DickersonBakker Blog

What’s Holding your Fundraising Back? Issue #3: Lack of Planning

As I reflect upon my first board meeting as a brand new Executive Director of Development, less than a month into my role, I remember feeling eager to share my ideas with the Development and Advancement Committee.  I was confident about my slides and  content, and I was excited to share how I was going to advance the major gifts team. If I’m being honest, the truth is that I wanted to impress everyone in the room. I had not made it through the first slide in my presentation when our largest lifetime donor stopped me and asked, “do you have $20MM in your pipeline?” 


I began to sweat. I had no idea how to answer his question. I went from feeling eager, confident, and excited to embarrassed, unsure, and unprepared in a split second.  I realized that no matter what my ideas were about growing our program, I needed to have a strong foundation to succeed – a strategic plan. Like many nonprofits, our organization was in a good place with processes and procedures regarding fundraising, but we lacked a plan for how to achieve our goals. 

At DickersonBakker, we’ve worked with nonprofits for almost four decades, and we’ve identified the ten most common obstacles that hold organizations back from achieving their full fundraising potential. Lack of planning is one of them. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of planning and offer practical tips to help your organization build a strategic plan for success.

Issue #3: Lack of Planning

If you want to succeed in fundraising, you need a solid plan. Here are four tips to help you create one:

  • Be an EXPERT in your portfolio-Know your donor portfolio and create a strategy for each person. Understand why they give to your organization and their areas of interest. Qualify, cultivate, solicit, and steward your donors, and communicate with them regularly. Review your portfolio annually to ensure you have the right individuals in it. Establish a process for placing donors in your portfolio to set yourself up for success.
  • Create a FORECAST-Create a forecast by estimating when and how much to ask from each donor in your portfolio, including their annual fund ask. Use a simple spreadsheet with columns for each year and total the major gift and annual fund columns. Remember that a forecast is just an estimate and can change. Encourage your gift officers to be active in their portfolio and develop a strategic plan to meet their fundraising goals.
  •  Know what you can PRODUCE-Determine the value of your portfolio and set fundraising goals for gift officers based on that value. Assess if your portfolio can generate enough funds for your goals. Rebalance your portfolios if necessary to ensure you have the right donors to raise the funds needed for your initiatives.
  • Clarify your INITIATIVES and be able to articulate them clearly-Clearly articulate your organization’s initiatives for the year and identify donors in your portfolio who align with those initiatives. Use various communication methods to inform donors of these initiatives, such as in-person, Zoom, phone, email, or text. Make sure you are aware of your organization’s priorities and can provide a concise overview of them, including why they matter, why now, and what impact they will have. These details can help inspire gifts and uncover new passions among your donors. Remember to balance fundraising for the annual fund with securing major gifts to support your organization’s key initiatives.

If you want to have a successful fundraising operation, you need to have a strategic plan. Start by creating a solid foundation that will set you up for success and build up from there. Knowing your donor base will allow you to build the right portfolios. It does take planning and effort but that is what sets you and your team up for success. Fundraising is a full time job and  you have to have a strategic plan that guides you on the path toward achieving your goals each year. Make a plan, work the plan!

Ready to fast forward? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization create and execute a strategic fundraising plan.

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