One of the more fun and rewarding parts of our work is watching the sheer joy of nonprofit board and staff members when things “click” for them. Literally we see light in their faces and relief in their smile. More and more we have been experiencing this around the sometimes dreaded, sometimes feared, responsibility of fundraising.
I have focused for a long time on taking the fear and mystery out of this work and doing all that we can to make it fun and accessible, while still incorporating the science of the profession. Yes, fundraising is an art and a science. The art is our organizational culture and core values and the way we talk and think about the work. The science is rooted in a growing field of evidence-based research and proven practice, which is accompanied by higher educational degrees and professional certifications. And while all of that can distance staff and board members from their work, it is possible to use the tools in an easy way.
This week I had yet another opportunity to see that smile of relief, and I wanted to share it with you because I know it’s possible for all of you. The difference for this organization was finally making the time to focus on creating a comprehensive fundraising plan. What makes this plan different is that it’s not a list of asking strategies and tactics, or a collection of one-and-done efforts, or a list of special events, or a simple list of names – it is a true integrated plan. Time and again, we see lists of activities labeled as plans. We see plans borrowed from another group or downloaded from the Internet with the hope that it will magically work for the group who put their logo on it. We see a lot of desperate board and staff members who know it needs to be different and would love the magic, simple answer, or better yet someone to just do it for them. Magic is fun but it doesn’t last and it rarely gets the group what they want – more money, more committed donors, and more credibility to ultimately do more or better mission.
So what is an integrated plan? Many years ago, I read a quote from a professional in the field, Karla Williams, who said a fund development plan “is a sequence of carefully arranged steps, designed to create an environment for philanthropy to flourish and to nurture and steward that environment for the long-term.” The key words that stand out for me in this quote are “careful,” “environment for philanthropy to flourish,” and “long-term.” These words help us know that our plans must be rooted in who we are as organizations. They must reflect our core values, our organizational goals, and the culture and capacity of our board and staff. It doesn’t do anyone any good to have a plan that no one has the ability or time to follow.
The goals in our plans should do two things: (1) push us to improve our process, and (2) focus on the donor as the center of all of our efforts. If we do these effectively, donors will feel the connection they want to mission, and donor retention will be the ultimate sign that the plan is working. Along the way, the goals in a comprehensive plan will likely include getting the organization’s fundraising house in order by updating or adding a donor database, or getting the board and staff the training they need, or creating or updating donor gift acceptance policies and procedures. These are all part of a plan that sticks. There are still far more organizations raising money without a comprehensive plan or any plan than those with them. What that tells us is they are likely working harder, not smarter, and system wide success is a constant challenge. Effective plans are not magic, but if the board and staff engage in creating a plan that sets the organization up for long-term success, we anticipate seeing a lot more happy and engaged donors and a lot less stress in our organization.
Fund development is a team effort and we would be happy to be part of your team. We have added people to our team to help you with this type of planning. If you are interested in learning more, give us a call or sign up for our class to learn more about what’s in a comprehensive fund development plan.