Planning Your Year in Fundraising

A drawing of a pie chart, graphs and puzzle pieces with the words Strategy and development.

by Molly Penn

It’s the beginning of the year and if you’re like many nonprofit leaders, you’re in planning mode. It’s time to think about your plan for fundraising for the year ahead.  It’s an important one – the pandemic is turning into an endemic, the government relief funds are no longer available – so where did your organization land from all of that disruption?  What does your focus need to be in 2023 to recover your contributed income?  In this article we describe how to approach fundraising with greater intention in 2023.

Take Stock of Your Vision, Mission and Programs

Spend time each year touching base with your organization’s vision and mission – those are the guiding tenets for your whole organization, including the fundraising effort.  Are they clear?  Are they inspiring?  Will they motivate others to join you in this cause?  If not, you might suggest to leadership that they revisit these foundational statements to ensure they are facilitating your fundraising practices.  Are you programs able to demonstrate impact on those you exist to serve?  How are you approaching equity in your programs as well as in your organization?  Is your organization partnering or collaborating in strategic ways?  This phase often leads organizations to consider doing a new strategic plan if they don’t have a current one.  These are big questions that your funders care about and that will demand that your organization be intentional about its future path.

Assess your current practices

Determine what’s working and what’s not, where there are opportunities for growth and where there might be threats to your current funding.  A SWOT analysis can serve as a useful framework for this kind of analysis.  This should be informed by some of the foundational elements of a good development function: are you able to pull reports that help you assess what’s working?  Is your data clean?  Are you able to analyze which requests were successful and which were not?  Then conduct your research on potential opportunities for future funding – talk to your board and leadership about organizational plans that you think will appeal to your funders or donors. Consider which donors would be well matched to which areas of organizational focus in the year ahead.  Research possible new donors or methods.    Finally, take stock of which funding may be ending or diminishing.  Some foundations work on a cycle where they require you to periodically take a year or two off.  Government support tends to be volatile in a highly political environment.  Use this analysis to identify areas of focus for the year ahead – either leveraging your current fundraising strengths or shoring up areas of weakness; pursuing opportunities for future funding and defending against funding threats.  A parting note here – don’t lose sight of multi-year funding requests – these are great opportunities for your organization because they create stability of funding that aids in planning for the year ahead.  They are also less taxing of your internal fundraising resources over time.  Try to ensure a healthy balance of multi-year funding requests where appropriate.

Consider all sources of fundraising

Fundraising typically comprises a variety of sources:

  • Annual funds
  • Major donors / DAFs
  • Special events
  • Foundations
  • Corporations
  • Federal, State & local Government

Each source has its own strategy.  They are each approached slightly differently and will want to emphasize different things.  Ensure you can address the things each source cares about thoughtfully and comprehensively.

Map Your Internal Resources

Given what you want to do with your fundraising function in the year ahead, do you have the appropriate systems in place to help you manage it?  Do you have the right skills in the right roles on your staff?  Is your leadership ready and willing to go on solicitation calls with you?  Does your board understand and embrace their role as organizational ambassadors and fundraisers?  If you are not confident in some of these areas, these should be added to your fundraising plan.  You don’t want to sacrifice building a solid internal core in your pursuit of dollars – it’s a balancing act of internal investment and active fund raising.

Now, Create Your Plan

As a final step, you’ll want to create an implementation plan that maps your strategies and the tactics you’ll implement to bring those strategies to life.  It helps to add timing and accountability columns, and in some cases a financial column that helps you forecast the bottom line impact of all of this work.

Build your fundraising mindset

Fundraising is a team effort and a core responsibility of nonprofit leadership, including boards. However, many people find it uncomfortable to talk about money or to ask others for it. Your organization may require a culture shift to be able to embrace fundraising as integral to your strategy and success.  What can you do to help build a culture of philanthropy throughout the staff of the organization.  Ensure everyone in other areas understands how to spot fundraising opportunities and the importance of building and stewarding relationships.

A good place to start when shifting mindset is to focus on the “why” behind fundraising. It’s not about the money; it’s about leading with your passion for the cause, the purpose of the organization, and the possibilities for the future. Create a narrative that works for you to convey this passion for your organization. Then, encourage and equip your nonprofit’s leadership to communicate their enthusiasm in their own words and ways.

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