Fundraising without a clear-cut strategy is like setting off on an exciting road trip without a map. You might make it to your destination, but not without many wrong turns, distractions, and missed opportunities along the way.
Enter the nonprofit fundraising plan. This living document — part to-do list and part fundraising calendar — helps your team create the right goals and prioritize tasks.
Each plan is different, but many include one major organizational goal for the year (boost donations, expand programs, recruit volunteers, etc.), a fundraising budget, timeline, and specific activities and resources you’ll use to knock out your objectives. These elements help you steer clear of wishful thinking or fuzzy ideas (“Let’s try a text-to-give campaign sometime!”) and stay laser-focused on your mission.
Below, we’ll walk you through the steps to create a killer fundraising plan. Whether you’ve never created a fundraising plan before, or you need to hit refresh on an old strategy, this guide is for you. We’ve included three fundraising plan templates you can build on, but you can also create a document from scratch using these strategies.
How to create a successful fundraising plan in 4 steps
Fortunately, there are tons of nonprofit fundraising plan templates, calendars, and worksheets your team can use to get organized. Here are a few you can download for free:
- Fundraising Plan Template with Examples (CompassPoint)
- Sample Fundraising Plan Calendar (River Network and the Institute for Conservation Leadership)
Now, let’s dive into the planning process.
1. Look at last year’s finances and fundraising results
How accurate was last year’s budget? How many of last year’s expenses and revenue will carry over to this year? Were your most expensive fundraising campaigns the most successful?
Before you move forward with a new fundraising plan, you need to reflect on your past finances, fundraising activities, and results. This is your opportunity to get your board members in one room, draw out insights, and ultimately create a data-driven plan.
It should be fairly easy to find these answers using your nonprofit’s records and reports from the previous year. If you have fundraising software or customer relationship management (CRM) software, it will have lots of helpful metrics like new donors per campaign and average gift per donor. At a minimum, you need to take note of the following:
- Your total expenses last year: Make sure you include any administrative costs (e.g. rent, payroll, insurance), programming costs (e.g. educational, service, religious), fundraising costs (e.g. fundraising software, campaign materials, payment processing), and anything else.
- Your total revenue last year: This could include individual donations, ticket sales, merchandise sales, corporate matches, government grants, private grants, and so on.
Not only will this step help you make a starting budget and revenue goal for the upcoming year, but it will show you which strategies (and associated costs) are worth keeping, tweaking, or tossing.
For instance, let’s say your annual special event, a winter gala, costs $15,000 to host but only draws one or two major gifts. You could focus on increasing your major donor outreach, lowering the event cost through new sponsorships, or try switching events entirely.
2. Decide on one major impact goal
Now that you know your expected revenue and expenses — and key improvements on last’s year strategy — come up with one major impact goal. We don’t mean selling 800 tickets to your expert webinar or $3,000 of your newly designed merchandise, although those are great goals.
Think of your impact goal as the big finish line for the year — the broader accomplishment that all your smaller goals and fundraisers will make possible. It’s bold, exciting, and goes to the heart of your organization’s mission. For example, a youth sports program wants to expand to another at-risk community, or a voting advocacy group wants to triple its volunteer base.
Your objective could be centered on program expansion, revenue, current donor engagement, and so on. (Most fundraising plan templates focus on monetary goals, but you can edit or adjust the template as needed.) Above all, your impact needs to pass the SMART test:
- Specific: Your goal has a clear purpose and outcome, and you’ve identified steps to achieve it.
- Measurable: Your progress can be measured using quantitative metrics, like dollars or percentages.
- Achievable: Your goal is realistic for your nonprofit’s size, budget, available resources, and timeline.
- Relevant: Your goal is relevant to your nonprofit’s mission, vision, values, and beneficiaries.
- Time-bound: Your goal has a concrete deadline or timeframe that will provide motivation and help you prioritize.
All your activities need to move the needle on your impact goal. For instance, if a campaign boosts brand awareness but doesn’t attract donations, sponsorships, or volunteers for your impact goal, then it needs a second look.
3. Make a list of fundraising strategies
Next, you’ll take your impact goal and break it down into bite-sized goals and actionable strategies. This is one of the most time-consuming and research-intensive steps. So, make sure you pull in key team members and get feedback from different areas of your organization. Remember to review what you learned from past fundraising strategies in step one.
Let’s say your nonprofit’s impact goal is to serve 2 million meals to community members by next December. You know that $1 covers the cost of 10 meals, and one volunteer or staff member can serve roughly 50 meals each hour.
When you crunch the numbers, you realize you need to raise at least $200,000 this year and secure at least 40,000 volunteer hours. The next step is to brainstorm broad but effective strategies to support these goals. Here’s an example:
Fundraising goal: Raise at least $200,000 this year
- Strategy 1: Launch at least three major peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns this year and one virtual fundraiser each month.
- Strategy 2: Target longtime members of your donor base with a monthly giving campaign.
- Strategy 3: Create a business sponsorship program and focus on local franchises.
- Strategy 4: Support all major campaigns with Facebook ads and citywide media outreach.
- Strategy 5: Turn on the “add-a-donation” option for all online ticket purchases.
Need some inspiration? Look no further than our Nonprofit Strategies hub. We spotlight some of the most profitable fundraising campaigns on our platform and interview leaders to uncover their tips and tricks so you can duplicate their success.
4. Create action steps and assign roles
In this final step, it’s time to draw up your game plan and decide on your key tactics for raising money throughout the year. We're talking about the can't-miss fundraising events, powerful digital campaigns, and big donation pushes that nonprofit organizations are known for.
For each strategy you laid out in step three, you’ll write down the following:
- Campaign type (direct mail, telethon, phone bank, grant request)
- Name ideas
- Date or time of year
- Expected income
- Expected expenses
- Expected staff time needed
- Assigned staff member
- Volunteer time needed
- Marketing costs
- Other notes
Go into as much detail as you can. Doing this legwork now will save your staff many hours and headaches down the road.
Your fundraising plan template (or the document you made from scratch) should also have space for the quick, one-off items.
For instance, strategy five in the previous step involves flipping a switch in your fundraising software, but it’s a vital part of your plan!
There’s power in strategic planning
We hope this guide helped you understand how to approach the yearly planning process with confidence. A detailed fundraising plan is invaluable for any nonprofit. It forces your team to think critically about what matters most, whether it’s your impact goal for the next year or the budget for next month’s campaign.
When you’re ready to raise funds, get started with Givebutter for nonprofits. Our free fundraising platform lets you whip up donation pages, create exciting events, and launch online fundraising campaigns in seconds. When we say “free,” we mean it! There are no platform fees and we enable donors to pay your credit card fees, so you keep 100% of every cent you raise. See for yourself — click here to sign up.
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.