“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
What’s your destination for 2024? As far as fundraising planning went for 2023, your fundraising may have taken you to a different destination than you originally planned–something that can often happen in the nonprofit world.
Now, as we get started fundraising in 2024, it’s never been more important to have a fundraising plan and a clear road map that is designed to help you make up for lost funds and meet your current goals and desired destination for your organization.
Let’s get started! Here’s what we recommend as you focus on planning your fundraising initiatives in 2024.
What is a fundraising plan?
It might seem like an obvious answer: it’s your guide to how you’ll conduct fundraising. Your goals, your strategies, your events, your deadlines, and your activities for a given time frame. But what does that actually look like? That’s what this guide is here to help you with. Essentially, you’ll want to put together a document that includes your financial goals, your main strategies, and your marketing plan so that you can see who will be doing what for the next year. There are tons of different ways to organize them, which is why we’ve included a downloadable template to get you started.
Why is creating a fundraising plan important?
Trying to navigate to your fundraising destination without a map, directions, or a plan will be challenging. You need a plan to know where you’re going, and to keep you on that track.
The best fundraising plans are organized, actionable and tell a complete story of how you’re going to achieve your goals. This helps to point you in the right direction, gives you benchmarks along the way so that you know how you’re doing and can make course corrections, and helps to break down the large goals into smaller, digestible steps.
It actually makes the whole fundraising process much less daunting because you’ve created your own to-do list for the next year. Let’s take a closer look.
The anatomy of a fundraising plan
Each fundraising plan may look a little different, depending on the needs of the organization and the specific events or campaigns involved. But they all have some things in common. Nearly every fundraising plan will include:
- Goals: look at how much you raised in the past and consider where you can increase your goals for the future.
- Budget: how much you intend to raise, as well your expenses and staff time so you can see what you’re actually bringing in.
- Calendar/timeline: due dates, important dates for fundraising events or other activities, and the approximate time frame you’ll start working on each piece.
- Activities: what will you actually do to raise the money and who will do it?
- Gift pyramid: a gift pyramid helps you break up your overall goal into specific gift levels so you can plan for how many donations of each size you will need.
Creating a Fundraising Plan
Creating a fundraising plan may seem daunting and overwhelming. Even the phrase “planning document” might make you stressed. Luckily it doesn’t have to be, because we’ve created a plan for your plan. All you have to do is follow the steps and you’ll be well on your way to a beautiful new plan.
1. Evaluate Your Past Goals and Previous Fundraising Plan
The new year is a time to focus on evaluating what fundraising approaches from 2023 worked and to be honest about what didn’t go as planned. With this knowledge, you can begin creating a plan for the future and in turn create the energy and fuel to begin the fundraising journey in the best possible way. If you have a fundraising plan from last year, now is a great time to pull it out. If you don’t, that’s ok! You just need to be able to review your fundraising from last year.
Break out a spreadsheet and create a complete list of all fundraising activities you organized in the previous year, as well as any other sources of income. (If you need more ideas, we put together a list of 200+ fundraising ideas)
For each of these activities you want to take a look at a few factors:
- The expenses of running the activity (including staff and volunteer time)
- The benefits generated for your organization (such as revenue, brand, donors)
- And any other pertinent information
You want to evaluate this information to help you determine what the return on investment is for running these activities. You want to know whether a specific activity is worth repeating again, or if you need to come up with new activities to replace them.
Every fundraiser wants to minimize expenses while maximizing returns, so calculating return on investment is pertinent to making sure the money you spend is working for your organization. See this article for more tips on calculating your ROI.
Remember to cover ALL sources of income on this spreadsheet. This exhaustive list should include:
- All individual donations (including major donors) procured by
- Direct mail
- Online fundraising
- Special/in-person fundraisers
- Phone solicitations
- Membership fees
- Corporate sponsorships
- Company matches
- Sale of items/services
Now, take a good look at this spreadsheet. Highlight the fundraisers you expect to bring in similar results. Mark those that you want to do again, and cross out anything that wasn’t worth your time or had a low return on investment (ROI).
2. Revisit Your Mission and Vision
Your mission and values should guide everything your organization is doing. When we’re spending time swimming through spreadsheets and numbers, it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re doing this hard work. So ground your fundraising plan in your mission: what are you trying to accomplish? This can help you to figure out how much you want to aim for in the upcoming year. For example, you need to raise $250,500 to achieve the organization’s mission of feeding 1,000 families. Your values can also help you focus on how you want to raise that money. For example if part of your mission is education, you might consider holding workshops to bring in some of the donations.
3. Determine Your Budget
Step one in your budget is determining your big, year-long fundraising goal. What number do you need to hit to have a successful fundraising year? This is your macro goal and in theory, should match your organization’s mission.
Keep it concise; it doesn’t need to be long. However, this goal should be the one that all the other smaller goals feed into. If you start working on something in the year that doesn’t feed into this goal, then you need to question whether it’s worth doing.
To calculate your organizational goal you should know how much you need to raise in 2023 (or whatever your fiscal year looks like). If you need guidance, work with whoever’s in charge of finances to get a copy of the budget.
Then, complete the following steps:
- Write down how much you expect to spend on ALL expenses (administrative, programming, fundraising).
- Write down how much are you expecting to bring in from guaranteed, committed sources (campaign pledges, government grants, private grants, foundations) in 2023. This is also where you might consider major donors who have already committed.
- Calculate the total you need to raise by subtracting your guaranteed income (#2) from your total expenses (#1). This is how much you need to raise in other types of fundraising activity during the next calendar year.
For example, if your total operating budget is $250,500 and you have $25,000 in government grants, $20,000 in foundation grants, and another $50,000 in pledges already committed, you must raise an additional $155,500 through other fundraisers.
4. Set New Goals
Now that you have the big goal you’ll be working towards, you can start to create smaller goals that will help you achieve that final year-end number.
Your fundraising goals, or “micro-goals,” should be SMART goals – specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time bound. You should definitely aim high with these, but make sure they’re realistic within the timeframe you have.
These smaller, strategic goals will feed directly into your organizational goal. For example, if you want to raise an additional $155,500 next year, you will probably need to increase the number of donors you have. Or you will need to increase the average gift from your existing donors. It is likely that you will need to do both. You can think of these as your fundraising strategies.
Put these goals in order of priority – which ones which have the most impact, and which ones should you prioritize? I’m sure you’ll want to do them all, but remember this plan is about focusing your efforts on what will matter (to your bottom line) most.
Fundraising macro + micro goal examples in the SMART Fundraising Goal Worksheet (included in the fundraising calendar and goals download below)
Download your free fundraising calendar + goals template below:
By starting big (your organizational goal) and working your way down (to your fundraising strategies), you now have a great understanding of what you need to accomplish throughout the year to be successful.
5. Break Those Goals Down Into Smaller Milestones
You might also call these strategies, or the activities you’ll need to do to reach those fundraising goals.
Outlining your strategies may take some time, and it’s something that is worth doing with your staff and/or team members for ideas. As mentioned in step 1, we also recommend doing a review of what strategies did and did not work for you last year so that you pick and focus on the ones that drove results.
These strategies should also have specific metrics and/or KPIs associated with them to measure their success. For example, how many new donors do you expect to acquire? And by what time frame? Remember the SMART goals.
Here are some examples of suggested strategies that we traditionally see in fundraising plans, and ideally what the end product should look like in your plan.
Goal: Increase the total number of donors by 5%
- Strategy: Organize one major fundraiser per quarter and one small fundraiser per month.
- Strategy: Plan a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign to acquire new donors online
- Strategy: Use Facebook and Instagram ads to direct a targeted online audience to our fundraising website.
- Strategy: Replace our in-person gala with a virtual gala + acquire 100 new donors.
See our article, 32 Top Virtual Fundraising Ideas for more inspiration for your 2024 virtual event planning.
Goal: Increase the average gift size by 3%
- Strategy: Create giving levels and incorporate into all online fundraisers
- Strategy: Ask returning donors to increase gifts
- Strategy: Target one-time donors for a recurring giving campaign
There are some easy ways to increase giving that could be as simple as changing a button!
The Irish International Immigration Centre nearly doubled their online giving by replacing their PayPal button with the CauseVox donation page—their average gift jumped up by more than $100 in comparison to previous giving.
It’s finally time to start putting it all together. You now have a deep, thorough understanding of your goals, strategies, the resources you have to meet those goals, and some techniques that worked in the past.
So, let’s touch some more on these fundraising techniques. After all, fundraising professionals don’t simply rely on direct mail anymore. Today, your fundraising options sometimes seem, well, endless. And, that’s a GOOD thing!
For starters, make a list of all the fundraisers or campaigns you want to run and when you want them to occur. Be mindful of remaining “strategic” (have we used this word enough?), meaning you should use donor trends and knowledge of your donor base to outline your annual plan.
As an example, if you know donors aren’t as likely to attend an event in the summer months, focus on an online campaign at this time.
Specify details for each fundraiser you want to run, including:
- Fundraiser type and name
- Anticipated income
- Staff and volunteer time
- Marketing costs
- Other expenses
- Intended audience
- Any other notes
Your detailed list will look something like this for every fundraising event/effort:
During this step, be sure to plan enough activities to cover your budgetary needs and be mindful of overstretching your current resources.
6. Assign and Delegate Milestones
Now that you have your full list of tasks and activities for the year, it’s time to start thinking about who will do what. For each activity, make sure that there is a staff person assigned to complete the task. Not only will this help your team get organized and prepared for the upcoming year, it also means nothing will slip through the cracks. Creating a fundraising plan without names associated with each task is a great way to work hard on a document and then ignore it. Instead, make the fundraising plan feel like a resource your teammates can come back to each month and review what they need to accomplish and how they did in the past month.
Pro tip: use a project management tool to assign the tasks to your team and keep everyone on track.
7. Set Reasonable Due Dates
The easiest way to make your plan feel like a plan instead of a nebulous strategy is to include due dates for each task assigned. This is where you can really get strategic about creating a document that supports your work. In general, it’s helpful to work backwards: start with when you know a given project is due. For example if you’re running an event, then the day of the event would be your drop dead due date for everything. From here, you can estimate how much time you’ll need for each task and calculate backwards. Think especially about tasks that have to be completed before other things can be done: you need to book your venue before you can think about catering. Add in a due date for the first step that gives you enough time to complete the second step.
You’ll also want to take into account the workload of each individual team member. If you notice that one person has a lot of due dates all clustered together, see if you can spread them out. Are there places you can work ahead? Can you adjust the timing of a campaign so that it doesn’t overlap as much with others? It’s easy to want to front load your year, but think carefully about what you can place in each quarter so that you have a sustainable pace.
8. Create and share your calendar
Think of your fundraising plan as both a communications calendar and a strategic plan. Remember this should be a living document – something that you refer to regularly and one that includes key fundraising objectives, detailed plans to execute, and goals.
Your final product will be a calendar you can share with your team so everyone can follow along. The downloadable spreadsheet includes a sample, along with a blank template for you to use for your own plan.
While many nonprofits and charities use an everyday calendar to organize annual fundraisers, we believe that a detailed spreadsheet can work wonders in keeping you organized before, during, and after each fundraising activity.
Best Practices for Building Out Your Fundraising Plan
In addition to simply following these steps, there are a few other strategies you can use to make sure you get the most out of your fundraising plan. Here are the best practices to follow.
Go Into As Much Detail as Possible
Any work you do now is work you don’t have to do in the future. That means the more detail you add in at the beginning is something off your plate for next year. For example, you could start assigning tasks to your team based on a gut feeling. Or you could take a more systematic approach.
For starters, answer these questions:
- How many staff people can devote their time to fundraising?
- How much time can they devote each week?
- Do you have a volunteer base to help with fundraising tasks?
- If so, how many hours per week total for all volunteers?
- Are your board members required to fundraise on behalf of your organization?
- If so, how many hours per week can you expect them to engage?
- What is your annual fundraising budget, including marketing costs?
Then, organize your findings using this checklist on a spreadsheet or table similar to the one provided below:
- List each staff person and the amount of time they can devote per week
- Write down the average number of volunteers and their anticipated weekly commitment
- Outline your annual fundraising budget, including staff time, fundraising, and other expenses
You can complete a similar process for any of the steps listed above. If you’re using a spreadsheet to create your plan, each of these areas can get its own tab so you have all your information easily in one place and you know how you reached a certain due date or assignment.
Make It Collaborative
You have a team: use it! The more you can incorporate your team from step one, the more buy in you’ll have on the plan moving forward. Plus your team is there with you in the trenches: they also have insight on what worked well last year and what needs tweaking. Get their feedback when reviewing past strategies, work with them as you’re setting tasks and deadlines to make sure it feels reasonable, and ask them for brainstorms of new strategies to use. The best part is that if you have a collaborative document or spreadsheet, each team member can update it as they finish tasks so you know things are down and where each team member is in the process.
Be Willing to Change When Necessary
Remember – this fundraising plan should be a living document. You should also use it as a “north star” guide to help you throughout the year, to constantly align your team and your priorities to strategies that will achieve your goals.
While it’s important to set these goals and strategies, you can also be flexible with this plan if you need to.
For example, if a great opportunity comes up, can you replace it with one of the other strategies? It’s important to review this plan every quarter to make sure you’re on track and to see if any of your fundraising goals or strategies have changed.
Make It Visible and Prominent in Your Organization
One of the most frustrating things in life is when you spend a ton of work creating a plan and no one uses it. Don’t let that happen. Make sure everyone on your team knows where they can find the plan, and have it on hand during meetings to check in on whether due dates are being met. It can also be helpful to print it out and post it somewhere in the common spaces so anyone can check it when they need to.
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