GuideStar Blog

Stop the Stopgap Measures! Taking a Long-range View toward Fundraising and Creating a Plan That Fulfills It

Raising money is a constant, enormous task for most nonprofits. In a survey last year of GuideStar's Newsletter readers, nearly half of you (46 percent) said this was your greatest challenge. Perhaps it is time to take a step back from the day-to-day operation (and bills) of your organization and focus on the horizon. Rather than spending your time on the frustrating struggle with the "annual fund," would it not be better to use that effort to develop a multi-year, comprehensive fundraising plan that would meet all of your needs through longer-term, perhaps even five-year, commitments? Those who take the time to create a vision, assign dollar goals to carry it out, and send forth energized volunteers to excite donors will find this a much more efficient approach than scrambling to make ends meet. What better way to impress and motivate current donors and attract new ones than to show them your thoughtful, integrated blueprint for your organization's future?

So how does one begin to create a five-year plan? Start with your annual operating budget needs over five years. If you would like to increase programs or services, add in that cost. Perhaps those programs and services will mean new buildings or capital improvements; add that cost in. Finally, include an endowment goal to build your nest egg for the future. This dollar total will represent your overall fundraising needs for five years.

Now think beyond the dollars to those intangibles that will generate excitement and momentum for your campaign. Fundamentally, you will want to make sure you have considered the very purpose of your work and the nuts and bolts of daily operational effectiveness:

  • Operations: Audit your office infrastructure and make whatever changes are necessary to ensure efficiency, accountability, and cost-effectiveness.

  • Service delivery: Are you doing the best job possible at delivering what you were established to deliver in the first place? You know who to ask—your clients or constituents.

  • Board strength and resolve: You need board members whose attitude is "We mean business" and who will bring the financial commitment and community visibility to prove it. Building a strong board is one of most valuable services that fundraising counsel can provide.

  • Informed constituency: Most donors do not really know what your organization does. Sometimes even the staff and board members do not really know. Certainly your community may not know. You need a good PR plan. These days much of it can be carried out electronically, which saves paper and mailing costs. To give yourself something to hook people's attention, consider creating something new, not terribly expensive, that would excite people. What is the most compelling aspect of what you do? Think of how you could package the sexiest part of what you're all about (e.g., saving animals, nurturing young musicians, feeding the hungry), do something new with it, get the community's attention, and pull on those heartstrings.

  • Cultivated donors: You must devote the time and staff (or volunteers) to thank and inform your donors and constituents. By the way, corporations and foundations certainly are an important part of your cultivation mix, but you should know that individuals give roughly 90 percent of the charitable contributions made in this country each year. And of those individuals, 10 percent of them will give you 90 percent of your campaign goal. Now you know where to focus your attention initially.

  • Involved donors: The basis of any major gift program is the building of a long-term relationship with donors. This means learning how they would like to be involved in your organization and extending the appropriate invitations. Understand that this process will take time.

  • Personal approach to asking for gifts and recruiting volunteers: What's the most effective approach for obtaining a significant gift? Experience tells us it is the personal visit followed by a thank you letter. In a department store, the top-tier customers find the best service and the most pleasing atmosphere on the upper floors. Give your major donor prospects top-floor treatment. What's the least effective approach? Special events, cocktail parties, and phone calls. Save them (and direct mail) for smaller gifts at the end of your campaign.
Now you have a package, something truly visionary to take to your community and your donors. Ask them to help you realize your plan by making a commitment to a pledge that they will pay off over the five years. During those years, your fundraising volunteers can go to new donor prospects and expand your donor pool instead of exhausting themselves on the same donors year after year. At the end of the five-year period, perhaps you will have 600 committed donors rather than the same 100 your agency has exhausted each year before—the same ones who wonder why you don't expand your donor pool. That is good news for everyone and especially for the viability of the organization.

When all is said and done, it is no secret that good planning makes priorities clear. The less time you spend worrying about the light bill, the more time you'll have to involve people who will be important to your future.

David G. Phillips, Custom Development Solutions, Inc.
© 2006, Custom Development Solutions, Inc.

David G. Phillips is president and CEO of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) in Charleston, S.C. CDS, which is among America's fastest growing fundraising consulting firms, specializes in the strategic planning and tactical execution of fundraising campaigns for nonprofits large and small throughout North America. Contact CDS and David Phillips at or 1-800-761-3833.
Topics: Fundraising