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.
(Sept. 22, 2009) 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.