the loudest voice suggests, you have the basis for a discussion: “We planned not to do that, what is the value of changing our minds?”
Listing your omissions is a good way to avoid misunderstandings on your team and across the organization. People may make assumptions, especially about legacy plays, i.e. “We always do the gala/summer mailing/return address labels!” When you put it down in writing that something isn’t happening, you save people from being surprised and help them work towards the same thing.
How will you know if you’re making progress towards your priorities? By establishing targets to meet along the way. Translating your priorities into numbers will help you understand if your plays are working and show you where you need to correct your course.
Targets make your fundraising plan measurable. The more detailed and specific you can be, the better. “Retain more donors” is a good general hope, but can’t be measured. “Increase donor retention by 10%” can be. Even if you don’t hit the target, you’ll be able to tell how close you got. That’s good data for analyzing how effective your plays are–there’s a big difference between retaining 4% and 9%, for example.
As you think about targets, the SMART goals framework is a good way to stay realistic. SMART goals are:
Specific: You almost can’t get too granular when setting targets
Measurable: You should be able to answer “did we meet this target?” with a yes or no.
Achievable: Stretching is good, but don’t set a goal you’d need to work miracles to reach.
Relevant: Your target should relate directly to the priority you’re trying to achieve
Time-Based: Every target needs a deadline.
Targets to guide your plan can be:
Financial: How much money you want to raise from a particular effort.
Retention-Based: Percentage of donors retained, year-over-year changes in your retention rate
Engagement-Based: Attendees at an event, lists subscribed to, emails opened, video views, links clicked
Process-Based: Shortened response time to donor questions, following up with every social media comment, making a certain number of calls, hosting a certain number of meetings
Using the Donor Growth POT, here’s what a nonprofit fundraising plan might look like for a quarter.
In this fundraising plan example, the nonprofit has made acquisition, retention, and cultivation their highest priorities. They chose three plays for each priority, clearly identified their omissions, and chose SMART goals for their targets. The plan is lean, with each action directly related to achieving priorities.
The number of plays you can implement and kinds of targets you can reach will be determined by organizational capacity. This includes available staff, your fundraising budget, and your available technology. Even if you have a large staff and abundant resources, there is power in focus. Choosing 3 top priorities, with 3-5 plays and 3-5 targets associated with them, will allow you to put all your energy where it can make the most difference.
Here’s a hard truth about making a fundraising plan: You can make a plan that checks all the boxes, but without a responsive fundraising approach, you won’t get the results you’re hoping for.
The world has changed and donor preferences, habits, and trends have shifted along with it. Today’s donors want authentic and meaningful relationships with the nonprofits they support. They want personalized interactions, communication on their own terms, and to make a difference and be part of the causes they care about. Mass messaging, impersonal interactions, and organization-focused communications simply don’t work the way they used to.
Responsive fundraising is a fundraising approach that puts the donor at the center. Instead of pushing their own agenda, nonprofits listen to their supporters, connect them to their story, and make suggestions for the next most meaningful action for the donor to take. Using the tools of automation, they take donors on personal journeys, at scale. They give every donor the kind of individual experience that used to be reserved only for major donors.
The responsive fundraising framework has three elements, each of which should influence your fundraising plan: listen, connect, suggest.
The first step to making your fundraising plan responsive is to listen to your donors and observe their signals. What are they telling you? You might find this out in direct conversation, or see it in emails opened, links clicked, website behavior, or social media listening.
Before you create a fundraising plan, consider the needs and wants of your donors. It may not make sense to plan a massive phone call thank you campaign to donors who have never answered the phone when you’ve called, or invest in increasing your presence on a social media platform your donors don’t use. On the other hand, if your donors are watching every video you make, making more of them might be a good idea.
When you start with listening, everything that follows is more likely to resonate with your donors, ultimately increasing loyalty, satisfaction, and revenue. Spending time on this stage of the framework early saves you time later.
Once you’re listening, you’ll be able to create plays that connect your audience with your story and connect givers with the good they’re getting done. Connection is how your make your organization relevant to donors, and is one of the biggest values nonprofits offer their supporters.
Donors want to feel part of something bigger than themselves and to know that they’re making a difference in the causes they care about. As you choose your plays, think about how they’ll bridge the gap between your audience and your work. How can you use these plays to tell stories, share inspiration, and build community with your supporters? How can you carry on this conversation everywhere your donors encounter you, across channels?
For example, if your biggest priority is to engage new donors immediately and move them towards that all-important second gift, your play might be to start an automated new donor welcome series. By filling it with stories and gratitude, and showing the new donor what they’re helping to do, you can use the series to foster connection and deepen the relationship. That’s a connection play.
Connecting donors to your story leads to the next step: making suggestions for the next action you want each donor to take. Suggestions are invitations based on donor signals and engagement. Once you see what your supporters are most interested in and care most about, you can invite them to take another step to deepen their commitment.
In your fundraising plan, your suggestions can relate to plays and targets. Your suggestion may be a financial “ask,” that is directly tied to your revenue goals. It could also be inviting a supporter to an event (one of your cultivation plays), asking them to subscribe to your email list (a retention play), or share your content with a friend (an acquisition play). These suggestions could then result in more attendance (target: increasing YOY), growing your email list (target: reaching a certain number of subscribers), or new donors making a first gift (target: number of new donors acquired).
To make sure your fundraising plan is useful in the real world and doesn’t gather dust on the shelf, you have to plan for action. The Donor Growth POT will get you started making your strategies clear and achievable, but to super-charge your plan’s effectiveness, consider the systems, processes, and people necessary to put the plan in practice.
Your nonprofit systems and platforms will influence your fundraising plan. For instance, without some kind of donor management software, it will be hard to create donor journeys. Without marketing automation, a multi-channel strategy will be difficult to pull off. Without a responsive nonprofit CRM, taking a responsive fundraising approach is less feasible.
What systems and platforms are at your disposal? How are they working? Will they help you grow your fundraising or are they getting in the way?
What does the day-to-day pursuit of your plan look like? How often will you measure your progress? Who is responsible for each play? When, exactly, are activities happening? When you make these decisions as part of the planning process, everyone will be able to hit the ground running in the right direction.
Make sure your plan includes:
A fundraising plan without roles can lead to confusion and redundant work. Spelling out who is doing what and is responsible for which targets will make things run much more smoothly, circumvent conflict, and give staff confidence that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Much of the time, you’ll find that your staff’s jobs and your plan’s plays align in an obvious way, like the communications manager being responsible for your email newsletter, or your Major Gifts Officer setting up major donor coffee date. However, this isn’t always the case. Make sure there aren’t any unclaimed plays, just because they don’t directly fit with someone’s job. Where do responsibilities overlap, and how will you assign work in those cases?
As you plan, look for potential collaborations between staff members. There will be projects and plays that require more than one person, and identifying them ahead of time lets staff plan better and take more ownership of their role, instead of feeling suddenly “pulled in.” Does the Chief Development Officer need to identify potential donors to interview so the Communications Manager can write a newsletter article? Should they do the interview together, because the donor’s primary relationship is with the CDO? You won’t be able to flag every instance in advance, but keep an eye out for what you can predict.
Check-in dates are what keeps your fundraising strategic plan off that old dusty shelf. Build them directly into your plan to keep things running on schedule.
Start checking on your progress early and regularly to avoid surprises. If you’re monitoring your efforts on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, you won’t get to the end of the quarter and discover you’ve spent three months on an activity that isn’t working. While monitoring your efforts doesn’t guarantee you’ll hit every goal, it does guarantee you won’t be blindsided when you miss (or dramatically exceed!) one.
A deadline alone only gives you one piece of data–did we reach the target on time or didn’t we? Frequent assessment throughout the process give you more to work with. You can determine if there are trends in donor responses, pinpoint particularly effective plays, or see where engagement dropped off. With this kind of data, you can make better decisions for the future and course-correct in real-time.
Different activities will have different timelines. An ongoing campaign to increase your email subscribers may benefit from a monthly check-in, while a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign might require more frequent assessments. When assigning check-in dates in your plan, err on the side of too many rather than not enough. It’s better to have nothing new to report than to have a deadline sneak up on you.
Each nonprofit will create a fundraising plan that is unique to itself. Your priorities and plays, and ultimately, your plan will be all your own. However, a fundraising plan template can help you organize your information in an easily shareable way. Use this Donor Growth POT template to guide you through your fundraising planning process.
A fundraising plan is a guide and a roadmap, but it’s powered by the people, processes, and platforms that get the work done. Do your platforms support your people and processes?
How much more effectively could you run your processes and empower your people with a nonprofit CRM that’s built for responsive fundraising? What would tackling your fundraising plan be like? Find out with Virtuous.
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.