fundraising plan

Often when I ask folks what their needs and fundraising plan are, I’ll hear: “We need to raise more. With more money we could do so much more.” 

That’s not a fundraising plan. It’s hopeful thinking. 

And while I’ve nothing against feeling hopeful, you know the old saying: “If wishes were fishes we’d all swim in riches.

Wishes, alas, don’t swim on their own. They need a friendly environment, the right circumstances and supporters willing to give them a little push.

As hard as you wish you had more money, guess what?

Donors don’t have money burning such a hole in their pocket they want to transfer it into your pocket so you can figure out how you’ll use it. Nope. More money won’t magically begin to roll in until you get clarity on precisely (1) how you’d use it, and (2) how your supporter/partner can work with you to make change happen.

Before you can build a fundraising plan, you must have:

  1. Clarity around your values, vision and mission.
  2. A strategic business plan.
  3. Articulated, mission-based case(s) for support.
  4. Capacity to reach your goals (e.g., budget, staff, infrastructure, management systems)
  5. A constituency who cares.

1. Values, Vision, and Mission 

PEOPLE GIVE when their values align with the values your organization enacts.

Begin by articulating the value your nonprofit creates. Be specific. Imagine what would happen were your nonprofit to cease to exist? Would it matter? Who would suffer? Would there be anyone to pick up the slack?  

While the need for your nonprofit’s work may seem obvious to you, an insider, it’s likely not so obvious to external constituencies. So you have to tell them why you matter. And not just matter a little, but matter a LOT.

PEOPLE GIVE to attain BIG visions.

What social change do you endeavor to achieve? If it’s ending hunger in your community, say that rather than “we want more food pantries.” Speak to the why, not just the what. The why is the problem; the what is your specific solution(s).

Donors must agree the social change you seek is something they’d like to see too. They must agree the problem is relevant. Then, and only then, will they be interested in hearing about the solutions you have to offer.

PEOPLE give to enact specific, mission-based outcomes.

Once you’re able to articulate a relevant problem you’re ready to describe the solutions to address that problem.  You may have one, or many. If your vision is to end hunger, your mission (how you endeavor to end hunger) may include providing nutritious food for school children, feeding hungry families through a pantry distribution network, and delivering food to at-risk seniors. 

2. Strategic Business Plan

PEOPLE GIVE when they know where you’re headed and trust you’ll get there.

Your strategic plan must outline key priorities in areas like:

  • Target constituencies – who you’ll serve
  • Priority programs and services – what you’ll do and where you’ll target your efforts
  • Systems – how you’ll execute on your plan
  • Deadlines – when you’ll execute on your plan

PEOPLE GIVE to positive momentum.

A smart strategic plan is the opposite of status quo. 

  • It’s action oriented
  • It comes from a place that’s evidence-based, not from a ‘that’s how we’ve always done things’ mindset.
  • It incorporates measurable milestones, serving as a filter through which supporters can judge your success.

EASY TO REMEMBER: In articulating your vision and mission, and putting together your plan, always make sure you’ve addressed all the basics of who, what, when, where and why.

I find one of the best ways to prepare for a strategic planning process is to begin with a SWOT analysis. This will bring all key players together and assure you’re on the same page in understanding your inside and outside worlds. What’s working well? What’s not working? What’s on the horizon that may impact you in the future, either positively or negatively? You’ll want to factor all these things into your future plan.

3. Articulated, Mission-Based Case(s) for Support

PEOPLE GIVE when you ask for something specific.

Consider your top priorities for the coming year, and write up brief case statements for each of them. Honestly, unless you’re in a capital campaign, these statements can be two pages, front and back. You’ll want to include:

  • The need you address – with a little data to show you know what you’re talking about.
  • The solution you propose – with a little history/evidence to show this will work.
  • Precisely how the donor can help – i.e., “$XX will create this specific outcome.”

PEOPLE GIVE when the solution you’ve asked them to support seems realistic.

Make sure you connect the dots to show how what you’ve asked for will create the change you’ve described. If the donor is unclear where their money will go, or how it will be sufficient to get the job done, they’ll not be inclined to make a passionate gift.

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Always include the cost of overhead in described overall program costs. Otherwise, (1) the amount you’re asking for may seem like too little to the donor, and/or (2) you won’t raise enough to fulfill on your promise to execute.

4. Capacity to Reach Your Goals

PEOPLE GIVE to floating boats, not sinking ships.

Success breeds success, so your plan must set you up to succeed. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.” And work takes resources! If you don’t have the resources you need to execute your plan, it becomes a meaningless exercise in futility.

Sometimes you must spend money to make money. Period. 

Also, sometimes time is money. And that may mean you need more staff and/or volunteers.

If you don’t have resources for staff, budget and infrastructure, make it a priority to find them. Here are some options:

  • Apply for a capacity-building grant.
  • Ask your board to join together to provide a capacity-building gift.
  • Use surplus “reserves” to invest in building capacity, rather than letting this surplus sit there for a rainy day that’s most certainly going to occur if you don’t figure out a way today to become more self-sustaining.
  • Recruit more volunteers and provide them with necessary orientation and support.
  • Provide staff with tools and training to assure they possess needed expertise.

5. A Constituency Who Cares

PEOPLE GIVE when they find your vision and mission relevant.

Face it. Not everyone cares about what you do. Despite the fact that you’re super passionate about your mission, you need a sufficient number of other folks who share your passion. If not, you’ve got a lovely ‘pet project’ that’s unlikely to generate significant philanthropy over time.

That’s the cold hard truth. And, sometimes, you need to call a spade a spade. Perhaps your program is as large today as it ever will be. And maybe that’s okay.

PEOPLE GIVE when you remind them how much they care about what you’re accomplishing.

You need a robust, multi-channel strategic communications plan. Even if there is a constituency for what you’re doing, it matters not one whit if they can’t easily discover you. And these days, folks are two-thirds down the path towards finding/not finding you before you even know they exist. 

You need to optimize for search and be where people hang out!

  • If they care about social justice, and that’s your niche, will they find you when they search?  
  • If they care about the environment, and that’s your area of expertise, will they find you on social media? 
  • If they hope to support bringing inner city youth to arts productions, and they come to your arts website, will they easily see this is something you do?

Want a Plan to Raise More Money?

Begin with the five steps outlined above.

Let’s do a quick review:

1. Values, Vision, and Mission 

Do your board and staff agree on the overarching goals of the organization? Would they give the same answer to the question: “What would happen were we to cease to exist?” Your goal is to find the big, vital, important reason why the answer to that question is not a big “ho, hum,’ but rather a giant “oh, no!”

2. Strategic Business Plan

Have you brought board and staff together to clearly articulate a strategy that outlines precisely, step-by-step, how you’ll mobilize everyone and everything – people, systems, technology, facilities, etc. – to move toward that overarching goal? 

3. Articulated, Mission-Based Case(s) for Support

Have you set forth the programs you’ll prioritize for the next 1 – 3 years to benefit your target constituencies and move the needle on your long-term vision?

4. Capacity to Reach Your Goals

Do you have a financing plan/budget in place to make your strategic plan actionable? If not, you’ve got nothing more than an unfunded mandate. Determine how much money you need, over what time period, to enact each of the strategies outlined in your plan. Determine if you have the skilled volunteers and engaged board you need to execute the plan. If not, figure out what needs to be done to get where you need to go.

5. A Constituency Who Cares

Do you know your most likely audiences? Do you have mailing lists so you can reach these folks? Do you have a database so you can track, cultivate and steward these folks? Do you have ways to keep your lists accurate and to expand and reach new and broader markets?

BOTTOM LINE: Donors give to specific impacts. Outcomes that align with their values. Social change that makes them feel they’ve made an impression on the world. 

  • Stop wishing and hoping. 
  • Start thinking and doing.
  • Stop coming from a scarcity mentality.
  • Move towards a culture of abundance.

You can do this! Gather your key leaders together and engage in a strategic planning process. These steps will get you started. 

And 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.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.