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How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

Author: Sayana Izmailova
November 19, 2020
🕑 13 min read

If you’re a nonprofit professional looking to improve your organization’s fundraising strategy and bring in new streams of revenue, the first step to ensuring success is to prepare a fundraising plan. This will create a solid foundation on which to build your campaigns.

Or, perhaps your previous plan is being reworked to fit the new realities of social distancing. Despite the current crisis, your fundraising efforts must go on — they’ll just look a bit different. By planning ahead in the midst of the pandemic, you can prepare your organization for a successful “re-opening” and avoid any last minute scrambling.

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of preparing a fundraising plan for your nonprofit, we’ll quickly review the basics.

What is a Fundraising Plan?

A nonprofit fundraising plan is a written document that demonstrates your preparation of your organization’s fundraising efforts throughout a set time period (often one fiscal year).

This plan typically encompasses both financial goals and a nonprofit marketing plan that will be used to accomplish these goals.

Why is a Fundraising Plan Important?

By creating and implementing an effective fundraising plan, you’re creating a reminder that helps you work towards your goals. Plus, it helps you choose which aspects you need to work on while keeping you and your team accountable with benchmarks throughout the process.

Here are the ten steps you’ll want to follow to bring your team to success:

  1. Reflect on your past finances
  2. Define your vision
  3. Consider new trends
  4. Set goals
  5. Expand your donor network
  6. Don’t forget donor stewardship
  7. Determine and delegate activities
  8. Create a budget
  9. Create a calendar
  10. Put it all together

To make it easier for you to craft your fundraising plan as you’re going through each of the sections in this blog post, we’ve also created a corresponding Fundraising Plan Template. Grab it here, make your own copy and start filling it out!

Are you ready to get started crafting a straightforward, organized fundraising plan?

Let’s jump in.

1. Reflect on Your Past Finances

Before moving forward to create a new fundraising plan, it’s essential that you take a look at your past finances. This way, you can extract key insights from this data, such as how you’ve grown in the past year and where you see your organization going.

Pay attention to where your fundraising revenue has come from in the past so that you can add them to your plan for the future — such as:

  • Individual small- and mid-level donors: The majority of donors fall into this category, with gifts ranging from a few dollars to several thousand. If your organization has a wide array of small- and mid-level donors, you may choose to place an emphasis on boosting repeat or recurring donations.
  • Major donors: The definition of a major gift varies greatly from one nonprofit to another. For a smaller nonprofit, a few thousand dollars can constitute a major gift, while larger organizations consider major gifts to run in the six-figures range. Regardless of the definition, an average of 88% of individual donor dollars come from the top 12% of donors.
  • Nonprofit grants: If your organization has relied on grant funding in the past, you know that this can be a great source of revenue to kickstart a new project or initiative. It might be a good idea to explore opportunities presented by both private grant-giving institutions and government agencies, as new grant funding has been made available in response to COVID-19.
  • Corporate giving: The final source of fundraising revenue for many nonprofit organizations comes from businesses and corporations. Much of this revenue comes from matching gift programs, where businesses financially match the generous gifts of their employees to eligible nonprofit organizations.

As you complete these financial reflections, you’ll be able to better cater your fundraising strategy to your personal history, donor network, and current trends.

Use this time to also note any room for improvement you see. Are there expenses you can cut? Do you need to allocate more funds to a particular fundraising activity that proved to be effective last year? Do you need to hire a new staff member or reorganize your current structure?

Taking a holistic look at how your organization functions and where you’re spending and receiving money is the foundation of an effective fundraising plan.

Tip: Use Section 1 in this template to reflect on your past finances. 

2. Define Your Vision

To boost your fundraising strategy, it’s essential that you first have a solid understanding of who you are as an organization. It would be nearly impossible to connect with donors and receive adequate funding without fully defining and communicating your nonprofit’s vision.

Even if your organization has been around for a while and you have a clear vision of who you are and what you do, it can still be incredibly helpful to outline it once again at the start of your planning process. This will ensure that your mission, vision and values remain top of mind while you plan and accomplish your fundraising goals.

Here are a few key elements to keep in mind.

  • What is your mission? What is the main issue you see in the world, and how do you visualize yourself mending it? You can use specific stories and goals to explain it and help others visualize themselves as a part of the mission as well.
  • Why is it important? Why does this issue matter? This can be on a global scale or a more personal level within your community. Plainly express why each potential supporter should want to get involved.
  • What sets you apart? There are millions of nonprofit organizations worldwide. How can you convince supporters to give their hard-earned dollars to your organization and not another? The key is to brand your nonprofit to position yourself as the best choice.

Tip: Use Section 2 in this template to define your vision. 

3. Consider New Trends

An important aspect of fundraising (and running a nonprofit in general!) is making sure you’re up-to-date with any emerging fundraising trends in the nonprofit world. Staying up-to-date will help you better connect with your target audience and encourage new donations.

A few recent trends you might want to keep in mind as you work on your fundraising plan include:

  • Donor-advised funds: One trend that has seen growth in recent years, likely due to associated tax benefits, is the use of donor-advised funds. Through these types of funds, donors set aside charitable contributions without allocating the funds to a particular organization. This way the funds continue to grow, tax-free, during this waiting period. Engaging with donors with these accounts is a good way to build important relationships.
  • Corporate philanthropy: Matching gift programs, one aspect of corporate philanthropy, continue to grow in popularity as awareness surrounding them increases as well. Corporate matching gifts programs double an incoming donation when participating employers agree to match charitable donations from employees. This way, you get twice the donation while the donor is making twice the impact. A win-win!
  • Targeting Gen Z: Generation Z, known for being more involved with activism than any generation prior, continues to become more engaged with philanthropy and improving society as a whole. Also known as the “Philanthro-teens,” this generation makes up over a quarter of the global population and are beginning to enter the workforce — and yet many nonprofits leave this group out of the potential donor pool! Specifically targeting Gen-Z with a tailored outreach approach is an important way to grow your nonprofit.

By taking note of these trends and staying on the lookout for any others when you create your fundraising plan, you will have a better understanding of the unique ways you can engage with your donors and foster positive relationships with each of your supporters.

If you can incorporate new trends into your strategy, you can hopefully reach out to a new audience and expand your fundraising.

4. Set Goals

Setting fundraising goals throughout the year can help make sure you stay on track. Goals can help remind you and your team of your greatest focus, encourage efficient prioritization, and keep up with your overall game plan.

Start by coming up with one overarching goal that aligns with your organization’s mission. Then, break it down into a few smaller goals that will help you achieve the main one.

These smaller goals don’t have to be directly related to fundraising but should be aligned with your mission and your overarching goal. They can be related to hiring new staff members to accommodate other goals, making changes in your fundraising activities, or the way your organization is structured.

Plus, don’t forget that successful fundraising doesn’t just revolve around acquiring new donors. Create some goals around donor stewardship, things you can do to improve your retention rates or win back lapsed donors.

For example, your big goal might be to increase your fundraising revenue by $20,000 by the end of the year because that’s how much it costs to deliver a new program for the people you serve. Your smaller goals might then be to increase the number of new donors through social media, execute a lapsed donors campaign and organize a stewardship event for your existing donors.

And don’t pick too many goals — 3-4 is usually manageable. If you select too many, you run the risk of not being able to give the required focus and attention to any one of them. If there are still other goals you’d like to achieve, consider pushing them until your next planning session.

Lastly, when coming up with your goals, be sure to follow the SMART framework.

  • Specific: Make sure your goal states exactly what you are looking to accomplish by identifying a tangible outcome. Be sure to use concrete metrics or percentages in order to ensure specificity of your goal.
  • Measurable: Stating quantitative metrics takes the guessing out of measuring your progress. Try incorporating a fundraising thermometer to visually measure the progress your nonprofit is making over time and keep your team and donors motivated.
  • Attainable: Set a goal that is realistic in relation to the size and scope of your organization. Creating a challenge can be great for motivation, but setting sky-high goals will only set your team up for disappointment.
  • Relatable: Choose a goal that is relevant to your organization and your mission — with an emphasis on fundraising. A relatable goal is important for engaging with your team and anyone else that gets involved in your fundraising efforts. One donor-facing way to do this is by showing how much their donations will give back to the community — for example, saying that a gift of $50 is equivalent to three meals at your food bank.
  • Time-based: Establishing a deadline allows you to measure your progress toward a target date. A deadline makes it possible to track development through the stages of your fundraising plan.

For example: To increase the number of monthly recurring donors from 100 to 150 by the end of the second fiscal quarter. 

The specificity in this standard for setting goals ensures simple tracking and reporting of any status updates, which helps keep your team on track to follow your overall fundraising plan.

Tracking these goals also gives you the perfect opportunity to celebrate your successes and build on any opportunities for improvement.

Tip: Use Section 3 in this template to set your goals. 

5. Expand Your Donor Network

Whatever the goals you set are, you likely have a few around expanding your network of supporters and attracting new donations.

Go back to the first section where we discussed reflecting on your past finances — take a careful look at where most of your new revenue came from and use this to guide your future plans.

For example, if you raised most of your funds from individual donors and it didn’t cost too much to execute, emphasize your efforts here once again.

You can choose to focus on individuals who have expressed a prior interest in your organization but have yet to make their first donation, or you might want to start fresh and introduce yourself to brand new prospects.

Either way, a few best practices for gathering new donors include:

  • Strategizing your social outreach: A great way to engage new donors is through mass communication tactics, including email marketing and social media promotion. Social media offers excellent networking perks in that you can ask your current donors to interact with and share your messages with their family and friends, which exposes new audiences to your mission. On the other hand, you can choose to take a more personal approach with email or direct messaging.
  • Sharing your vision: Once you have defined your established vision, use that as a way to attract new donors who share your drive toward that mission. To find donors who align with your vision, share it through your network with various marketing tactics.
  • Emphasizing donor involvement: Donors like to know where their money is going. Specific details can draw in new supporters looking to help your cause. For example, asking for donations to buy one child’s textbooks is usually more effective than asking donors to pitch in to build a school. This puts the focus on that particular donor and how they can make an immediate difference.

As you reach out to potential new donors and connect with those holding a shared interest in your mission, you’ll have to walk a fine line between building repeat donor relationships and seeking out new supporters.

6. Don’t Forget Donor Stewardship

While acquiring new donors is an important aspect of fundraising, appreciating your existing donors and nurturing those relationships is just as (if not more) important.

Take a look at your current retention rates — are your donors sticking around for years or forgetting about you as soon as they get their first and only tax receipt?

To improve your retention rates, your organization needs a robust donor stewardship program. If you don’t have one already, work it into your fundraising plan and set some goals around it.

Proper donor stewardship goes well beyond just sending a thank-you letter and a tax receipt after a gift has been made. Think about what you can do to engage the donor, build a relationship with them, keep them informed about the impact of their donation and keep them coming back to make another gift year after year.

Here are a few things you can incorporate into your stewardship plan:

  • Make personal thank-you phone calls after each gift
  • Segment and personalize your communications as much as possible
  • Send regular email newsletters
  • Send an annual report to showcase your donors’ impact
  • Surprise and delight your donors with handwritten thank-you cards, holiday greetings, anniversary cards or just-because cards
  • Host a free donor appreciation event
  • Encourage your donors to follow you on social media so they can stay up-to-date on your latest activities

7. Determine and Delegate Activities

So you’ve investigated what’s worked well in the past, defined your vision, researched new trends and set some goals — now it’s time to actually plan out what fundraising and stewardship activities you’ll be undertaking.

For each of your revenue sources — individual donors, major donors, grants and corporate sponsors — brainstorm what specific activities or campaigns you’ll be organizing. Think about what will be most effective in helping you achieve your main goal.

Then, for each activity, identify the person responsible for its execution and set a timeline, either a deadline by which it needs to be done or a period in which you’ll be engaging in this activity.

Be sure to also think about why each activity is important and what outcome you’re hoping to achieve. Though this might be obvious, it will act as your north star when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it and will help keep the big picture in mind.

Tip: Use the first three columns of Section 4 in this template to plan your activities. 


8. Create a Budget

Next, you’ll want to take your planning even further by forecasting how much each of the activities you outlined in the above section will cost and how much revenue you anticipate they’ll bring in. Don’t forget to also estimate how time-consuming each activity will be for you, your staff members or volunteers — time is money too!

Getting this down on paper, even if it’s just an estimate, will help you:

  1. Have a realistic idea of which activities are actually feasible and which you should save until your next planning session
  2. Stay on track to completing each activity by not spending too much money and time on each and by having a revenue goal to work towards

Tip: Use the last three columns of Section 4 in this template to track your activity costs. 

It’s also a good idea to create an overall budget. Remember that each of your activities can be categorized by the revenue source they help support. While the people you have delegated each activity to should be responsible for their own budgets, you should be the one to maintain the master budget.

This is where you forecast how much each of your revenue sources will bring in, keep track of your spending in each area and compare how you fare against last year’s numbers.

Tip: Use Section 5 in this template to fill in in your master budget. 


9. Create a Calendar

The final step is take your goals and planned activities and schedule them. This is the best way to make sure that you actually accomplish what you set out to do. Not to mention, it’s just useful to work off a schedule for practical reasons, especially when you’re working with other people.

Think about all the campaigns, events, grant deadlines and other activities you’re planning to do and map them out against each month of the upcoming year, while keeping seasonal shifts in mind. For example, you’ll likely want to do your holiday giving campaign around November or December, and you’ll probably want to avoid organizing a large event in August, since people are usually away on vacation.

You (or the person responsible) will need to create a more detailed plan and schedule for each activity, but having everything in one place will let you see your year at a glance and make sure no two large undertakings are overlapping.

Tip: Use Section 6 in this template to fill out your calendar


10. Put It All Together

You are now ready to compile your collected information into a singular document — your fundraising plan.

Once again, if you haven’t already downloaded our template, it’s a great starting point. You can then, of course, edit and customize it however you need to.

By crafting an effective fundraising plan and sticking closely to it throughout the year, you can set your organization up for a successful year of fundraising.

Keep in mind, though, that your fundraising plan can change at any point, so it’s always a good idea to remain flexible as you move along. If this year so far has taught us anything, it’s that no plan is set in stone!

Best of luck!

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