Does Your Nonprofit Need a Development Plan?

Scenario 1:
How many times has a well-meaning board member or volunteer come to one of your board meetings and offered this sage advice—“We should do a (golf tournament, gala dinner dance, art auction, walkathon, etc., etc.) because (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the Hospital, etc., etc.) did one and raised $100,000?” Before the meetings ends, the whole board or committee is caught up in “event fever” and has the invitations designed, the flowers ordered, and the T-shirt sponsors listed. And there you are, the new development officer, trying to meet grant deadlines, straighten out the donor database that is a mess, and organize the other events that your organization is currently conducting. So what do you do when the board is bitten by the “event bug?”  

Scenario 2:
Another fatal mistake that organizations make is relying solely on a grant writer to raise all the money it needs for programs and operations. Given the fact that foundation grants only account for approximately 12 to 14 percent of all philanthropic giving in the United States, this approach seems equally as foolhardy as depending mainly on events to raise money for the organization. While both grants and events are important parts of a well-rounded development program, they should not be the only methods of fundraising used by nonprofits. So how does one handle these board suggestions, or (in some cases) mandates?

The Answer:
Often boards and volunteers do not realize that events and grant research can be costly, not only in terms of hard costs, but in “opportunity costs.” In other words, what activities must you give up in order to focus your limited time on this proposed new activity? Your first reaction to the board or development committee that suggests either of these approaches should be, “Well, let’s pull out our development plan and see if this event/grant is part of our plan; if not, what other activities must we drop in order to concentrate on this event/grant?” However, many organizations do not have a development plan to reference. If your organization is one of those, this is one good reason why you should have a development plan.

Organizations that have a development plan complete with timelines, areas of responsibility and budgets, will be more successful at keeping the staff, board and volunteers focused on the activities that are most cost effective and produce the best results.

Getting Started with the Plan
The development plan should start with an analysis of current development activities. Some questions to ask:

  1. What has been the history of this activity; have results increased or decreased over the years?

  2. What are the costs of this event, both hard costs, staff time, and opportunity costs?

  3. Do we have the human resources to manage this activity?

  4. Do we have the technology needed to manage this activity?

  5. What are the subsidiary benefits of this activity, i.e., if the activity is a cultivation or awareness raising events, should we continue the activity even if it does not raise money?

  6. How do current trends affect this activity?

  7. Are there ways we can increase the effectiveness of this activity?

    Once the current activities have been analyzed, a decision should be made to keep them status quo, focus more time and energy on them, or drop them.

    Who Needs to Be Involved in the Planning Process?
    The plan will not be implemented unless all the individuals and groups who will be involved in the implementation are also involved in the planning process. The chief development officer generally has the primary responsibility for developing the plan, but board members and other volunteers, especially the development committee, should be involved in the goal setting stage at a minimum. Other staff, including the executive director, program staff and the CFO should provide input as well.

    What Should the Development Plan Include?
    The next step is putting together a written development plan. The plan should include methods for diversifying the organization’s funding streams. Some types of fundraising that are typically included in the plan are:

  1. Public relations and awareness building activities, including the organization’s website

  2. Direct mail

  3. Internet fundraising

  4. Telephone fundraising

  5. Grants

  6. Special events

  7. Corporate fundraising

  8. Major individual gifts

  9. Planned giving

    Another important aspect of the plan is building a strong infrastructure to facilitate fundraising, i.e. donor software, gift policies and procedures, staffing, the case for support, etc. Organizations new to development may have a plan that focuses almost exclusively on building up the organization's infrastructure.

    The plan should also focus on approaching various constituencies of the organization including board, staff, and clients (users of the organization's services and their families) specific targeted constituencies for the individual organization (for example, the medical staff of a hospital or health care institution).

    A solid development plan lists detailed goals for each activity. Goals do not always have to be monetary ones. For example, a goal might be to raise constituent participation by 5 percent this year, increase the size of the development committee by four people, to personally visit three major donors each month. Without specific goals, it will be impossible to measure success of the plan next year.

    A development plan also helps the development office justify its budget, provides measurement tools to be used in performance appraisals and provides donors with a sense of confidence in the organization. So, is there any reason your organization does not need a development plan?

    Watch for my new book: CharityChannel’s Quick Guide to Creating Your Case for Support to be released soon. Check for my other books available.

Stewarding Business Donors

I seem to recall a national politician getting into trouble a few years ago for saying “corporations are people too,” but let’s face it, businesses and corporations are run by people. Yes, they are separate entities, taxable in different ways from how individuals are taxed. Yes, they sometimes appear to be motivated only by profits. I’ve found, however, that most businesses are run by people who care about their communities, want to be good corporate citizens, and are motivated by far more than “what’s in it for me.”

When I was writing Raise More Money from Your Business Community, I recall one of the people I polled for advice on corporate philanthropy saying, “There ain’t no such thing.”

I guess I am the eternal optimist, and I do believe in corporate philanthropy. And I firmly believe that the more we treat business donors similar to the way we treat individual donors, the more successful we will be. This starts with providing good stewardship—the last step in the first gift, and the first step in the next gift. So I guess you could think about this chapter as the end or the beginning.

What Is Stewardship?

The word stewardship has been used in various ways in different contexts, but let’s look at the literal definition of the word, steward. Merriam Webster defines a steward as:

  • one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts);

  • a fiscal agent;

  • an employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food [and drink] and attends passengers.

Each of these definitions has some correlation to what nonprofits typically describe as stewardship.

The Role of “Servant”

While most of us don’t have “servants,” we sometimes think of ourselves as serving our donors. And while no one should expect you to give in to unreasonable demands of donors, you do need to put the donor’s interests above your own—and even above those of your organization.

The Role of Fiscal Agent

Collection of accounts is a task we call pledge fulfillment, recording, and reporting. This is a critical part of stewardship. We need to keep accurate records of our donations—corporate and otherwise. We also need to remind donors when pledge payments are due.

Stewards are often called to be “fiscal agents,” ensuring that money is used wisely, in conformity of how the donor’s requested, and adhering to legal and ethical standards. You may not think of something as simple as letting a corporate sponsor know that of the $1,000 it paid to sponsor a foursome in your golf tournament, only $400 is tax deductible, because the fair market value of four rounds of golf and the meal included is $600, as a stewardship activity. But, in reality, this is part of stewardship—being accurate with reporting of gifts and recording only the tax-deductible part of sponsorship activities, dinners, purchase prices of auction items, etc., as donations.

You are also a responsible steward if you send thank-you letters and tax receipts out on a timely basis and in an accurate manner.

What Do Fundraisers and Flight Attendants Have in Common?

Even the last part of the dictionary definition is sometimes accurate. Feeding and providing beverages for our donors is often a way we can thank them for their support.

You might take corporate leaders individually to lunch periodically to thank them for their support and let them know how their gifts were used. Or you might have a recognition event, providing a meal or refreshments to donors at a predetermined level.

All of these are ways to steward your donors.

So, How Do You Thank a Corporation?

Well, you obviously can’t thank an impersonal entity the same way you would thank an individual donor. Or. . . can you?

Remember, corporations are made up of people—executive management, boards of directors, employees, and perhaps a corporate contributions committee. So whom do you thank? As many individual and groups as is appropriate. If a member of the board of a corporation was instrumental in securing the gift, thank that board member directly for the role played in making the gift happen. If a corporate a corporate contributions committee or manager was involved, thank that person or group as well. The CEO usually has a say in the gift-making decision, so always thank that person. It might be hard to thank every employee, but if the company puts out an employee newsletter, ask if it can put your thank-you note in the newsletter to show employees they work for a socially responsible company.

How Do I Thank Thee. . .? Let Me Count the Ways!

Ways to thank corporations are as many as the ways to thank any donor. You might consider some of the following:

  • A formal thank-you letter to the CEO

  • A handwritten note to the person, or group, most instrumental in securing the gift

  • A listing in your newsletter, website, or annual report

  • Advertising or media releases to local media

  • Plaques or mementos that can be placed in the company’s lobby or CEO’s office

  • Recognition on a plaque in your lobby or on a room designated by the donor

  • Other ideas limited only by your imagination.

Let’s create a stewardship plan for your corporate/business donors.

Buy Raise More Money from Your Business Community and Raise More Money from Your Business Community—The Workbook at

Making the Ask to a Business Leader

As we mentioned in the previous blogs, you will likely have a limited amount of time, so get to the point quickly without too much chitchat. Although it is usually wise to spend a bit of time commenting on the company’s success, the business leader’s accomplishments, or general community topics.

Be sure to thank business leaders if their companies have supported you in the past. If not, you can thank them for support their companies have provided for the community.

You’ve rehearsed and know already who is going to make the ask, and you might even have worked out some internal signals, such as “when I cross my legs, the prospect is ready for the ask.”

Be direct about the amount you are asking for. After all, you’ve done your homework and you know this amount is a reasonable ask amount for this company. The volunteer might say “Joe, our company is committed to this project, and we’ve made a $100,000 gift to show the community how strongly we feel about this program. I am hoping you will join us and also make a $100,000 from XYZ company.”

Offer Options

Before you go into the call, one of the things your solicitors should be aware of is the various options for support listed in your case for support, such as the following:

  • An outright gift or grant

  • A pledge to be paid monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or annually

  • Gifts-in-kind

  • Employee volunteer programs

  • Sponsorship of a program

You should also explain the options for recognition, which could include the following:

  • The company’s name on a building, room, or area of a campus

  • Listing in annual reports, website, and/or newsletter

  • Advertising or press releases

  • Signage at events or programs

  • Plaques or other mementos

Be sure, of course, that these recognition items have been approved by your staff and board before offering any options to the company. If the business leader expresses an interest in a type of recognition you do not currently offer, be sure to mention that you are happy to take this idea back to your organization and see if it will work.

Following Up

After the call is over, you still have one more task: Follow up! If the leader you are speaking with asks for more information, get that information as soon as possible. If there is another appointment to be scheduled, do it before you leave the leader’s office. Be certain that volunteers are aware of follow-up and reporting procedures.

Debrief with the ask team right away. Maybe have coffee after the visit and fill out the contact report form right away. The information can then be entered into your database as soon as you get back. For a sample contact from, see Raise More Money from Your Business Community—the Workbook.

You can purchase your copy of Raise More Money from Your Business Community and Raise More Money from Your Business Community—The Workbook. Buy the books here: