The Value of a Development Plan
Why create a development plan? Well, for one, because you won't secure funding for tomorrow using yesterday's playbook. A good development plan evolves with your organization's strategic plan, turning a shared vision into focused fundraising.
This week, eWire spoke with veteran fundraiser, Carole Rylander, CFRE, a frequent presenter at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising and principal of Rylander Associates in Dallas, Texas. In discussing the value of a development plan, she spoke a lot about the need for vision. Where do you see your organization in two years? Where do you see your relationship with donors?
A development plan is an important bridge between your organization's strategic plan (where you want to go) and your case to donors (who allow you to get there). If the development staff, board and donors are on the same page, then your work as a fundraiser is a lot easier: Board members have a stake in the result (and thus in fundraising), your staff has direction, and donors know why it is that they are giving in the first place.
"Donors never give to the past, they give to the future--to make something happen that hasn't happened," Rylander says. So find out where your program is heading, she advises. What improvements are being made? What new initiatives are in the works? What funding is required? Talking to program staff will inform your development planning and will enable you to excite donors about the progress of your organization. The last thing you want to do is try to raise money for an organization that seems like it is standing still. Then, once you know your destination, you can chart a course to fund it.
On Your Marks...
A good development plan goes far beyond setting a goal in dollars-though that is still important. It starts with your donors, Rylander explains. Who are they? (Prospect research and database creation) Why should they give? (Case for support) How will you reach them? (Direct mail, events, one-on-one, etc.) A good development plan allows you to make better decisions about your entire fundraising process. Instead of starting with "how about a golf tournament?" you start by getting to know your donors and reaching them in the most targeted, strategic manner possible.
A lot also has to do with good development infrastructure. Need to upgrade your technology or train staff? Make it part of your plan!
Above all, a development plan leads to focused action. It harnesses your charity's vision and creates momentum, but it also forces you to draw out the steps to make it happen-real tasks, with real deadlines, carried out by specific people on your team, Rylander explains.
In today's economy, hit-or-miss fundraising is simply not an option. A good development plan will keep your various fundraising vehicles tuned and headed toward the same checkered flag. With a little luck, your board and donors will be there to cheer you on to the finish line.
Carole Rylander will present a session at the 47th AFP International Conference on Fundraising, (https://conference.afpnet.org) April 11-14, 2010, in Baltimore, Md., titled Effective Strategic Planning: How, Who, What & When?
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The Development Plan: Getting Started
When you actually get to work devising (or revising) your development plan, the process has many steps and requires you to be thorough--and that's a good thing. Here we'll discuss the first steps of the planning process with advice from fundraising veteran Linda Lysakowski's book, Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan.
The first question you may have is, When is a good time to start a development plan? In short, the answer is right now. You really can't fundraise effectively until you know what you're working toward and how to get there. But there are some good windows of opportunity that serve as natural starting points for a development plan.
Good Times to Start a Plan...
New recruits. First, the need for a plan becomes clear when there are several new staff on the team. Take this opportunity to train them not just about the various fundraising techniques, but to devise your overall direction. Similarly, if your organization is new to development in general, your best bet is to start with a development plan, even if it is basic to start.
Capital Campaign. A capital campaign also marks an ideal time to brush up your development plan--in order to make the campaign successful, but also to assure that your special campaign does not shortchange your annual fund. Donors need to be made aware that ongoing support is critical as you make your way through a capital campaign, Lysakowski explains.
Strategic Plan. Since the development plan is an important element of the organization's overall strategic plan, strategic planning opens a window for revising the development plan, or creating one from scratch. It is important to incorporate the development plan with the strategic plan so that the expectations for funding the plan's growth in staff or programs is in line with what the development staff is able to produce.
Board Encouragement. Finally, board involvement can jumpstart a development plan. A new board member may have ideas for the plan based on what they saw at a previous organization, or board leadership may encourage the planning process. The good news here is that board encouragement often translates to buy-in from its members for fundraising.
Assessment of Existing Program
To prepare for the development plan the first thing you need to do is learn the lessons of your past. To assess your past fundraising program, gather reports of past years' performance and look for areas of growth (or decline) in numbers of donors, number of dollars raised through each fundraising method, average gift amount, percentage of board and staff that has made a gift--and even the number of donor contacts made during the course of a year. Evaluate special events and the number of successful grant proposals, too.
From there, as you begin to sharpen your development plan, you should include goals and objectives for each component, as well as strategies and action steps to achieve objectives. You want to put on paper answers to the following questions about each action item: When is it going to be done? Who is going to do it? and How much is it going to cost?
Remember, the development plan is not a static document meant to collect dust on the shelf. Put the effort into assessing your existing program, set aside the time necessary to make the plan, and be willing to adapt as time goes by. Above all, the plan should identify clear actions to be taken.
For More Information
To learn more about the creation of a development plan, including an explanation of the process and sample plans, visit the AFP Fundraising Resource Center (www.afpnet.org/ResourceCenter) or pick up a copy of Linda Lysakowski's book, Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan, part of the AFP Fund Development Series.
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The Development Plan: "You Want Me to Think Before I Act?"
By Derrick Feldmann
eWire contributing writer Derrick Feldmann shares advice on moving your development plan beyond logistics, activities and numbers toward seeing the bigger picture.
Why do we make plans?
Generally, plans force us as leaders to remain focused, think through strategies and tactics, and have a clear benchmark for success. But development plans do even more. They enable us as fundraisers to think about our donors (or lack of donors) and consider how we are going to enhance relationships to obtain the resources needed to offer programs and services. They give us a platform for taking a bigger view and telling the organization's story.
So, why do so many development plans focus on logistics, activities and numbers?
This happens for many reasons. First, as fundraisers, we're action-oriented types who love to interact with people. We like to tell stories, meet with donors and find ways to connect a donor's passion with the organization's need. As a result, the idea of sitting down in front of computers and thinking through strategies and creating a plan often fills us with dread. In fact, if the computer is not working and we can't check the donor database, we're more than happy to call a potential donor and schedule a meeting at the nearest coffee shop. Not only does that let us get away from the desk and out to do what we love, but it also helps us avoid hearing those famous words, "Did you turn it off and on again?"
But that escape should be short-lived. Eventually, we have to sit down and put together a development plan. How? By focusing less on defining the numbers and more on developing strategy. The following steps will help you get there.
Look for past trends. Take a look at last year's fundraising performance. Do you see any trends? Pay particular attention to relationships in fundraising. For instance, did you have an increase in the size of the average gift? If not, do research to determine whether you have built stronger relationships with donors. Did you engage donors in solicitations that encouraged an increase in gift size? Was there a natural progression throughout the year to encourage an increase in gift size?
Focus on strategy. As organizations develop their fundraising plans, they must seek to first define what it is they want to accomplish from their constituency or targeted audience. Effective development plans lead with goals and then follow with the detailed strategies to reach those goals. For instance, an organization that has seen a decline in repeat giving might state its goal and strategy this way: Increase donor retention by 10 percent before the end of the fiscal year. In order to accomplish this goal, we will develop personal relationships with donors through visits. During the visits, board members and development staff will discuss the results/impact of their past investment, the new strategic direction, and engage the donor in a meaningful discussion about what impact and success is in relationship to the organization. Specific volunteer opportunities will be created to provide a natural outlet for the donor to see the impact and provide advice/counsel on the direction.
Exclude logistics. Organizations that focus on logistics in fundraising plans typically read like "playlists" to maintain the status quo. The development plan is an instrument that details strategy and provides the focus of campaigns and the fundraising for the next year. Leave the logistics to the staff to define after the plan is approved.
Get active. Passive fundraising practices such as direct mail and e-solicitations offer few opportunities for meaningful dialogue with donors or potential donors; active fundraising, on the other hand, allows real interaction such as in-person meetings, invitations to strategy sessions, etc. Focus more on passive practices and you'll only see small increases in giving each year; however, build real relationships with in-person interaction and you'll yield the larger dollars.
Involve the board. Don't forget your board in the plan - and that doesn't mean simply focus on 100 percent board giving. Get the board involved in the execution of strategies and participation in the fundraising process. Plans that lack board engagement will set low expectations. Remember: The board members approve the plan; if they do not see themselves included in that plan, they'll not see fundraising as their role.
Don't waste time. No one will award you a gold medal for how great a plan looks. A simple document that speaks to your development team, board and executive leadership is more effective than a slick presentation that fails to connect with the people that matter. Rather than fussing over fancy formatting, put your energy into developing strategies that get you where you need to be. That will get you the gold medal.
Remember: A plan is only a plan. It takes motivation, execution and leadership to succeed at the strategies. Even if you think you have the best strategy in the world, it will go nowhere if you are the only one that believes in its potential.
Derrick Feldmann is the CEO of Achieve, a consulting firm focused on serving small to mid-sized nonprofits and national affiliate nonprofits. More information about Achieve is available at www.achieveguidance.com.
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Canadian Television Series The Foundation to Debut Soon
A new show on Canadian television, The Foundation, is a dark comedy that skewers philanthropy and charity. Clearly, the show is meant to offer an entertaining setting for a comedy rather than serve as social commentary. Certainly nothing in the program bears any resemblance to how real organizations and fundraisers work. AFP will be monitoring the show but will not be commenting at this point. A link to the show and an online video are available in the electronic version of this story.
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Free Canadian Webinar: Understanding CRA Fundraising Policy & How it Impacts Your Fundraising
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, at 1 p.m. Eastern time, AFP will host a special webinar on the recently released "Revised Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) Guidance on Fundraising."
Ken Mayhew, a member of the AFP Canadian Government Relations Committee and chief development officer of the MS Society of Canada, and Terrance S. Carter B.A., LL.B., trade-mark agent, managing partner of Carters Professional Corporation and a member of AFP, will present material that will give participants a better understanding of the CRA guidance on fundraising process, purpose and application.
This complimentary webinar will last 90 minutes and will include a Q and A session at the end. Given the importance of this issue, AFP is providing this webinar free of charge (ordinarily, similar sessions cost $145 for members and $295 for non-members). Both AFP members and non-members can participate in the call.
To register go to www.afpnet.org and click on Professional Development. Then follow the link to Web/Audioconferences.