July 25, 2024

Fundraising Planning – A Vital Key To Nonprofit Success

Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard 059

As a professional grant writer and consultant, I am often amazed at how few nonprofit organizations actually have a fund development plan beyond a vague idea of applying for a few grants and sending out an annual appeal letter. Recognizing that lack of planning, I am not amazed at how often these same organizations have rounds of emergency budget cuts when they realize that they have no assured streams of income.

Very typical is the agency that has received a large grant to run their programs for one year. Then, in the tenth month of the grant period, comes the realization that they have no idea how they will fund the next year’s programs. With less than two months of money left in the bank they go into emergency fundraising mode.

Their first impulse is to start applying for another large grant. But at most foundations, the process – from letter of inquiry to proposal to acceptance – typically takes at least three months, and often six to eight months.

Their next idea is to turn to their individual donors with a panicked letter that essentially says, “Send us money now or we might go out of business.” That, of course, is the least effective fundraising letter you can write. Donors want to invest in your successes, not bail out your failures.

So, how do they avoid these situations? The answer is to plan. Through the planning process, you will achieve the following:

  • Limit crisis fundraising: This, as the example above illustrates, is our primary reason for creating a fund development plan, but there are others as well…
  • Diversity builds in flexibility: Changes in other sectors of the economy can have a major impact on nonprofit funding. A cut in the state budget can be passed down as fewer contracts for local service organizations. The dot-com bust of a few years back cut foundation endowments, reducing the funds they had available to grant. Agencies that had become comfortable relying on one or two sources of funding found themselves struggling to survive these changes. Those with plans and diversified funding bases had the flexibility to adapt and survive.
  • Planning for diversity brings in more opportunities: Through the planning process you come to identify funding opportunities you never knew existed. Further, when you stop having to scramble to pay next month’s bills, you will be able to devote more time to developing new sources of income for your agency.

  • Setting priorities, strategies, and goals: New opportunities present themselves all the time, if you are open to receiving them. But which opportunities should you pursue? When you have a clear mission and a plan, the answer becomes clear. By following the plan, you know where your efforts are most needed at any given time, and you can turn down distractions that don’t further your defined goals.
  • Increasing board involvement: I always hear nonprofit staff complaining about either their un-involved board members or board members who meddle too much without knowing what they’re doing, and yet they don’t create opportunities for the board to be constructively involved. Asking your board to be a part of the development planning process will both motivate them and educate them at the same time.
  • Integrating fund development with other program activities & plans: If you’re lucky enough to have staff who work on fund development full-time, you’re also risking a disconnect between program people and fundraisers. The result is an annual event that’s held the same week as the busiest part of the program staff’s season. Written plans that are shared by all staff help to avoid such conflicts and encourage a working team environment.
  • Most productive use of team’s time: The bottom line is that by being organized, and having clarity as to what is expected of every team member, all your activities will be more efficient.

So what’s holding you back? Put your team together and start planning for success today!

About the Author

Ken Goldstein is a grant writer and consultant working and living in Silicon Valley. Since 1989 he has been an executive director, a board member, volunteer, and consultant to nonprofits. His education includes a BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz and a Master of Public Policy and Administration from CSU Sacramento. Goldstein Consulting can be found at goldsteinconsulting.com. Ken is also the author of “Introduction to Fund Development Planning” – Please see fundraisingplanbook.com for more information.

(c) 2006 by Ken Goldstein, all rights reserved.

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