Planning for fundraising success on the count of 3

If you’re an überplanner – someone who gets her jollies from churning out lengthy tomes complete with color coded charts and detailed strategies that go on for pages – blessings to you. And if you actually stick to the plan for a full 12 months, double blessings. You are a rare bird indeed.

It’s my experience that fundraisers are more inclined to doing than they are to planning. However, as the saying warns, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. So plan you should, even when you’d rather not.

ground_target_400_clr_1504Fortunately, for small to mid-size fundraising operations (a.k.a. the majority), short and simple is usually good enough in a plan. We’re not talking rocket science here. Success in fundraising comes in doing three things well: retaining and recovering past donors, encouraging bigger gifts from some, and annually adding new donors to the support base.

It’s as simple as that. Throw a Roman Numeral in front of each of the three and you have the outline of your plan.

Let’s take a closer look at the trio.


1. Repeat gifts

Your best prospects for gifts in FY15 are the folks who gave to you in FY14. The next best prospects are those who made a gift last year, but not this year (LYBUNTS) or some year, but not this year (SYBUNTS). I hear your “duh,” but it’s surprising how many fundraisers miss the obvious – or so the dismal retention stats for our industry suggest.

Building on your organization’s track record, set a realistic stretch goal for percentage of donors you hope will give again in FY15. Then select the methods most likely to get you there, remembering that one size won’t fit everyone on your list.

Resource: Fundraising expert Claire Axelrad lists 7 keys to donor retention, all of them based on thank you.

2. Increased gifts

While a repeat gift in the same amount is nice, a bump up is even better. But encouraging those bumps will likely require a change in tactics. Unless you’re satisfied with small gains from the lower end of your gift range chart, increases are going to take some face-time. Significant increases need an up close and personal approach.

Set a realistic stretch goal for increased gifts at all giving levels. Then select the methods most likely to get you there, focusing first on prospects with the potential for making the biggest difference for your ministry.

Resource: A recent offering from “Movie Mondays for Fundraising Professionals” provides helpful pointers on encouraging even greater generosity from your already generous friends.

3. First-time gifts

Holding your numbers steady is a challenge. Growing your donor base even more so. You can do everything right but still you’ll lose donors one year to the next. As many as 17 percent, I’ve been told. That’s life (and in some cases, death). Attention to retention is crucial and so is new donor acquisition. No plan is complete without strategies for doing both.

Set goals for number of first-time gifts in each of the slots on your gift range chart. Then the strategies you’ll use to win new friends for your organization.

Resource: Fundraising authority Joe Garecht points you in the direction of the best place to find new donors.

After identifying strategies that you feel are doable and most likely to lead to the desired outcomes (retained, increased, and first-time gifts), plug in dates beside each activity and identify who needs to be involved in addition to the development staff (e.g. CEO, board members, other friends of the organization). Plug it all into a chart and you have your plan.

On the count of three, just do it.

For more on the topic of planning for fundraising success see:

As you plan in your endings, so shall it be in your beginnings.

Fundraising as ministry begins with a plan.

Money talks. Are you listening?





  1. Rebekah, as you know I am by nature a planner. You can’t be a Director of INstitutional Research and Planning without being a planner. In fact, it is also almost impossible to be a Chief Academic Officer without being a planner. I could easily include Chief Enrollment Management Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Advancement Officers and Chief Operations Officers in the group of “should be planners.” I would like to extend this claim to Chief Executive Officers. However, I have seen too many CEOs who eschew the planning process, usually to their organizations’ detriment.

    As I was thinking about writing this comment, I was pulled up short by a poster in a doctor’s waiting room. The poster was extolling the benefits of walking to one’s fitness and well being. It included a quote that is generally attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” As I researched this quote, I discovered the poster omitted the first line of the quote: “Just take the first step in faith.”

    When God called Abraham out of Ur in Genesis 12, God didn’t lay out the whole plan to Abraham. He told him just to go to the land that “He would show him.” However, in Luke 14, the wise builder is admonished to “count the cost to see that he has enough to finish building the tower.” Is this another example of the classic fallacy of the excluded middle that you exposed in your previous post, “Make faithfulness and results the choice”? Just asking the question.

    Shalom, By

    • As always, you’ve made a thoughtful addition to my post. As I see it, planning is faith lived out. Faith is what gives us the courage and confidence to take the first step, and the next, and the next, etc. etc. etc. Without faith, and more particularly faith in God’s plans for us and our organizations, planning would seem futile. As I say often to clients, hope/faith is not a fundraising (or any other) strategy, but it’s impossible to raise funds (or do just about anything) without hope/faith.

      Thank you for reading and keep the comments coming.

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