How to Develop a Fundraising Plan

Having a fundraising plan is fundamental to fundraising success, yet many organisations overlook its importance and fail to integrate fundraising plans into their overall strategic plans. Organisations without viable fundraising plans often find themselves lurching from one funding crisis to another, constantly putting out fiscal fires instead of proactively developing their organisation.

A fundraising plan is a carefully prepared strategy indicating specifically how much an organisation needs to raise, within what timeframe, and – most importantly – how the money will be raised. Embarking on any fundraising campaign without such a plan is like wandering into the wilderness without a compass.

A fundraising plan begins with a target. How much is needed? This number should not be chosen arbitrarily. It should be based upon a rational assessment of the organisation’s actual running costs, including plans for future development.

The plan should then analyse past, current, and future known income streams. The analysis should include a frank assessment of the possibility of any of these streams drying up in the near future.

Next you should analyse your fundraising capacity to understand what resources you currently have to help you raise funds. Don’t forget to look closely at how much it is costing you to raise funds through the various sources, taking into account staffing, time, money and other resources expended.

Next, you should look outward, at the current and projected fundraising environment. Is the economy strong and growing? What are the dominant economic forecasts telling you? What are the trends in regional, national, international philanthropy (any and all environments in which you operate and raise funds)? At this stage it is important to seek detailed information about all the fundraising methods and techniques available to your organisation, and perhaps consider some that you haven’t undertaken before. Consider such diverse potential sources of income as general public donations through appeals, events and activities, government grants, grants from philanthropic foundations, corporate gifts, gifts from major donors, and direct earning through trading goods and services.

Now it’s time to find the gaps. Map out all known income for the year (or at least the most reliable projected income … fundraising is not an exact science, and nothing is absolutely certain). Take into account past experience, existing successful programmes and activities and any recent (reliable) pledges of gifts. Compare the total with your targets to identify your most urgent fundraising challenges.

This will often require developing a series of fundraising targets for each area of activity. An organisation needing to fundraise €100,000 may, for example, set a target of €50,000 from grant-makers, €30,000 from the general public and €20,000 from earnings.

Within these targets may be further targets. In grants, for example, your target may be to raise €25,000 from government, €15,000 from trusts and €10,000 from corporate. Whatever the targets are they ought to be considered and arrived at very carefully, and should not be the basis for budgeting the next year until the amounts are secured.

Alongside the setting of smaller, more achievable, targets is the practice of setting milestones throughout the year, and even over many years for raising the totals you need. 

So, for example, if your target is to raise €36,000 in three years, this could be achieved by raising €12,000 in each year, or €1,000 per month. You might set a target of €8,000 per year from grants, €3,000 from the general public and €1,000 from earned income each year. You might alternatively set a target of €2,000 for an event at Easter, €4,000 for a summer event, €1,000 for a Halloween event and €5,000 for a Christmas event each year.

Again, these targets should not be set lightly or arbitrarily, but should be based upon evidence, track record, experience and well informed projections. Fundraising is much an art as a science, and developing a ‘feel’ for setting realistic targets can take many years’ experience.

By planning a calendar of all your fundraising events, activities and campaigns and putting in place fundraising processes, it is much easier reach your income targets. Set yourself a target based on the amount of funding needed and set a deadline for when you need to raise it by. Then plan a series of events and activities that will enable you to meet that target. Don’t forget that some strategies are easy to schedule, and provide relatively foreseeable returns (such as annual galas, Christmas appeals, monthly coffee mornings, etc) and others such as major gifts campaigns can be extremely unpredictable. Try to build a balance of ‘low hanging fruit’ and ‘dream gifts’ into your plan, and provide contingencies for when your riskier strategies are delayed or fail to pay off.

With your targets and activities and calendar in place, you will need to consider the resources you will commit to enable the fundraising to happen. Whilst always striving to keep your fundraising costs within reasonable levels, you must give the fundraising strategy a chance of working by committing a budget to it. Some activities will cost more than others, but are nonetheless needed to raise the overall target. An unresourced plan will just gather dust on your desk, so be sure to invest appropriate levels of staff, volunteers, time and money to enable the plan to succeed.

Now that you have a fundraising plan, the final thing to do is use it. Be flexible, and continually refine and update the plan as you progress, continually reassessing your resources and activities in light of the relative success or failure of various aspects of your plan. The important thing is that you are not rudderless. With a fundraising plan you are in more control of the income you organisation will receive and you can spend your time doing the good work of your organisation, instead of constantly reacting to the latest funding crisis.