A recent ad in a fundraising publication reminded us that “Friending prospects on Facebook does not qualify as cultivation.” Zing! That message hits home for many of us.

The reality is that fundraising is hard work. It’s not just black tie galas, rounds of golf and posting on social media. Our goal as fundraisers is to connect in a way that results in more engaged, passionate supporters – not an easy task!

If you became a fundraiser because you love people and want to help them engage with a mission that you are passionate about, you may find the planning side of fundraising to be painful. But when you invest time in planning what you need to do and how you will do it, you will free up time previously spent “putting out fires” that can now be invested in relationship building. A far more beneficial task!

If you’re working without a fundraising plan or if your fundraising planning is basically a perfunctory exercise that takes last year’s plan and changes the dates and the dollars, you will probably benefit from a thoughtful deep-dive into developing a plan – or better yet, a strategy for fundraising success. While there are many resources to help you create a plan, we advise you start by considering these questions.

  1. What do we do that excites our current donors? What do we do that is essential to making those things happen? (Yes, that’s overhead, but without it, you won’t be able to accomplish much at all.) What do we do that donors are less enthused about, and is there a different way to position that to build excitement?
  2. What is good about our current fundraising? What are donors responding to? What do donors mention when we talk to them? What fills an important need (e.g., acquisition)?
  3. Where are our biggest “holes”? Is our list size declining? Has the average gift declined? Are our direct response donors giving only one or two gifts a year? Do we rely too much on a few donors to achieve our income goals?

Only now are you ready to ask, “How much do we need to raise and why?” Is that number based on program strategies and visionary goals, or is it simply based on “what we did before” without really thinking about what you can accomplish with a strategy for success?

Planning is the hard work of fundraising, but when it results in a strategy for fundraising success that is based on current realities and not simply pipedreams, you are positioned to have a real impact as a fundraiser, whether you are involved in major donor cultivation, direct response, or any other method in our fundraising toolbox.