Fundraising Planning 101

Fundraising Planning 101


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


For many organizations, Fall is the time for planning and budgeting (which doesn’t really work out so well for fundraisers who need to be busy raising money!). The default seems to be starting with assumptions about what WE did last year (Fall appeal, Spring dinner, small event offerings, and so on) and adding an incremental increase to each.


I have offered in the past, and I will reprise here, an alternative conceptual approach to this annual exercise which I hope will prove useful.

The premise of all planning is that you know where you are going, or at least want to go. The job is to raise money in such a way as to NET revenue for program work. So, you need to start out with a pretty good idea of what that number needs to be. How much does the program NEED me to raise for them so they can do their work? And when you subtract the fundraising costs from the fundraising returns, the result should be at least that much. (See also: Fundraising Net Versus Fundraising Gross)

Many organizations do two things that tend to undermine this approach: they mingle fundraising costs with costs of other programs. Postage and printing are good examples. And they never get around to calculating what the fundraising activities actually cost individually. These are conveniences and efficiencies, but they are not strategic. They do not allow organizations to evaluate fundraising activities against each other and over time. (But that’s probably another post!)


I suggest starting by creating a giant spreadsheet with every ROW being a donor. The COLUMNS then represent the touchpoints – things they see from us that serve either to inform their decisions to give or directly request their giving. So, there would certainly be a column representing a “renewal” request. Perhaps one or several newsletters, email news, event invitations including field trips, and perhaps an annual meeting or fundraising dinner.

The CELLS represent WHETHER they will be included in the specific activity, WHO might be responsible for their specific participation, and WHEN the touchpoint will actually happen.

We also need to record an expected Return on Investment (ROI) – or that amount we expect to see in return if we ask for that specific amount of money at that specific time.


For each Donor.

OK – so that’s impossible, right?

So, then we begin to group. The default grouping tends to be related to giving amount, but in today’s world we need to be a bit more sophisticated than that. We will need to have different strategies for current and lapsed members, for example. And those need to be differentiated from monthly donors.

People and companies that ONLY provide support for events should be separated.

You might choose to separate by geography with different events and communications being provided more by specific area or region.

Or age.

Or specific known interest, place, or activity.

Related to giving, I have suggested that capacity to give is as important as history of giving. I like at least separating people who have given less than $250 from those who have given more, but I also like to keep an eye on those with, say, $10,000 capacity to give regardless of their actual history of giving.

And then you plan for each group in the same way that you were planning for each individual before.

Importantly, there are those I would NOT recommend grouping:

  • Board members
  • Major Gift Prospects and Annual Giving Leaders together representing about 10-20% of the donors
  • Foundations
  • Businesses


These could be “rolled” up for presentations, but I think you will raise more money if you take the time to plan for each one individually.


So now each row can be totaled – representing how much money (Goal) is expected from each prospective donor (NOTE that this is not the same as the ask amount) or group of donors.

And each column can be totaled too – representing how much money (Goal) is expected from each activity or event. This is also where you would plug in the expected costs (budget) of each activity. The subtraction – Goal less costs – is your NET.

Will you be netting enough money to meet the needs of the programs? If NOT, you have three choices:

  • Reduce the expectations from program
  • Increase the number of donors
  • Increase the amount of money you are asking for


Increasing the number of donors is a long-term strategy unlikely to produce immediate returns. This is why I recommend periodically running this planning exercise with a longer time horizon as well. At least three years and perhaps five. I generally recommend that this longer plan conform to the same time frame as the Strategic Plan. Regardless, building up the number of donors is an investment for year 1 and break-even may not come until year 3. It’s a long-term strategy. See 5Yr Value: The Metric that Tells You the Most About Your Fundraising.

Notice that I did not include increasing the number of activities. Though doing so will help you raise some more money, it also invites donors to give to one activity instead of another. In other words, adding a second event or a second appeal is unlikely to double your revenues.


Finally, take the time to map all this work onto a calendar. Use the same rows (individuals and groups) that you had before, but now the columns represent months. The cells are specific activities that should be accomplished that month and they include by WHOM and by WHEN. Identify bottlenecks and places where work can be usefully pulled out and done earlier to decrease pressure.


This is how everyone does it, no?


Cheers, and Have a great week.




Photo by Iwan Beijes courtesy FreeImages




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