How to Make a Donor Plan

How to Make a Donor Plan


4 January 2022


There’s something you can do this week that will make a HUGE difference in how much money you will raise this year.

It may take several hours to do it right, or maybe even a couple of days. And you probably won’t enjoy doing it. But if you do it now – this week – you won’t regret it.

Make a donor plan.


Here are the steps:

  1. First, make a list of everyone who gave you any money at all in 2020. Line them up in the B column of a spreadsheet and put the value of their cumulative giving in the C column. (Use the A column for a donor database identifying number – like a membership number.) If your donors are businesses or foundations, that’s OK. Just make sure there is a specific decision-maker included in the cell. (Local, state, and federal agency grant-makers are NOT donors.)
  2. Find your current Board members and move them to the top few spots. If you have a Board member who did not give in 2020, make a line for them anyway and put a ZERO for them in column C.
  3. Pick ANY 30 donors from the rest and move them to the rows directly underneath the Board members. Who you choose to include in your 30 is completely up to you. Will they be the donors who gave the most that year? Will they be chosen randomly? By longevity? By how well you know them? By some other criteria? Regardless, this should give you a list at the top of your spreadsheet of 40-60 donors, depending on the number of Board members.


Just to make it clear, I would choose my 30 using some combination of giving history and what I know or can learn about their relative capacity and interest in giving more. But you can choose literally anyone!


  1. Next put the value of their cumulative giving in 2021 in Column D. And in Column E subtract the number in column C from the number in column D. (E=D-C) Column E will now show you how much more they gave in 2021 versus 2020. (Or how much less.) The sum of the numbers in column E will show you how much value these donors added for you in 2021. (Or how much value was lost.)
  2. Now here’s the tricky part: Can you explain the results? For each person? Write down some notes for each person in column F. What about overall? Do you see a pattern? What happened?


The reasons could be all over the map. This person increased their giving to support a specific project. That person lost their job due to COVID. This person had a great volunteer experience. That person didn’t like your recent political stand. Some people might not have given because they weren’t really asked.

Whatever the reason, you will want to know. If you don’t know, figure out a way to find out. Propose a theory. Make a plan to test that theory. Implement the plan. Donor by donor. Learn what’s going on. The more you understand what happened in 2021, the better able you will be to respond in 2022.

In general, donors will fall into three broad groups – those who increased their giving (presumably that’s what you want!), those who decreased or didn’t give (check for transactional giving), and those who stayed the same. We tend to focus on those who decreased, which is natural and important. But spend some time with the other two groups as well. Look for patterns. Are some of these donors giving purely out of habit? Are they stuck? What can you do to deepen their engagement (and increase their giving in 2022)?

Back to the spreadsheet.


  1. Columns G through R will be months of the year in 2022. January – December. Using the cell corresponding to the appropriate month, record the amount of money you expect to ask them to give for 2022. If you expect to ask them to give more than once, use more than one cell. For example, you might want to ask them to make their annual unrestricted gift in the Fall AND ask them to support one of the specific projects in June.
  2. Use column S for the person (singular) who is responsible for actually asking. This person might be the Director of Development, the Executive Director, the Board Chair, or even the Development Committee Chair, or literally anyone else in the organization. But it needs to be someone. One person.
  3. Now here’s a second tricky part: Why will they say yes to the request? Each request. Write down some notes for each person and each request in column T.


The reasons could be all over the map. This person will be excited to support a specific project (that you will have talked with them about before that specific month). That person really loves the intern program – creating opportunities for the scientists and ecologists of tomorrow. This person is having a great volunteer experience. That person appreciates your recent political stand. This person was a founder. That person rediscovered a love of Nature on one of your preserves.

Whatever the reason, you want to have a really good idea. If you don’t, figure out a way to find out. Propose a theory. Make a plan to test it. Implement the plan. Donor by donor. Figure out what’s going on. And make sure everyone – most especially every Board member – is actually asked. The more you understand about why people will say yes, the less intimidating the whole fundraising process will be.


Having fun? Now run through those same steps for every donor on the list.

Wait – It wasn’t that much fun, right?


OK how about pulling off at least another 30? As you consider this question, ask yourself who is missing from the group you have planned for so far. Former Board members? Key volunteers? Planned giving donors? Easement landowner partners? Major gift donors from past years? Former long-term donors who did not make a gift in 2020?

Make individual plans for as many as possible.


Note that the sums of the month columns for the donors you have plans for creates a sort of cash flow expectation – at least for those specific donors. This should give you an early read on how your year is going. It will also give you an early read on where the bottlenecks are. Don’t save everything for the last few weeks of the year!


And then …
What about all the other donors on the list? Gotta save something for next week.


Happy New Year and Best Wishes for a terrific 2022.





Photo by Shogun courtesy of Pixabay.


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.



Share this!
  • Jim Perry
    Posted at 17:19h, 06 January

    Could you define each of those three positions, and what their duties would be if all three existed in the organization? The Database Admin (Development Manager) is pretty self-explanatory.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 06:11h, 07 January

      Certainly – and happy to discuss offline if you wish as well.

      A Development Manager is a position I referred to as a “mechanic” in a previous post. S/he is responsible for systems and logistics more so than donor relations. S/he might not write the appeal letter but would be responsible for merging it and getting it mailed on time. S/he would know the database inside and out, making sure everyone’s name is spelled correctly and gift data is entered consistently so that reporting out later is easier. S/he might also have responsibility for event logistics.

      A Major Gift Officer has primary responsibility for building individual relationships with a portfolio of donors, incorporating Board member time and effort whenever possible. A sub-specialty of this position is Planned Giving.

      An Annual Giving Officer has primary responsibility for communicating with and soliciting larger groups of donors – generally bringing new donors into the organization (marketing) and creating the environment in which they are encouraged to renew and increase their giving over time. These groups of donors might be based on giving levels, affinity interests, age, longevity, or some more complex criteria. A sub-specialty of Annual Giving is business relations, and the AG Officer is often responsible for securing and maintaining event sponsor relationships.

      A Director of Development looks holistically at the entire development function, with all of its interdependent parts. The Director often has responsibilities that include one or several of the other three positions, and there are many, many variations that work to some degree. However, problems can arise when executive staff or Board members expect one thing and get another – for example, expecting Major Gift or Annual Gift work and failing to provide Development Manager support. Such organizations often get “stuck” and stop growing. And they tend to experience significant staff turnover – staff burnout becomes a factor.

      In the absence of staff, Board members and other volunteers need to do all of this. The understandable instinct is to hire a Development Director and then back away entirely – to hire a DoD so that backing away is possible. The DoD comes in expecting to raise money and quickly finds themselves all alone, answering the phone and entering data. But it’s fundamentally unfair. Much better to hire a Development Manager first to facilitate the continued involvement of Board members in donor development work. Over time, Board member involvement can then become more and more specialized in terms of specific donor relations.


  • Jim Perry
    Posted at 07:39h, 06 January

    David, this week’s post really hammers home how much work it is to sustain a NPO. Our organization lacks a dedicated development person and relies on our ED to do much of it. I sometimes wonder if we would not be better off with having staff for development and relying on the board leadership to do what the ED is doing now, since it appears we cannot afford both.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 15:33h, 06 January

      I know of several organizations who have made exactly that calculation. One in particular hired a land steward first, then an office manager, and then a fundraiser. Each of these positions was being managed by the Executive Committee. Only when they hired their fourth position did they hire an Executive Director.

      I’ve made essentially the same point about development staff. I might hire a database admin (Development Manager) first, then a major gifts officer, and then a Director of Development – in that order and for the same reasons.

      Thanks so much for the comment!