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13 Common Mistakes Small Nonprofits Make In Their Fundraising Plan

Mistakes at Year-End
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Raising all the money you need to fully fund your budget doesn’t happen by accident – You need a fundraising plan.

The bad news is that most small nonprofits don’t have a fundraising plan.

The good news is that planning doesn’t have to be hard, complicated, or elusive.

It can be as simple as hitting the pause button long enough to get your thoughts on paper about what you want to do in the next 12 months. Or even 6 months.

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint.

You wouldn’t cook a new dish without a recipe.

You wouldn’t take a road trip without a map.

Why should your fundraising be any different?

Trust me when I say ‘spray and pray’ is NOT an effective strategy for raising money. Neither is hope. Hope is a good thing, but it only works when combined with a solid fundraising strategy based on your nonprofit’s strengths, goals, and needs.

You need a carefully planned fundraising strategy designed to raise the money you need now and set you up for success moving forward. 

Everyone I’ve ever talked to about planning knows they need one. So why don’t more people create and use a plan?

There are several common mistakes people make in planning that hold them back and keep them from pulling their plan together, which cripples the nonprofit’s ability to move forward. See if any of these describe your situation.

  1. Too busy. Some people know they need a plan but just can’t seem to carve out the time to work on it. The truth is that you make time for things that are important to you. If you say you have no time to plan, that’s just an excuse covering up some other reason why you don’t want to plan.
  2. Need it to be RIGHT! Too many people wait for the perfect time, the perfect Board, the perfect staff, the perfect template, or a perfect something else to work on their fundraising plan. But you know what? There will never be a perfect time, Board, staff, or template. So, you just have to use what you have and get your plan done. And anyway, done is better than perfect, meaning that a plan that’s 80% finished but 100% implemented will always outperform the perfect plan that’s never completed. 
  3. Analysis paralysis. Some folks delay working on their fundraising plan because they think they need a little more info. One more report will show them a magic piece of information they’re missing. One more person’s input will make all the difference. This is actually a procrastination technique, commonly used to avoid making a decision or committing to a course of action. 
  4. Unclear goals. It’s hard to cross the finish line when you don’t know where it is. Using goals like “raise more money” or “raise more than last year” are too vague to be useful. You’ll never know when to kick in the afterburners to reach your goal or do the Happy Dance once you’ve reached it. You can’t create a fundraising plan to raise the money you need if your goals aren’t clear.
  5. Wrong-size goals. What’s worse than unclear goals is wrong-size goals. Wrong-size goals are either way too big of a stretch and unrealistic or they’re no stretch at all. Either way, wrong-size goals leave you with no motivation to actually work your plan. 
  6. Planning based on emotion, not data. You’re doing things because you always have, not because there’s evidence to support that they should be done. You’re holding that event because it’s tradition but you haven’t stopped to consider if you SHOULD continue it. Ask yourself if that event is bringing in enough money to justify the time, money, and energy you spend on it. Always choose fundraising strategies because they work and move you toward your funding goal, not because you like them or feel obligated to do them.
  7. Unrealistic Board expectations. You may be either putting too much expectation on your Board, thinking they will rise to the challenge and suddenly start fundraising, or you may be completely leaving them out. They’re supposed to be your partners in fulfilling your nonprofit’s mission, so find a way to include them in your fundraising plan. That means you may need to have individual conversations with Board members to ask them where they’d like to plug in to help.
  8. Imaginary plan. Way too many people say they have a plan, but it’s not written down anywhere. Listen, if it’s not in writing, it’s not real. The plan in your head can change too easily and there’s no one to hold you accountable when you don’t complete part of it. It’s too easy for you to drop parts of your imaginary plan, shift things around, or back off your goals because you don’t feel like doing certain parts. Ready to take your fundraising plan seriously? Write it down.
  9. No resources for execution. Be sure that whatever you put in your plan is actually doable. Make sure you have time, money, and manpower to execute the details of your plan. Otherwise, your plan will just be another document with no benefit and a waste of time to create.
  10. No details. Maybe you have a big-picture plan put together, but no idea how it will get done. You did the first step by deciding what fundraising activities you’ll engage in this year but didn’t include any action plans detailing the who, what, when, and how much. A fundraising plan without action steps is like a car with no wheels – it’s not going anywhere. So, take the time to figure out the details of how your plan will get done.
  11. Overestimating YOU. You probably belong to the “I can do it” club, which means you say “yes” to way too many things. You overestimate how much you can get done which doesn’t leave you much time to think or respond to things that pop up during the day. Stuffing your plan too full doesn’t help bring in more money – it just exhausts you. So be realistic about how much time you can spend working on implementing your fundraising plan so you don’t set yourself up to fail.
  12. Too many events.  A well-chosen, well-done fundraising event can generate revenue, awareness, and new supporters. But too many small nonprofits find themselves on the “Special Event Hamster Wheel,” holding event after event after event. Events are very labor-intensive and pound for pound are not as productive as other kinds of fundraising. So, do ONE event and make it a signature event. Put all you’ve got into it and hit it out of the park. Then move on to other things. Too many small, barely worthwhile events will wear you out, wear your community out, and wear your volunteers out.
    Here’s a short video where I explain my 1-10-1000 Rule for planning the right mix of events and other strategies.
  13. Lack of fundraising diversity.  Have you ever tried to sit on a one-legged stool? I doubt it would be very stable. Two legs wouldn’t work well, either. But three or four legs would make that stool safe to sit on. The same thing goes for funding streams. It’s not safe to live on one source of revenue. Yet, too many small nonprofits try to fund their entire operation from one large grant or a single major gift. If that one source of revenue goes away, you’ve got a BIG problem and you’ll be scrambling to find other ways to bring in money. Having diverse revenue streams creates stability for the nonprofit. If something happens to one income stream, you’ve got others to fall back on. 

Avoid these common planning mistakes and you’ll find yourself on the way to creating a fundraising plan that works for you and brings in all the money you need to fully fund your budget!

Here are a few other resources to help you plan:

Feel free to download our free SWOT analysis guide and template to shine a light on your nonprofit’s future so you can shape it proactively, not retroactively.

How to Write a Fundraising Plan in 2 Steps!

Download the eBook

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  • Charity Link

    Really nice write up - like the personal angle which definitely resonates! Really sensible advice to spread out the diversity and to avoid burn out... It's a marathon not a sprint right?! Good luck everyone - fundraising is never easy - particularly in todays climate but keep fighting the good fight and we'll get there.
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