Another Way to Think about Fundraising Planning

Another Way to Think about Fundraising Planning

A question I’m getting from several different directions right now relates to fundraising planning. In April and May, the questions are coming from organizations whose fiscal year ends in June, but the questions themselves are universal.

The first piece of advice I always give is that planning should always start with the program goal. Starting with the program goal does not necessarily imply that every goal is attainable, but starting there is important. The program goal is a “net” goal for fundraising; that amount needed to run the programs and operate the organization. The purpose of the fundraising, then, is to return that “net” to the program side. This amount, added to the budget available for fundraising, is your Fundraising Goal.

Then I look for a set of activities strategically chosen to raise money and a set of qualified prospects from whom the money will be raised. Activities will be things like membership renewals, fall appeal, annual fundraising dinner, newsletters, Facebook ads, grant requests, emails, telephone calls, and face-to-face meetings. The prospects will be individuals, businesses, and foundations.

These two ideas – activities and prospects – shouldn’t be confused. They are best considered as axes on a spreadsheet with activities representing the columns and prospects representing the rows. The intersections can be populated with ask “yields,” the goal amounts you expect to actually achieve from each donor segment. The sums of all the columns should add to (at least!) the Fundraising Goal.

If you will use this concept in your planning, you will be able to incorporate mini-plans for each column and each row separately. So you might have a mini-plan for a fundraising event, or for membership renewals. And each mini-plan should include the “by whom and by when” detail in addition to specific ask amounts. You’ll also have a mini-plan for each group of prospects. You’ll be able to look down the rows and see that your individual members will be asked to renew their membership, receive the newsletter, get an invitation to the annual event, and respond to the year-end appeal.

Note that this kind of planning is very scalable. You might have one column for events. You might have three, representing several different kinds of events to which you are inviting different segments of your membership.

You might segment your 5-figure prospects separately, or even list each one individually creating customized cultivation and solicitation plans for each one. You might list your board members separately as well.

In general, I suggest creating the detail you need without going overboard. I generally segregate out my board members, my 5-figure prospects, perhaps 2 or three membership groups, corporations, and foundations. Then I create as many columns as I need to adequately manage the cultivation and solicitation of each group.

Got a fundraising planning story? Do share.




Photo by Chris Myers courtesy of

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Will I see you at a conference this spring? In May, I’m heading to state conferences in New York, and Pennsylvania. I’m also planning to attend the River Rally in Mobile, Alabama.

Will I see you there?


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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’m thinking about for May. What are YOU thinking about?


Second Spring Appeal Letters: I want my donors to give to the organization twice each year, once to renew their membership, and once in response to an “appeal letter.” Because most donors renew their membership in the fall months, and because I don’t want them to receive the two requests right on top of one another, the Spring Appeal is important. The first letter should have gone out in April, but there’s still time to get a second, “reminder” letter out as long as it is mailed before Memorial Day.


Taking Stock After April:

Assume that you are not there a year from now – not anywhere around, in fact. Write your replacement a letter explaining where you are after four months this year. Talk about what your priorities were and how they may have changed over time. Be analytical and reflective, but most of all, be candid.

If you followed my advice last year, you will have a file somewhere in your computer containing your reflections on the first four months of last year. Use it as a baseline to make the same evaluation this year. If you did not, do it now for next year!


Donor Events: In May, I’m already thinking about my donor events in the Fall. WHY? – because it takes that long to do it well.


Securing Prospecting Mail Lists: It’s not too early to think about fall mailings to recruit new members. Getting the lists together is a big part of that. Certainly recreate my “house list” of lapsed and former members and donors, program and field trip participants, and volunteers. But also begin trading or buying other lists. I don’t know of any land trust organization with more than 1,500-2,000 members that does not depend on a significant direct mail program and budget. Those that have curbed it to save money (or in consideration of using less paper; or in favor of email, social media, or crowd funding) have lost.

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