Case Study: How One Non-Profit Turned Their Fundraising Around Through Better Planning

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a mid-sized non-profit that was struggling mightily to raise money. The organization had been around for several years, and like many non-profits in the post-startup phase, had gotten big enough to be adding staff and services for clients, but was still small enough that there was no full-time development director.

When I sat down with the Executive Director and Board Chairwoman, it was clear that this organization had big plans, but no clue how to raise the revenue to get there. This fact was clear from their answer to the first question I asked…

Me: “Can I see your fundraising plan?”

Them: “We need to raise $550,000 this year.”

Me: “Can I see the written plan for how you plan to do that?”

Them: “We don’t have one.”

Instead of a written (or even an “in our head only”) fundraising plan, this non-profit simply jumped at every fundraising opportunity that came across their desks.

Story in the paper about a similar organization getting a grant? Let’s drop everything and spend the rest of the week writing a grant proposal for that same foundation!

Board member has an idea for a new fundraising event? Great! Let’s hold it next month. I’ll get an invitation list together today.

Executive Director realizes the organization hasn’t sent out a fundraising letter yet this year? Let’s send one out on Friday!

The non-profit had spent two years operating this way… jumping from task to task, idea to idea, raising money in bits and pieces here and there. Thus far, they had managed to stay afloat, but had not been able to break away from living hand to mouth, fundraising receipt to fundraising receipt.

A Common Problem

This is no way to run a successful non-profit, yet it is a very common problem I see at small and mid-sized organizations. Far too many otherwise strong charities are running without a written fundraising plan. (For more information on why you need a written fundraising plan, read How to Write a Successful Fundraising Plan).

When I ask why, they generally tell me that it is because developing a fundraising plan would take too much time… or that they would need to spend a ton of money bringing in a consultant to write the plan for them.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Developing a written fundraising plan need not be onerous or costly. In fact, your non-profit can follow the same path I took with the organization mentioned above. Here’s how we went about developing a solid, written fundraising plan to guide their development efforts over the following year:

1. Gather the Stakeholders

First, we gathered all of the key stakeholders at the non-profit across several different meetings, including board members, key donors, staff, and other supporters. At these meetings, we discussed where the organization was headed, what types of fundraising these supporters would be willing to help us do, and where these folks saw opportunities for further growth in our efforts.

2. Develop a Budget

Second, I asked the organization to develop a budget for the coming year. Shockingly, this non-profit was operating without a budget – they had no financial plan together for how money was to be spent the coming year. I told them that it is impossible to develop a fundraising plan without knowing how much you need to raise, and it is impossible to know how much you need to raise without knowing how much you need to spend the coming year.

The organization developed a budget for what they wanted to spend on programs and overhead, and we used that as a guide for how much we needed to raise.

3. Review Past Fundraising Efforts

Third, the staff and I took a close look at the organization’s past fundraising efforts. They had some huge financial successes, and a couple of big blunders. What had worked in the past? What didn’t work? What could have worked if it had been done a little differently?

4. Develop a Fundraising Calendar

Next, we pulled all of the strategies and tactics we wanted to incorporate into the coming year’s fundraising efforts and developed a fundraising calendar that listed what we were going to do, when we were going to do it, and who was going to be responsible for making each task happen. We also listed revenue and expense goals for each fundraising tactic.

Due to the limited resources at this organization, we decided to use this fundraising calendar as the “meat” of our fundraising plan, rather than writing out a 45 page narrative.

5. Get Buy-In

Once the plan was completed, the final step was to get buy-in from everyone who had a stake in its success.

First, we held a meeting with the staff (including the program staff) to explain the plan and what we needed from each staff member. Then, we met presented the plan at a board meeting and had the board vote to officially approve the plan. Finally, we took the plan back to the donors we consulted in step 1 and showed them the finished product and asked them to get on board and help us expand our fundraising network.

Ultimately, the plan was a huge success. The organization, which had been shifting aimlessly from tactic to tactic in years past instead followed the plan, and by year two had become so successful that they were able to hire a full time development director as well as attract several major multi-year gifts through the tactics laid out in the fundraising plan we developed.

Photo credit: StarGardener