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Crafting a Development Plan to Guide Your Fundraising Activities

Do you and your board have a clear sense of your fundraising activities for the next 12 months? Does that development plan include clear goals that tie into your organization’s strategic plan? In a perfect world the answer would be yes, of course! 

But we all know that when things get busy, the development plan can sometimes be put by the wayside. It’s easy to get distracted when new ideas come along or funding requests change. Sometimes we just dig into the work, without taking the time to thoroughly plan.

Recently, JGA had the great honor of guiding 11 arts organizations from Fort Wayne, Indiana, in their creation of new or revised development plans supported by a capacity building grant from the Foellinger Foundation. As you may know, arts organizations were particularly impacted by the pandemic. Many had to shutter their doors for months at a time and cancel live performances in the height of the pandemic. This has put an even greater need on this sector of the nonprofit industry for enhanced capacity building. As these organizations seek to recover from the impact of the pandemic and replace lost revenue with philanthropy, they need to ensure their development programs are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. A solid development plan is a crucial step in this process.

Here are a few key observations from our work with this group of nonprofits which can also be applied throughout the sector. I hope you may find them helpful as you refresh your own development plan or undertake the work to craft a new one.

Elements of a Strong Development Plan

  • Review your organization’s past five years of giving data as you work to develop your plan. The data can help highlight fundraising trends particular to your organization and provide important context for goal setting. For instance, individual giving remains a key source of philanthropy for many organizations. Recent Giving USA data indicates that individuals direct as much as 86% of philanthropy when accounting for bequests, individual gifts, and gifts from family foundations. If your data shows that individual giving is a key source of philanthropic revenue for your organization, ensure your development plan addresses how you will engage, cultivate, solicit, and steward individual donors.
  • We’re big believers in keeping your development plan simple and easy to use. Shorter plans, focusing on one to two years are often most effective and allow your organization to pivot more quickly and easily in an ever-evolving world. Develop a list of three to five goals with clear objectives for achieving them. Include a timeline of when the goals and objectives will be accomplished. Your plan should also outline any needed resources to achieve your goals and then include a section on measuring success.
  • Board engagement and strengthening the role of the board in fundraising are both key indicators of a successful fundraising operation. Make sure to include board engagement as a focus throughout your plan. We suggest that each goal have a clearly defined section underneath it titled “Role of the Board.” 
  • We highly recommend that the development plan is monitored regularly, by both board and staff. This allows for not only measuring accomplished goals but adding or editing elements throughout the year to keep your plan responsive and nimble. A good development plan provides the working road map for development and should be monitored regularly.