Raising the money you need to fully fund your budget doesn’t happen by accident. You need a plan for fundraising success.
Actually, you need both short-term plans, like those to manage your fundraising activities through the holidays, and longer-term plans that will carry you through all of next year.
But for most people, planning for fundraising isn’t easy.
They either don’t have time or don’t know where to start and it’s easier to put it off rather than figure it out.
Sometimes, planning is like trying to grab smoke. You can see it, but when you touch the smoke, it disappears.
Creating a plan for fundraising can be as simple as hitting the pause button—even during the busy holiday season—and putting thoughts on paper about what you want to do in the next 12 months or six months or even three months.
Regardless of the length of the plan, the time to start your plan for fundraising is before you urgently need the cash.
In other words, don’t wait until there’s a crisis to figure out how to find funding.
Working at the last minute doesn’t work out well for anyone plus it’s super stressful.
Commit to yourself to get out ahead of your fundraising, so you have time to think about the strategies that will work for your organization.
With just a few weeks left before a new year starts, here are some things you can do NOW to lay the groundwork to make planning for fundraising easier in the coming months.
13 Pre-Planning Best Practices for Fundraising
1. Focus on donors, not money.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision about money, and spend all your time thinking about money and how you’re going to raise it. Believe me, I get it. When you need money, you focus on it.
But you need to shift your thinking to the source of the money—your donors. Make sure you are taking care of your donors throughout your plan. When you focus too much on money, you come across as needy and greedy. You might even seem desperate.
When you focus on your donors, you will get a better result. Your donors will feel like they are a part of your work and not just an ATM.
If you are new to fundraising, it’s CRITICAL to adopt a donor-based fundraising mindset so you aren’t constantly bombarding friends and family with small fundraisers.
2. Write it down.
Too many people say they have a plan, but the plan is not written down. Listen, if a plan exists only in your head, it isn’t real! It’s imaginary. The plan in your head is too easily changed, and there’s no one to hold you accountable when you don’t complete part of it.
It’s too easy to drop parts of your imaginary plan, shift others, and back off your goals because you don’t feel like following through.
Get a legal pad and a pen or pull up a Google Doc or a Word Doc. And start writing. How much money do you need to raise? What strategies do you have in mind? What time of year should you execute each strategy?
Just start writing, and see how specific and detailed you can get.
And don’t worry – just because you write it down doesn’t mean it’s carved in stone. Your plan is a fluid document that can be changed as the situation or needs change.
You can grab my simple 1-Page Fundraising Plan template here. This will get you started.
3. Break out of your rut.
It’s easy to keep doing things the way we have always done them, but tradition is not a good reason to continue an event, an appeal, or a campaign.
You should only do something again because it worked, not because it’s something you always do. In other words, only add a fundraising activity to your plan because it moves you closer to your goal.
Consider ditching fundraisers that drain your energy and your time without giving you the results you need. If you hold the same signature event year after year, ask yourself if there are tweaks you could make to freshen it up, raise more money, and/or make execution easier on your team.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. An organization that started a drive-through hot chocolate and cookies fundraiser during the pandemic turned it into a fun in-person event, and it sold out! Another organization replaced their exhausting auction with a poinsettia sale. They signed all their previous sponsors except for one, and the sponsor dollars are 100 percent profit.
We see nonprofits putting more energy into campaigns driven by social media as well as targeted Asks to volunteers centered on specific programs. Others are focusing their energy on building business partnerships and maximizing monthly donors.
All of them are smart to focus on fundraising that will generate enough return to be worth the investment of time, energy, and manpower to pull them off.
Make an effort to try a few new approaches every year with a goal of working as efficiently as possible to fully fund your budget.
4. Set specific goals.
How can you cross the finish line when you don’t know where it is?
Too many nonprofits have vague goals for fundraising like “raise more money” or “raise more than last year,” but these don’t get you anywhere.
So as you work on your plan for fundraising, write down a real number for your fundraising goal! Make it something reachable, maybe a 10% increase over last year. Then set quarterly goals and monthly goals to keep you on track.
Next, write down strategies to ensure you meet each goal. The more specific you are, the more real your plan for fundraising will be and the more likely you will be to stay on pace to meet your year-end goal.
5. Stop waiting for “perfect.”
Too many people wait for the perfect time, the perfect Board, the perfect staff, the perfect template, or a perfect something else to work on their plan for fundraising.
But here’s the truth: there will never be a perfect time, Board, staff, or template. So, you just have to use what you have and get your plan done.
And, anyway, done is better than perfect.
6. Make the time to get it done.
You make time for things that are important to you.
If you say you have no time to plan, that’s an excuse for covering up another reason you don’t want to plan.
When you don’t find the time to plan for fundraising, you remain stuck right where you are. You have to give yourself a chance to think bigger, find more opportunities, and open up to new possibilities.
Block off time on your calendar for fundraising planning. Give yourself three two-hour blocks over the course of a week or so.
Once you get going you might find the process exhilarating and want to keep going. Or you might find it excruciating and want it to be over. Either way, you’re doing it.
When you are finished, you will have a plan! You will be set up for success and in a position of strength when it comes to fully funding your budget and your dreams.
7. Break free from analysis paralysis.
Sometimes we delay working on our plan for fundraising because we think we need a little more info.
We need one more report to show us a magic piece of information. We need one more person’s input. One more data point.
This is a procrastination technique, and it works!
If you tell yourself you can’t start planning until you have an analysis of your main program’s third-quarter spending, and that analysis is the responsibility of someone else … you have a built-in excuse not to plan!
If analysis paralysis is holding you back, dig a little deeper and see if you can figure out the REAL reason you don’t want to put a plan on paper.
Maybe you are afraid to write down a goal, because you are afraid of failure. Maybe you are afraid to write down a number, because you are afraid your small nonprofit will never succeed and you will never have enough money to fully fund your budget.
Take a breath and make the plan. Knowing the true amount of money you need to bring in will feel empowering, not scary.
8.Follow up with action steps.
A plan for fundraising that doesn’t include action steps isn’t a plan at all. It’s a car without wheels, and it’s not going anywhere.
If you have a big-picture plan but no idea how you will get the work done, well, congratulations, you have taken the first step. You just need to follow up that first step with the next steps.
For example, if you have “Spring Campaign” on your calendar for April, and you plan to raise $8,000, how will you raise $8,000? Will you have an online campaign? What date will the campaign start and end? Will you combine your online campaign with email marketing? How many emails will you send? Will you seek a matching gift?
How much did you raise last year for your Spring Campaign, and how did you do it? What strategies can you add?
Get specific! The more specific you are in your plan, the more confident you will feel in being able to reach your goal.
9. Set right-size goals.
I encourage the nonprofits I work with to reach for the stars, but if your goal is way too big of a stretch and completely unrealistic, you’re not reaching, you’re setting yourself up for paralysis.
If your goals are oversized, you won’t feel motivated to work your plan. You will just feel overwhelmed.
Be kind to yourself and set an attainable goal. Look at the money you raised this year, and look at your opportunities for next year. Set a goal that is based in reality. Set a goal that is the right size for where your nonprofit is right now.
Maybe a 10% increase over last year is the right amount of stretching for you. Maybe simply repeating what you did last year is the right goal.
Take the time to think carefully about what you need and what you can do, taking into consideration everything that’s going on inside your nonprofit and your life.
10. Enlist Board support
Board members are supposed to be partners in fundraising, but often they sit on the sidelines.
In many cases, they don’t want to ask people for money. In other cases, they just don’t know what you need from them. They may feel left out, unsure of what their role is.
It’s up to you to engage your Board members in fundraising. Start small, by asking them to share a campaign with their contacts. Give them sample language to include with their email to friends and family members.
Help Board members get comfortable inviting people to contribute to the organization’s work. As Board members engage in smaller tasks, give them larger tasks, such as contacting businesses about sponsorships or representing the organization at a networking event.
Most Board members want to contribute to the organization’s success. They just need to know exactly what you need them to do.
11. Be realistic.
Let me guess: You belong to the “I can do it” club.
You say “yes” to say too many things.
You overestimate YOU.
You overestimate how much you can get done, leaving little time to think or respond to things that pop up during the day.
Your days are overstuffed with obligations, and your to-do list never ends. When you create plans, you stuff them full of events, new strategies, and bold approaches.
But you can’t do it all. So your plan doesn’t bring in more money. Your plan just leaves you exhausted.
Create a realistic plan that spreads the work around and leaves you time to think and breathe. Trust me, you’ll enjoy your work a WHOLE lot more!
12. Focus on real strategies
Hope is not a strategy.
Doesn’t work. Never has.
Hope is a wonderful thing, but hope must be coupled with practical strategies for getting the results you want.
Just believing you will reach your goals will not carry you across the finish line.
I want you to believe in yourself, and I want you to believe in your nonprofit. I want you to believe in your fundraising plan.
But you have to work the strategies you’ve chosen.
If your goal for the first quarter is to raise $50,000, you need enough strategies to bring in $50,000. First, calculate how much will come in automatically via monthly donors and other sources that you KNOW are a sure thing.
Then, come up with some real strategies for bringing in the remaining funds. Can you enlist two Board members to hold gatherings in their homes? Will each one bring in $3,000? How about a campaign to fund the equipment your organization needs? Can you do a crowdfunding campaign to raise $5,000?
Run a report of everyone who donated to your organization during the first quarter last year. Are there some $500 donations on that list? Are there some $250 donations? Check in with these donors and let them know you value them.
These are real strategies. This is the real work. Don’t quit holding onto hope! But also do the work.
13. Invest in success
As you plan for fundraising success, make sure you have the resources to put the plan in motion.
In short, be clear about where you need to invest some funds in order to raise way more funds than you otherwise would have.
If you are selling t-shirts at an upcoming event, have you budgeted for the cost of the t-shirts so you can purchase some inventory to have available? If you have your signature event coming up in the spring, can you put down deposits before sponsor revenue comes in?
How about a videographer to shoot some short, poignant videos? You could use the videos all year long to enhance your fundraising efforts.
What professional support could you use this coming year? Is it time to hire a grant writer to take grant writing off your plate? Or could a fundraising coach make a huge difference in the amount of money you raise?
Without time, money, and people power, your plan for fundraising will sit idle, which doesn’t help raise money for your programs.
The Bottom Line
The way to ensure fundraising success is to plan for fundraising success.
If you start planning in the fall for the following year, you will be in great shape to hit the ground running in January. But you don’t have to wait to draft a plan. You can launch your plan at the start of a new quarter—April 1, July 1, Oct. 1—or any day of the year.
Block off time to draft a plan and stick to it. The fear that keeps you from getting started on your fundraising plan will be replaced by confidence that you can achieve your goal.
With a solid plan in place, you’ll raise the money you need to fully fund your programs and you’ll change more lives. And that’s what it’s all about!
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