Fundraising Planning is about Process, Not Form

Fundraising Planning is about Process, Not Form


By David Allen, Development for Conservation

Well-Meaning Tom: Nothing seems to be working.

DA: What’s not working?

Well-Meaning Tom: Fundraising!

DA: Not working how?

Well-Meaning Tom: Not working like we’re not where we should be by now. Not working like when I ask the board members to help they just stare at me – or worse say they will and then don’t. Not working like I can’t do this all by myself.

DA: You sound overwhelmed and frustrated.

Well-Meaning Tom: You can say that again.

DA: It also sounds like a problem of buy-in. Let’s see your Development Plan.

Well-Meaning Tom: Plan?

DA: Yeah, your Fundraising Plan or Development Plan.

Well-Meaning Tom: Um, we have a budget.

DA: If you don’t have a plan, how do you know that it’s not working?

Well-Meaning Tom: I don’t have time to plan!

DA: The plan isn’t about you, it’s about how your land trust is going to raise money. And you plan because you don’t have time.

Well-Meaning Tom: Do you have a plan for organizations my size? Can you give me a sample that I can crib from?

DA: I could but it wouldn’t work.

Well-Meaning Tom: Why not?

DA: Because the only plan that will work for your organization is the one that your organization creates. And everyone who will be involved needs to participate so that they buy in.

Well-Meaning Tom: Sounds like a lot of work.

DA: Planning isn’t about how much work it is or how long it takes. It’s about who is involved. It’s about process.

Well-Meaning Tom: I can’t even imagine doing that with my board.

DA: Then don’t start with “the board.” Start with just one member of the board. Ideally it would be the Chair, but it could be anyone.

Well-Meaning Tom: How do we get started? What is the process?

DA: Start by imagining a large spreadsheet. Down the left-hand side, list all the donors who gave you money last year. Across the top list all the things they gave money for – all the ways you asked they to give. And then start filling in the boxes.

Well-Meaning Tom: That’s a ton of work.

DA: It’ll go faster if you “clump” the donors into groups.

Well-Meaning Tom: Clump?

DA: Technically they would be segments. The number of clumps or segments you have will depend on the size of your organization – like you would clump foundations separately from businesses. For individuals, I would at least separate out board members, major gift prospects, and regular members. But you might have members further segmented or event-only people, and so on.

Well-Meaning Tom: Then we’re done?

DA: No – then you can start. This is planning. That spreadsheet represents where you are. The fundraising goals are where you’re going. Now you need a plan to get there.

Either way, the plan you end up with needs to be developed by the people who will be doing the work. If you do all the planning, you will end up doing all the work.

Well-Meaning Tom: Like I am now.

DA: Right, like you are now. So – start with your one board member, maybe several other board members and volunteers, and anyone else whose involvement will be important to the implementation. Create a new spreadsheet with the same rows and columns but without all the boxes filled in. And answer this question: “What must we do this year to meet our goals?”

The spreadsheet you have can help. If you look down the columns, you can tell how much money each activity made – appeal letters, events, and so on. If you look across the rows, you can see what was raised from each clump. Maybe you have columns that take tons of time and don’t make much money. Maybe you need to add new activities or columns.

Well-Meaning Tom: And then somehow magically, everyone will help raise the money?

DA: Not necessarily, but raising the money will be more likely – because it’s not just you working, because the group around the table will have come to consensus around a common vision, and because they will each understand their role in making it all work.

Well-Meaning Tom: So now I have to figure out how to get everyone together.

DA: There’s a planning process for that.






Photo by Elliott Chau courtesy of

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