If you don’t have an annual fundraising plan in writing, you’re not alone.
Most folks who work in a small nonprofit have no fundraising plan.
Or maybe they have a few ideas about what they want to do, but it’s not written down anywhere – which means it isn’t a real plan.
People who take their nonprofit seriously know they need a plan but they either can’t seem to carve out the time to do it or aren’t sure what to include in their plan. So, they don’t even take a stab at it.
And that’s too bad. Want to know why?
An annual fundraising plan is like a treasure map that guides you to the exact activities that will bear the most fruit during the year, ensuring that your nonprofit can fulfill its mission.
Your plan keeps you focused and on track so you spend your time each day doing things that will raise the big bucks your nonprofit needs instead of generating dribs and drabs that don’t cover all the expenses.
An annual fundraising plan makes it easier to get your Board engaged because you can show them in writing what activities are planned for the year and let them choose where they want to help.
Your fundraising plan also makes it easy to deflect any “great new ideas” your Board, staff, or volunteers come up with because you can show them in writing what you already have planned and that there isn’t room for their new idea unless you take something off the plan. That tactic is handy to keep you from overcommitting yourself!
So, why again don’t you have a fundraising plan?
5 surprising reasons people don’t plan
After years of helping people create fundraising plans, I’ve found 5 main reasons why people DON’T have a plan:
- Should-ing. Instead of getting help with the template or the planning process itself, people think “I SHOULD be able to figure this out myself.” They wind up putting a lot of pressure on themselves (which never helps!) and because they aren’t sure where to start or what to include, they procrastinate thinking they’ll circle back to it later… which they never do.
- Perfectionism. Going hand-in-hand with should-ing is the drivenness to get it RIGHT. Perfectionists need their fundraising plan to be perfect or they won’t do it at all. They need the perfect template, all the right reports and historical data, and the exact strategic plan before they can begin their annual fundraising plan. Perfectionists either don’t start or get part-way done but can’t finish because they can’t stand the thought of someone criticizing their plan (meaning it isn’t perfect after all).
- Rigidity. Some people don’t like putting their fundraising plan in writing or sharing their thoughts with others because then it feels written in stone. They want the ability to make changes to their plan on the fly, and they don’t want to have to explain to their Board or team why they decided to do something different than what was planned.
- Inadequacy. Some people can’t work on a fundraising plan until they have all possible information. They need one more donor report from their software, one more piece of financial information, or one more discussion with their Board. They just never seem to have the right data and information to put their plan together. So, they spend their time doing just a little more research before they can start on their plan.
- Imposter Syndrome. Many people who start or lead nonprofits suffer from Imposter Syndrome and feel like they’re the last person who should be in charge. If they’ve never had any real training in fundraising, they may not feel qualified to create an annual fundraising plan. As a result, they don’t create a plan because they don’t want anyone to figure out that they don’t know what they’re doing.
If any of these describe you, that’s good. Once you know where you’re getting stuck, you can do something about it. Every good 12-step program starts by admitting you have a problem.
Seriously, the big takeaway here is that done is better than perfect.
So find a way to work with with, through, or around your stuckness so you can get your fundraising plan DONE!
Why you need an annual fundraising plan
Your imperfect, good-enough, fluid fundraising plan will bring many benefits.
Your plan will give you the roadmap for the year so you always know what’s happening next. Plus if you include revenue projections (which you should), you’ll have a good idea of cash flow for the year.
You’ll know exactly what you should be doing each day without guessing.
You’ll be more productive because you’ll be working on things that move you toward your goals.
You’ll feel confident that you aren’t wasting time on unproductive tasks.
And you’ll be better able to leverage your resources of time, energy, and money on things that will give you the greatest return on investment.
So, let’s get you started drafting your plan!
6 steps to writing your annual fundraising plan
There are 6 basic steps to writing your annual fundraising plan, regardless of the size or maturity of your nonprofit and its fundraising efforts.
Even if your nonprofit is just getting started, you can follow these steps to create the plan that guides all your fundraising activities for the next year.
1. Learn from the past.
Start by having a close look at what you’ve done in the past year or so. What raised good money? What didn’t? What did it cost you to raise that money, both in terms of money and time?
Once you see what was productive and what wasn’t, you can purposefully CHOOSE what to include in your plan this year.
As you review each item from last year, ask yourself:
- Should we KEEP doing it?
- Can it be TWEAKED and made better?
- Is it time to DUMP it?
The answers to those questions will help you decide what to repeat from last year.
It’s important to make decisions about what fundraising activities to include in your plan based on data — not emotion. In other words, don’t repeat something just because you always have or because you liked the activity. Do it because the numbers show that you’re getting a good return on investment (ROI) from it.
I suggest you shoot for raising at least 4 times what you spend on an event, mailing, or other fundraising effort. If you’re not raising enough for it to be truly worth the time/energy/money spent, then why keep doing it?
If you have a donor-tracking software where you’re keeping plenty of detail, it should be easy for you to look at every single thing you did last year to raise money and decide if the return was worth the investment.
If your nonprofit is brand new, you can skip this step this year. However, be ready to do it next year. So track your data carefully!
2. Set an Impact Goal.
A common mistake that many people in fundraising make is falling victim to Shiny Ball Syndrome.
They are easily distracted by the latest thing and don’t always follow things all the way through to fruition.
- An exciting, new social media platform pops up and you think you need to have a presence there. You spend a lot of time building a following, but you have no strategy for monetizing it. While you’re playing with the new social media tool, your donor development isn’t getting done.
- The nonprofit down the street has a very successful fundraiser and you decide you can do it, too. So, you drop everything and start trying to figure out how to pull it off. Remember the ice bucket challenge?
- A volunteer or Board member hears about something their Aunt’s neighbor’s cousin did to raise money and it sounds good so they think it will work for your nonprofit, too. You’re always looking for a good, new idea so you add it to your plate thinking “Who knows? It might just work.”
It makes me tired just thinking about it all. These, friends, are distractions, taking you away from building the relationships you need to create sustainable funding.
What you really need is a beacon to guide you through your journey and ward off the distractions. What you need is an Impact Goal.
An Impact Goal defines the impact your nonprofit will make this year. It’s a quantifiable affect your organization’s team agrees on and everyone moves toward it together.
- An animal rescue group might aim to increase the number of animals they save by 25%.
- A food bank might work to add another 100,000 meals served.
- A Habitat for Humanity affiliate might try to eliminate their waiting list.
- CASA might try to double the number of volunteers it has so more children can be protected in court.
See how that works?
It’s a specific, measurable goal that has some zing to it. It’s something your organization and your supporters can get behind.
If your Impact Goal is to increase services by 25%, then everything you do needs to move you toward that goal. If a fundraising activity doesn’t help you increase services by 25%, then don’t do it. Simple as that.
Your entire fundraising plan should support your Impact Goal and provide the funding to make it happen.
Decide on your Impact Goal with your team. Then post it where everyone will see it often as a reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish together this year.
3. Set 3 critical goals.
Fundraising goals are a critical part of your annual fundraising plan.
When there’s no clear target, it’s tough to know when you’ve crossed the finish line.
But, what if you’re not sure what your fundraising goals should be?
What if you just want to raise as much money as you can, then figure out how to spend it?
Actually, don’t do it that way. It’s backwards and too vague to be effective.
Here are the 3 critical goals your fundraising plan must support:
- Total dollars to raise. Be specific here. Calculate what you need to run your programs this year, then set that number as your dollar goal for fundraising. Estimate costs if you have to, but the more accurate your numbers, the less scrambling you’ll have to do later.
- Total number of current donors to renew. Donor retention is something you MUST pay attention to or you’ll find yourself with an ever-shrinking donor base. Across the industry, donor retention rates are about 47%, meaning people are leaving you at an alarming rate. Most of them leave because they don’t feel appreciated or needed, or they’re tired of feeling like a number in your data base. The good news is you can fix that. Include plenty of warm touches in your plan to make donors feel good about supporting you and give them multiple chances throughout the year to give.
- Total number of new donors to acquire. If you’re average, you need to bring in 53 new donors just to break even every year (remember, you’re only retaining about 47). So, include plenty of donor acquisition activities in your fundraising plan to continually add new people to your donor family.
Most people think about the first goal (raising money) but not the other two. You can ensure fundraising success by focusing on all 3 goals because you’ll always have enough donors to support you.
4. Play to your fundraising strengths.
One of the worst things you can do in fundraising is to copy others because you think what they’re doing looks good.
Instead, choose fundraising activities that play to your personal strengths and your nonprofit organization’s assets.
So, what are YOU personally good at?
Are you a great writer? Excellent motivator? Something else?
You may want to sit down and list out the things you personally are great at so you can leverage them in your fundraising plan. If you don’t, you’ll spend a lot of time doing things you don’t like doing, which will suck your energy and leave you frustrated (you know what I’m talking about!).
Then make a list of organizational strengths or assets that make your organization stand out from the crowd and would make fundraising easier, like:
- Compelling mission (like feeding the hungry or housing the homeless)
- Large base of support
- Well-known staff or Board members
- Facility that lends itself well to a tour (like a shelter or food pantry)
- Website with LOTS of daily visitors
When you create your fundraising plan based on your personal strengths and your organization’s assets, you’ll find fundraising easier and more fun.
Doesn’t THAT sound good?
5. Choose the right strategies
Here’s where the previous 4 steps come together to create the core of your fundraising plan.
As you consider what activities you want to include in your fundraising plan this year, consider:
- What has worked in the past that you want to repeat? Or what have you done before that you can tweak and improve? (from step 1)
- What activities will help you take big steps toward achieving your Impact Goal? (from Step 2)
- What activities will help you raise the total amount of dollars you need? Which ones will help you reach your donor renewal goal? Which ones will help you reach your donor acquisition goal? (from Step 3)
- What activities will play to your personal strengths without pushing you too far outside your comfort zone? What activities will leverage your organization’s assets? (from Step 4)
It’s time to let go of the nickel-and-dime activities that won’t help you raise enough money to eliminate your waiting list or double your programs. Instead, think bigger about how you can raise the big bucks to fund your nonprofit’s programs.
If you’re not sure where to start, try using the 1-10-1000 Rule.
Do 1 special event. You’ll never fully fund your budget with lots of little events, so hold ONE big fundraising event each year. Give it everything you’ve got and make it a Signature Event so everyone in town knows it’s your event. Make it a FUN event that people talk about for days afterward. And make sure it makes you plenty of money (at least 4 times what you spend) so it’s worth the effort. Lots of little events throughout the year are exhausting for you, your volunteers, and the community, so focus on just one then move on to other things.
Get 10 grants. Do some research and see if you can find 10 solid grant prospects for your programs and projects. That’s about what we usually find for clients. Chances are good that with 10 grants, you’ll have deadlines scattered throughout the year, and maybe a few with no deadlines that you can work in when you have time. Do you need exactly 10? No. The point here is don’t leave grant money on the table. Find the grants that are a hand-in-glove fit for your nonprofit and go after them. If your nonprofit is new, get about 3 years of program delivery under your belt before you try to go after grants.
Get 1,000 individual donors. Yes, that’s one thousand donors. That many donors will give you a SOLID base of support so if you lose one, you’ve still got 999. Plus, you’ll know how to replace the one you lost. Start by figuring out the number of active donors you have right now. Then work on adding 100. When you get those, go find another hundred. If you already have 1,000, add another 1,000. By taking it in smaller bites, you’ll reach your goal in no time.
There are other tools that can help you balance your fundraising as you create your annual fundraising plan. Once you get a draft, you can refine it until it feels just right. You can also refine it as the year progresses, especially if one strategy or appeal doesn’t perform like you had hoped.
Pro tip: Add revenue and expense projections for each strategy that you put in your annual fundraising plan to help create a fundraising budget that becomes part of your organizational budget. A conservative estimate can keep you from relying on hope – there’s nothing wrong with hope, but it doesn’t pay the bills.
6. Write it down!
Your annual fundraising plan MUST be in writing. If it’s not in writing it’s not real.
It’s way too easy for you to change it or let things slide if it’s in your head — which leads to lack of accountability. Many hands make light work and when your plan is in writing, it’s easier to get help. Plus, it’s more fun to celebrate with others when you go over goal!
Most people get really held up trying to decide what format to use and the truth is it doesn’t matter. As long as it makes sense to you, use whatever tool allows you to include the detail that will support your goals.
Your planning team
Who should you include in the planning process?
Definitely include anyone who will have responsibility for implementing the plan. When people have input into a plan, they tend to have buy-in. So, if you have staff with responsibility for events, grants, newsletters, data entry, or other fundraising activities, include them in the planning process or at least the parts that pertain to their work.
Include Board members in big-picture discussions, but not in the details unless they want to help as a volunteer. Once you get your fundraising plan finished, take it to the Board for their review (NOT their approval – they don’t need to vote on it) and get their feedback.
Ask them to review your plan. Then, talk to each Board member individually to ask them where they’d like to help. If you ask the group as a whole, you won’t get the results you’re looking for. So take the time to have 1-on-1 conversations.
How to stay on track
Once you have your annual fundraising plan put together, it’s important to review it at least monthly to stay on track.
Don’t put your plan in a folder in a drawer or in a binder on the shelf then never look at it again. Many people do that and it means you just wasted your time going through the planning process.
Review your plan at the beginning of each month and ask yourself:
- What’s working?
- What’s NOT working?
- Are we ahead or behind on dollars raised last month? Year-to-date?
- How many new donors did we bring in? How many donors did we renew?
- What’s coming up in the next 30 days/90 days/6 months that we need to be working on NOW?
If you get in the habit of reviewing where you are, where you’ve been, and where you are going, you can stay on track to hit your annual fundraising goals. And that’s a happy thing!
The Bottom Line
Your annual fundraising plan is a critical tool in helping you reach your annual fundraising goals. Get it done and in writing so it’s easier to share and monitor.
Take the time to work through the process, including adding in revenue and expense projections, and you’ll have what you need to successfully raise the money you need this year.
Download our free “1-Page Quick-and-Simple Fundraising Plan” https://getfullyfunded.com/plan