For some things, spontaneity is highly desirable, but any fundraising professional will tell you that planning a campaign isn’t one of them.
Having a detailed strategic plan in place before embarking on a fundraising campaign can be a huge determinant of its success, even before the first dollar is raised.
But it isn’t enough to have a rough idea of messaging, an incomplete timeline, some scheduled tweets, and an arbitrary fundraising goal.
The best fundraising strategic plan tells a complete, organized, and analytics-based story that your team can actually use to help your campaign be more successful. We created this guide to help you build just that.
The Nonprofit Fundraising Strategic Plan Guide explores the fundraising planning process and breaks down each of the necessary elements that will allow you and your team to elevate your next campaign. (Bonus: some helpful examples and templates to put this into action now.)
Just a heads-up: this is a long read. Scroll down to start from the beginning or jump to a section using the links below. Let's get started!
VII. One last thing...
I. Making your case
So what makes a good fundraising plan great? It should contain purposeful actions that aim to achieve specific fundraising goals from a diversified group of sources, and be data-driven from start to finish.
A strong fundraising strategic plan starts with a solid foundational case statement. Simply put, this section describes who you are, what you believe in, your fundraising campaign vision, the steps to achieve it, and, most importantly, how this plan reinforces your organization’s mission.
Fortunately, much of this information is likely to exist already. Check your organization’s website, recent RFPs, grant proposals, etc. for the most current language being used and incorporate it into your plan.
By doing so, you’ll avoid the extra time and energy required to redo this work and ensure your forward-facing messaging about your organization is consistent.
Here's a brief description of the elements to include in your case statement:
Mission + History
Start with who you are. Begin your fundraising plan by offering some context about the landscape within which your organization is taking on the task of fundraising.
Share your organization’s mission, who you serve, the influence your organization has on its audience(s), and the role it plays in the larger conversation around your issue area.
You may also want to include any notable moments in the nonprofit’s history, changes in mission or vision, strategic partnerships, and other information you consider relevant to the campaign.
Fundraising plan summary
Use this section as the “elevator pitch” for your fundraising proposal. In a succinct, thoughtfully constructed few sentences, explain how the fundraising campaign you’ve outlined will help your organization reach its high-level, mission-led objectives.
Goals + objectives
Clearly stated and specific goals will help your team craft a thoughtful approach to achieving them (more on this later).
These are the means at your disposal to make those goals achievable. They're most likely a mix of concrete/intangible, fixed/flexible, and reliable/opportunistic assets and the viability of each should be considered as you plan to how to use them to complement your fundraising efforts.
Create a detailed outlook of the costs associated with your campaign: financial, allocated staff time, advertising/promotion costs, vendor contracts, startup costs, etc.
Leave room in your budget for innovation and agility in the face of unforeseen “bumps” or golden opportunities along the fundraising road. Be sure to provide a full picture of the expenses you expect to incur, not just snapshots at different points along your timeline.
Don’t forget - despite the structured, sometimes mechanical feel a fundraising plan can have, storytelling does have a place in the planning process. A great fundraising plan is one that both serves as a blueprint, but also offers this information through the lens of your nonprofit’s culture, mission, and values from beginning to end.
Tip: Before looking at the different components you’ll share with the rest of the staff for this case statement, assemble your fundraising team to discuss internal project expectations.
Examples include goals for implementing new fundraising channels or techniques, top prospects you hope to engage, check-in points along your timeline, and any limitations that could keep you from adjusting the plan as necessary to account for challenges that arise.
II. Choosing your team
Your fundraising team should bring together a mix of nonprofit pros with complementary skills and align them around your strategic plan.
The roles on your fundraising team will vary from generalized to more specific. You may find that some roles have particular “shining moments,” but don’t exactly come into play throughout the entirety of the campaign.
Resist the urge to include specialized team members only in those moments. Instead, be sure that all team members are briefed on the the entire breadth of the campaign and stay in-the-know.
Fundraising team functions include, but are not limited to:
- Conducting initial research
- Generating and maintaining prospect lists
- Crafting fundraising messaging, materials, and collateral
- Running periodic fundraising reports
- Delivering the all-important thank-you message
Consider additional or “honorary” fundraising team roles to help offset some work for staff and/or generate additional interest in your campaign.
With the right preparation, nonprofit board members can bring in significant donations from sources that may be outside your sphere of influence.
The same is true for volunteers, whose social networks could potentially provide some serious peer-to-peer fundraising boosts to your campaign.
Tip: You may find that nonprofit consultants can offer fundraising avenues that your team may not have explored. For example, many consultants include fundraising appeals in emails to their mailing lists in support of their nonprofit clients. This is definitely an “ask” worth making!
III. Sizing up your assets
The critical next step in this initial planning phase is to determine the assets your organization has at its disposal.
You may be asking, “Why bother with such an exhaustive inventory?” Rather than looking at this list like a “toolkit” for your campaign, consider it more like a body of proof that lends legitimacy to your nonprofit.
Each asset should embody its commitment to the larger cause and constituency it serves, and also show the value that your organization brings to the proverbial table.
A well-laid asset inventory will allow you and your fundraising team to identify and showcase the elements of your nonprofit’s work that donors can weigh and then (hopefully) deem worthy of their support.
Many of the assets your team will use are straightforward and tangible, but others may not seem as obvious for those new to fundraising.
Here are some questions to ask when building your assessment:
Which programs best exhibit our expertise, authority, and dedication to the issue area in which we work?
What about our organization, its leadership, its mission, its supporters, etc. allows it to stand out in the larger conversation in our issue area?
Which (if any) niche markets, audiences, services does our organization satisfy?
Where are the milestones in our history that best display our track record of success and/or history of serving our community?
What (if any) connections do we have to influencers in our community, the media, and vis-à-vis our board that we can leverage to amplify our reach?
How can we better mobilize and empower our volunteers, staff, and supporters to “carry our torch?”
Tip: Once you feel you’ve compiled all of the resources in your inventory, collaborate with members of your nonprofit staff at-large and executive leadership to assign value to each asset. (See Asset Inventory for details.)
IV. Exploring funding source prospects
First, it helps to understand where charitable contributions are coming from these days.
The latest Giving USA data suggests that, while overall giving in the United States continues on an upward trend, the growth of individual giving in 2014 “accounted for 58 percent of last year’s total growth in giving” over 2013. All three areas of foundation giving - community, independent, and operating - also grew.
Data source: Giving USA
Now that you have an idea of how donors in the US are giving, it’s time to look at the methods used to reach these sources.
Most nonprofits take advantage of basic fundraising avenues like events, direct mail, corporate philanthropic giving, and grants. Believe it or not, though, many organization miss out on reaching donors where they increasingly want to engage with nonprofits: everywhere and anywhere.
Fundraising online has grown substantially and there’s no reason to suggest this won’t continue. This is great news for nonprofits, especially since monthly giving attributed for an extraordinary 32% growth in revenue, according to this year’s Benchmarks report from M+R.
Consider these trends when preparing your prospect list and fundraising goals; once you have specific, detailed objectives, it will be easier to devise a strategy for the tactics you’ll use to achieve them.
When examining and prioritizing your own funding sources, focus on building a diversified prospect pool.
Tip: At this phase in the planning process, it’s also a helpful exercise to consider the potential for future giving. DonorSearch suggests keeping in mind a donor's charitable history with your nonprofit and/or other similarly-minded organizations, giving to political campaigns or causes, participation in charitable foundations, and even real estate ownership when organizing your potential funding sources if you’d like to consider future giving capacity.
V. Understanding your supporter base
Rather than adopting a all-hands-on-deck campaign mentality, you're better off applying the same segmenting tactics to your supporter base.
This will give you a clearer idea of the human capital available, where best to utilize it along your timeline, and how to best align your fundraising team's efforts with outside support.
Consider organizing your supporters into these camps, ranging from your closest network all the way to the rest of the world.
Internal + Board
Your nonprofit staff and board members are the supporters nearest to your organization and can be activated to provide valuable contributions (monetary and otherwise) to your fundraising plan.
There's a catch, though. In order to perform well, these supporters need careful preparation because, although they're close to your organization, they may not know how to best discuss its work in the context of your campaign.
Spend time developing talking points and strategy for internal use, especially if you plan to enlist the help of board members and staff in unrelated departments.
Volunteers + Current Donors
You're in luck - not only do these supporters already give their energy and/or resources to your organization, they also probably have a great reason for doing so.
It's easy to lose track of the reasons people have for contributing to charitable causes as long as their generosity continues, but the motivations of this group are what keeps the lights on at your organization.
Remember the storytelling part of your case statement? Here's where it comes into play.
Solicit and gather their stories, share the incredible dedication they show to sustaining your nonprofit's work, and enlist their help as champions for your cause to encourage more people to do the same.
Friends + Family
Take advantage of peer-to-peer fundraising power by making your campaign collateral highly sharable on the social networks where your supporters get and share information your cause.
Avoid the headaches social media can cause your campaign by having a dedicated team member in charge of online promotion and engagement.
Remember to capitalize on partnerships and fellow coalition members as potential campaign amplifiers.
Instead of seeing your nonprofit as competing with others in your issue area, develop ways to leverage these affiliations like writing guest content for coalition or association newsletters or blogs. This can elevate your rallying cry for the greater good while also promoting this particular campaign.
While you shouldn’t consider the “general public” as a viable audience for your messaging, it’s still worth considering the impact you want this campaign to have on those entirely unfamiliar with your cause or organization.
It’s only once you’ve considered all of your other audiences that your team should address how to approach this varied, sizable group.
From here, take time and care in segmenting your email lists into donor groups (new donors, annual donors, sustaining givers, fundraising event attendees, etc.) and consider the steps you want these groups to take (upgrade, renew, subscribe, etc.) - refining your fundraising message depends on this!
Tip: Before analyzing and building your audience segments, take steps to “prune” your email list of all disengaged contacts, like anyone who hasn't opened or clicked through a message in six months.
A final email appeal (a la “is this thing on?”) can help you determine who should stay and who should go, keep your fundraising emails out of spam folders, and provide a clearer picture of your audiences.
VI. Ready, set, goals!
Although it's at the end of this long read, the goal-setting element of your fundraising strategic plan is arguably the most important.
Without measurable outcomes, you can't have a clear understanding about what worked, which risks paid off, whether an idea is worth scaling, and where your benchmark for success falls for future campaigns.
To put it simply, no matter how much money you raise, the goals you set (and achieve) can determine whether or not your plan is seen as a success.
Tip: If you notice your campaign objectives are a little too general, remember that they should be SMART, or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. This should help you keep you on track and your objectives achievable.
VII. One last thing...
You can supplement this guide with some seriously handy templates and samples by downloading the Nonprofit Strategic Fundraising Plan Guide Add-Ons. Included: sample fundraising goals, funding source matrix template, and asset inventory template.
There you have it! Whether you stuck it out for the long haul or you skipped and skimmed for the information you needed most, you're now ready to take on your next fundraising strategic plan.
Looking for more resources? Check these out.
The Best Nonprofit Digital Campaigns Collection (EveryAction)
Grant Space Knowledge Base (Foundation Center)
The Campaign Launch Template (EveryAction)
Stories Worth Telling (The Meyer Foundation)