A lot of factors go into what a nonprofit can fundraise each year, but there’s no better place to start than with your annual plan.
The head of development has a monumental task of forecasting the organization’s annual financial goals.The impact your organization can make in a given year relies primarily on this ambitious outlook. It can also be largely based on past performance and lessons learned from previous experience, but there are small tricks and tips that can be done to help your development team run more efficiently and thus help your team reach those goals more successfully.
1. Development Plan Essentials
Having one major campaign a quarter is a good place to start, but finding easy ways to fundraise that keep cash flow throughout the year can also help. Meera Vaidyanathan became the director of development at the Transgender Law Center in 2020 and grew the nonprofit’s revenue from $5 million to $8 million in that time.
“For me, at this organization, I could identify where there were some gaps seasonally and I could maybe implement one or two low-lift campaigns during the year where we had lulls in March and April and weren’t doing a lot,” Vaidyanathan said. “OK, we could do a crowdfunder or how could we do some low-lift planned giving work throughout the year?”
While adding new revenue streams tends to impact budgets positively, development directors should not be afraid to remove ineffective revenue streams.
“I have been at organizations where, looking at the annual plan, one of the first things I did was take something off the annual plan, right?” Vaidyanathan said. “This is not a good return on investment. This event takes a huge amount of effort. We’re not making that much money. No one really likes it. How is it different than the other event?”
“That's a controversial thing to say maybe, but, in the development space, we can talk about that,” Christa Orth, founder and CEO at Seaworthy Fundraising, who moderated the panel, added. “We don’t need to be doing everything for everyone. We need to really focus on what is successful, so we don’t burn out or burn our team out.”
2. Team Collaboration and Morale
Some fundraisers work in silos at their organizations. Moving donors among portfolios could affect a specific fundraiser’s or department’s revenue goals, but overall, it hurts the entire organization. After all, misplaced donors may not give to their potential or at all. Additionally, working together allows the team to pivot to meet its overall fundraising goals — even when specific revenue streams don’t meet expectations.
Esther Alix, senior director of development at SAGE, oversees a fundraising team of eight, though she’s hiring to expand her team further. Her directors meet to discuss goals while she uses data to track progress of those goals.
“I’m working very hard to unsilo the team, so that they can be supportive of each other,” she said. “It’s one team — fundraising overall, right? So one line, major gifts line, for example, can’t meet its goal, but how can we pivot? Can the individual line do something? Can there be an additional campaign? Can there be another grant [or] another corporate sponsorship? I’m always looking to see how we can be supportive of each other.”
Another way to support your team and keep morale high is to advocate to pay employees fairly and ensure they have enough real time off where they aren’t expected to answer emails or attend meetings.
“I started at an organization once where they were like, ‘You can have two people and here’s the budget line,’” Vaidyanathan said. “And I was like, “That’s a budget for one person. I’m going to hire one person who’s going to stay longer because I’m going to pay them better.’”
3. Board Involvement
Share your development plan with your board. Maybe they don’t want to see each and every detail of your monthly or revenue stream breakdowns, but a presentation of the high-level goals should suffice, Vaidyanathan said.
“What I'm trying to convey is what our fundraising goals are and also, especially for the board and finance, the seasonal nature of fundraising and when we expect cash flow to come in through the year,” she said. “So, if all of your events and your main campaigns are in Q4, people aren’t bugging you in Q2 being like, ‘Where’s our budget?’”
And if your board is a fundraising board, ensure members are aware of those requirements before becoming a board member. SAGE has a three-to-four-month onboarding process so there is no doubt its board members know they must fundraise. In fact, the development team creates a road map for each board member in order to include those numbers in its planning.
“Part of the summer we spend doing a development road map for each [board member],” Alix said, “and they will say, ‘This is what I will give. This is where I will sponsor. This is how much I will give. This is how much I think I can raise. And this is how I will do that.’ So, when we step into really the full fundraising season, which is our gala, we know what every board member is going to give, how much they’re going to give and how much they hope to raise, so that’s all part of our projections.”