I came of age when getting a driver’s license came with a congratulatory book of road maps. I was an early adopter of the GPS mounted to my dashboard and now rarely leave my house without programing my destination into an app on my phone. I was the guy at Disney World this summer walking around with the map in my hand with my pre-determined routes sketched out. I like to know where I’m going, and my dependence on maps and technology ensures I always get there. To accomplish the goal of fully funding their important missions, nonprofit leaders need to take this same care in setting a course and following it.
Most nonprofit Chief Executives and fundraisers know their fundraising goal off the top of their head. Recognizing that the goal is often arrived at via a series of compromises with reality, many could even articulate the true number they’d need to raise to fully fund their mission. But the follow-up question, “how will you get there?” is typically a pesky one. It shouldn’t be, and that’s why so many nonprofits fall short of their objectives and ultimately compromise on expenditures or draw on reserves to meet their needs. They need to build and follow fundraising roadmaps.
The Fundraising Roadmap
As a nonprofit leader, a fundraising roadmap points you toward where you need to go (your goal), but more importantly illustrates how you’ll get there. It sees the treacherous topography that lies ahead and lays out the route by which you can avoid obstacles and reach your destination. I would recommend a roadmap that looks out over the next three years, but operationalizes detail on an annual basis.
To create a successful fundraising roadmap, you need to take into account:
- Your strategic goals: The roadmap should be informed by organizational priorities and the case for support. If the goal is $10 million, do you know what you will spend the money on and what its impact will be?
- What key staff, board members, donors and other stakeholders have to say: Not only do you want each of these constituencies to agree on where the organization is headed, you want their input on how to get there. If you’ve ever taken an extended road trip with a backseat driver, you’ve learned it is best to discuss and have agreement on the route in advance. Sit with your key stakeholders individually or in group sessions, specifically to obtain their input on your fundraising program. What do they like about it? What is cumbersome as a donor or administratively? Can they do more?
- Where current revenue is coming from: Understand the road you’ve traveled to date. If you’ve historically been overly-dependent on one revenue stream (for example, special events), understand why. What skill sets do you have (or lack) that are needed to achieve a more balanced stream of revenues?
- The external environment: How are other nonprofits similar to yours in mission and/or geography raising funds? Are you using similar or different strategies to attract philanthropic investment? What are they doing that you’re not? Should you be trying to compete on their playing field or do they so dominate that it is best for you to do something completely different? Do you have strategies for approaching specific funders that are investing in your competitors but not in you?
- Board capacity and interest in fundraising: Based on historic performance and the discussions with board members referenced above, what is the realistic capacity of your board to give and get? There’s a temptation to fill gaps in our roadmap by assuming you’ll get the board to give or raise more. Or that you’ll recruit new board members. Are either realistic? Before including in your roadmap you must have the honest answers to those questions.
The most accurate roadmaps take these inputs to create plans that include these four elements:
- Specific annual financial objectives with at least quarterly benchmarks for the first year out and a mechanism to build similar milestones in future years.
- Key performance indicators for staff and board members that are leading indicators of eventual success. These can include things like numbers of donor visits, pipeline value, timelines for key special event planning deadlines, give and get objectives for individual board members. Once established these indicators should be tracked and reported regularly to internal and external (board) leadership.
- Recommendations on staff and volunteer structures needed to achieve the specific financial objectives. If your roadmap is leading to more fertile ground and larger financial objectives (as it most cases it should be) you cannot realistically expect substantial growth with the same approach. Additional staff or volunteers may be needed. Or different skill sets or allocations of staff and volunteer time might be required. This should be a key topographical feature of your roadmap.
- A budget. Fundraising requires investment. Your roadmap should understand the investment needed and analyze the return on this investment to ensure you are getting the best value from the dollars you spend.
The likelihood you’ll get where you’re going increases exponentially if you have a map. Fundraising success is a key ingredient in advancing your nonprofit’s mission. Investing time on the front end to establish your route will pay dividends.
Craig Shelley is a Vice President at Orr Associates, Inc. He leads client engagements that provide strategic and action-oriented fundraising services to nonprofits, encompassing major gifts, fundraising from corporate and charitable foundations, planned giving, special events, and direct response fundraising programs. Craig is a Certified Fundraising Executive and frequently writes and speaks on nonprofit leadership and fundraising.