Development Planning From Scratch – The BIG Picture

Development Planning From Scratch – The BIG Picture

I’ve been thinking lately about Development Planning. This has been spurred by two things. First, I have a client who is new to her job as Development Manager and who has a new Executive Director. Neither one has done Development Planning before. Second, I have several clients whose fundraising programs have plateaued. In each case, they are relatively stable, but they have not been able to grow much if at all in the past five years or so. Can I help them grow to a new level of funding?

So I’ve started thinking about planning from scratch – both in the sense of me thinking about it from scratch and in the sense of them learning to plan from scratch. And I’ve started thinking about a series of blog posts that may very well end up numbering in the range of ten. We’ll see. In any case, this is the first one: The BIG Picture.

The bottom line in Development Planning to that you must deliver a NET return to the Program-side so that they can do their work. It makes sense – whatever it costs you to raise money gets subtracted from the amount you raise before you turn the rest over. The FUNDRAISING GOAL is therefore the amount needed by everyone else PLUS the amount needed to raise that much money.

This implies a very different process than most people are used to. Fundraising planning often involves calculating “what we did last year and adding 10-15% or so.”

Instead, we should be asking what the Program-side needs us to raise for them. How much money do they need for landowner contact, closing costs, stewardship, and communications? How much capital do they need for land acquisition, stewardship endowment, or other strategic priorities? And most importantly, what must we do now that will position us to be able to meet the program needs of the future?

There are other unfamiliar implications as well. The new process implies paying attention to the return on investment for each of our fundraising strategies. It implies that we plan for a certain level of speculation, to try new things and expand both the fundraising program and our understanding of it. It implies that our fundraising costs are budgeted separately and reported separately. And it implies that we know how much Program-side needs us to raise.

The budgeting processes in which I’ve participated have involved the program directors, of which I was one, each developing separate budgets. When we combined them and added them, they always exceeded the projected revenues. Then we had “gap meetings” until the two ends came together. Final cuts were made by the Executive Director. Sound familiar? The problem I always had was that I didn’t have ways to cut expenses that didn’t also affect revenue. So, because I’m relatively bright and it wasn’t my first rodeo, I started padding my budget accordingly – not necessarily the solution I’d recommend now.

I’m not saying that anything Program-side needs is equally doable, but if we never fully understand what the need is, we can’t possibly lay in the plans to achieve it. And, at least in my case, no one ever came back to me and said, “What would it take for you to deliver the money they need?”

But let’s back that point out another step: Does Program-side know what they need? Or are they simply adding in 10-15% too? How would they know? Answer: They know because they’ve done the legwork necessary to fully actualize the Strategic Plan – including understanding how much it will cost to pull it off. (The truth is that I rarely see this.)

Do you have a Strategic Plan? Have you created an Implementation Plan to go with it? Does the Implementation Plan have a projected budget? If you’ve answered NO to any of these questions, you might need to fill in the process gaps before you can fill in the funding gaps.

This helps point out one of the differences between a Fundraising Plan and a Development Plan, too. Your Fundraising Plan will position the organization to meet the program needs of the defined fiscal year. A Development Plan will position the organization to meet the program needs defined by the Strategic Plan.

OK, so let’s say you’ve done your homework. You not only know how much Program-side needs to operate next year, you know how much they will need in each of the next three years. So how much have you got?

In addition to fundraising, revenue comes from two alternate sources: Non-Gift Cash and Non-Cash Gifts.

Non-Gift Cash is money you receive that would not qualify as a gift. Interest from endowment or other accounts, or sales of merchandise, for example. Admission tickets (including field trip fees), raffle tickets, and advertising space. Also fee-for-service, such as government contracts. (Government contracts are not charitable! You’re doing something or could do something that might qualify under one of various government programs that pay for things under the agency’s mandate.) Perhaps landowners or even other non-profit organizations might pay you for services as well. In each case, you should have a track record of success to justify projecting this income.

Non-Cash Gifts – technically this includes any in-kind gift, but I am specifically referring to items that can be used to offset budgeted expenses. For example, donated legal services (assuming you budget for them), or donations of paper or printing. Donated office space is another example. Again, you should have a track record of success to justify projecting this income.

Now consider any known gift revenue that has already been committed. Usually this means pledge payments where the pledges were committed in previous years. Or money held by the organization until a restriction can be met.

What you have left is the Program-side revenue goal. Theoretically, if you deliver this amount to Program-side, they will be able to do their work, and everyone will be happy. The next job is to adopt a set of strategies that will deliver that net, and quantify how much implementing them will cost. Then the sum of the Program-side net and the fundraising costs will be the Fundraising Goal.

Your funding will come from people making decisions because it’s their job (Foundations), people making decisions because it’s good for business (Corporations), and people making decisions because they love you and want to see you succeed (Individuals).

We’ll dive in further next time.





Photo by Mink Mingle courtesy of

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Related Posts

Another Way to Think about Fundraising Planning

In-Kind Contributions Need Systems, Too


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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about for July. What are YOU thinking about?


Planning My Fall Appeal – If you followed my advice back in February, you will have a draft of your Fall Appeal letter already written. The draft will use what you learned from last year’s appeal as well as your current year’s communications theme. There is no reason not to pull that letter out now, create several versions to meet the needs of your segmented donor file, and PRINT THEM ALL NOW. Print the letters with a September date, fold and stuff them, seal them and put stamps on. Then put them in a box on a shelf with the drop date written on the outside. One less chore for the fall! – which will make time for major gift prospects visits.


Getting Ready for Fall Foundation Deadlines – Board members can play an important role in supporting the business of writing foundation proposals. July is a great time to organize that support, and it all starts with systematically finding out who they know. Last year’s post listed the steps necessary to organize that process. It included this:


Evaluating My Fundraising Year So Far – Given what you know right now, where will you be at year’s end? Go ahead – stick your neck out and take a WAG. Will you make your fundraising goals? Here’s the question: “Given what I know right now about what foundations have committed and what grant requests are still out there, and what I know right now about membership, major gift requests, corporate fundraising, and so on, can I still project getting to my fundraising goal for the year?” July is really the first time that you have enough information to attempt this exercise. Forewarned is forearmed. If trying to forecast now means that you avoid a head-on collision in December and January, your effort will be worthwhile


Getting Ready to Talk to My Mailhouse – July is a good time to go have a meeting with your mailhouse. Take a copy of the letter you prepared earlier to show (and weigh!) and talk to them about list segmentation, timing, and copy deadlines.

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