27 Sep Do Fundraising Goals Belong in Your Strategic Plan?
27 September 2022
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Do fundraising goals and strategies belong in your organizational strategic plan?
I think they do, but not in the way many people think.
I’ve been looking at a lot of Strategic Plans lately – both those that I am involved in facilitating and those that have been facilitated by others. The goals and strategies related to fundraising that I find in most of these plans are neither strategic nor particularly helpful as plans.
I could certainly make the case that fundraising planning should NOT be included in an organizational strategic plan. Fundraising planning should be related to fundraising GOALS, and how would you set fundraising goals if you haven’t yet figured out what you need to do? Or how much it will cost?
The case for NOT including them would be predicated on an assumption that Strategic Fund Development Planning should follow organizational strategic planning just like Strategic Conservation Planning does (or should).
Instead, what many organizations do is try to articulate goals related simply to “more.” More members, more donors, more corporate, more events, more money, more “more.” It comes from an internal feeling of helplessness that what we can do in the next five years will ALWAYS be limited by the amount of money we have or can raise. Therefore, we don’t ever need to quantify what it might cost to get the work done, because we could never raise that much anyway. So, let’s just settle for “more.”
I don’t accept the premise.
I believe that our communities have more than enough resources to support our conservation mission and the projects we can bring to the table. I believe we have just barely scratched the surface of what our true potential is for raising money for conservation. And I believe that many communities have recently gotten a glimpse of this possibility with a surge in support related to COVID and its aftermath.
More is not the goal. More is not even A goal.
So then – What is the goal – the one that might go into a strategic plan?
The goal is that the community understands, supports, and invests in the land trust’s long-term success.
The goal is that the land trust has enough resources to do everything else in the Strategic Plan.
The goal is that the core responsibilities of land stewardship and easement monitoring are safely guaranteed (and permanently funded) forever.
It’s not “more.” It’s “enough.”
Then the strategies relate to HOW the organization will achieve the goal. I think there are many strategic options to consider and debate.
- Active fundraising versus endowed revenue?
- Reliance on state and federal program grants versus private support?
- All eggs in a few baskets, or broad-based community support?
- Transactional (like events) versus philanthropic (like donor circles) models?
- Annual campaigns versus project-by-project versus comprehensive multi-year (capital) campaigns?
- Strategic investments in planned gift, major gift, or annual gift donor development?
- Staff-led versus volunteer-led?
- Using matching gift programs?
Again, these are ideas that should be debated during organizational strategic planning. But once the Strategic Plan is completed, two fundraising numbers should be able to be derived from it: a capital number and an operating number. Both numbers should be formally approved by the Board either as part of the strategic Planning process or immediately thereafter. That way, when the Board approves the Strategic Plan, it also approves the enabling budget necessary to carry it out, and that explicitly includes the fundraising.
The Capital Number is that amount of money the organization intends to raise in capital funds for one-time expenses – buying land, establishing an endowment, and so on. The number should be a best-guess amount that covers the five years of the plan.
The Operating Number is that amount of money the organization intends to raise in operating funds EVERY YEAR beginning in the final year of the plan. It’s a measure of capacity the organization will build toward over the course of the planning term.
The land trust then needs a Strategic Fund Development Plan with the “mission” being those two numbers. Note that the specific numbers will be “net” figures. It costs money to raise money, and the cost of raising money needs to be added to both the capital and the operating numbers. This is when you can make assumptions about marketing success, renewal rates, average gifts, and capital campaign readiness. And you can reverse engineer how many members, donors, corporate, and events you will need. And what kind of additional resources might be necessary to bring to the table and when – like additional staffing, Board training and development, longer-term strategic investment, and so on.
In many places, organizational strategic plans have been done too fast to foster understanding, much less build consensus. They have been shelved instead of used to measure traction and progress. Their fundraising goals are consequently meaningless. And as a result, many Board members have come to see organizational strategic planning as a waste of time and fundraising as someone else’s responsibility, which of course just deepens the problem.
We can do better.
Cheers, and Have a great week!
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by Ted Erski courtesy of Pixabay.
Jim PerryPosted at 07:52h, 06 October
Could you say more about “Transactional (like events) versus philanthropic (like donor circles) models?” Do you mean events that bring in revenue? What is a “donor circle?” (P.S. Why do I need to fill in the contact information form every time despite checking the ‘Save my name, email …’?)
David AllenPosted at 20:54h, 06 October
Thank you so much for your question. With transactional fundraising, there is a perceived value and a price point established for that value. Fundraising events are good examples: I pay $50 and I get a ticket to the event. I pay another $75 and I “win” a bottle of wine from the silent auction. There is very little chance that I would voluntarily pay $250 for that $50 ticket, and I probably wouldn’t pay $500 for that $75 bottle of wine either. Once the event has some history behind it and the price points have been well established, raising more money from the event each year is dependent on increasing attendance more so than asking each participant to increase their “gift” by raising prices.
Philanthropic fundraising depends on making a “case” for why donors should give money WITHOUT a promise of getting something of value in return. Donors give in support of the mission or because there is something specific getting done that they support. Membership programs are in somewhat of a gray area in that some membership programs are very transactional in nature. In return for your membership, you get “stuff,” like discounts and tote bags. Asking donors to give more next year often means that you need to give them more. Donor Circles depend much more on the cachet of being included with others who support the mission at a higher level.
The point of the blog post is that emphasizing either transactional fundraising or philanthropic fundraising is a strategic decision that should be based on how much money you need to raise and how far you are away from being able to raise it. It should not be based on what you did last year.
For more information on the limitations of transactional fundraising, see, The Trouble with Transactional Giving. And On Donor Clubs – Take 1 (of 3)