The Fundraising Executive

STRATEGIC PLAN FOR FUND DEVELOPMENT—PART ONE: From the Big Ideals to the Nitty-gritty Details

By Eddie Thompson | May 16, 2017 | Development Management

I frequently speak at nonprofit leadership conferences on various topics, including charitable estate planning, fund-development strategy, and best practices of the most successful institutions. Over the last two years, I’ve been asking organizational leaders privately and publically if they have a strategic plan specifically for the fund development aspect of their organization. At a recent conference, I put that question to over 700 fundraisers. Only three raised their hand.

It’s always interesting hearing the ideas of those on the front lines of donor relations and fund development, particularly from those whose efforts are being driven by some kind of strategic plan for fund development. However, what I often discover is that the strategic plan for fund development is simply a list of fundraising goals for the coming year—dollars that need to be raised in annual gifts, major gifts, events, and capital campaigns.

The lack of response to this very informal survey and my follow-up conversations seem to beg two questions: 1) Is a list of fundraising goals the same as a strategic plan for fund development and 2) what difference does it make?

Fundraising objectives (dollars we need to raise) and fundraising tactics (how we’re going to do it) are essential parts of the process. It’s hard to imagine a nonprofit without those planning elements. However, that’s not exactly a strategic plan for fund development, which involves some detailed thinking about the bigger picture. As I began to explain in the previous post on “IDEAL” LEADERSHIP, beginning with the end in mind means moving forward with a clearly defined picture of what the overall fund-development process would look like in the ideal expression of your organization. Many would refer to that big picture as your “vision for fund development.”

Beginning with the end in mind means moving forward with a clearly defined picture of what the overall fund-development process would look like in the ideal expression of your organization.

Definitions of terms within planning lingo are all over the board. Words like vision, mission, strategy, goals, tactics, etc. are often used interchangeably, which is to imply that they all mean the same thing. However, in classical planning, the words and functions are more clearly defined and distinguished.

Organizational structures and planning that emerged in the 20th century, post-war economic booms were firmly rooted and ground in military thinking and terminology. Concepts like doctrine, strategic planning, operational planning, tactical-response planning, were more precisely defined and commonly understood—at least on a leadership or command level.

I don’t want to belabor a point that’s already been made. I’ve previously posted three blogs on strategic planning and the fundraising application for varying types of gifts and donor objectives.


STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL GIVING – PART 2: Hans Brinker with His Finger in the Dike

STRATEGIC PLANNING — PART 3: Donor Doctrine as the Starting Point

Neither do I want to get hung up on terminology. It doesn’t matter how nonprofit leaders label elements of their planning process, it only matters how well they manage them and that their leadership team is on the same page.

Generally speaking, the planning process should always go from the big picture to the small details, from the ideal to the practical, from the general to the specific. Big picture planning on the front end is more philosophical, idealistic, and proactive. At the back end are the nitty-gritty objectives and functions that are often reactions to current needs or shortfalls.

Which gets me back to answering the two questions: 1) No—a list of fundraising goals is far from being a strategic plan for fund development; and 2), Yes—it can make a very big difference. Developing a strategic plan for the fund development aspect of the organization will be the topics of the next two or three articles. So, first things first.

What we do as an organization is a function of what we believe. Doctrine in strategic planning terminology is a statement or statements about the organization’s fundamental beliefs or assumptions.

Political and military examples: The Monroe Doctrine, Truman Doctrine, the Doctrine of Unilateral Preemptive Action, and most notably the cold war doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The doctrine (or fundamental beliefs) of the American colonies begins with this statement:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Everything that followed in the Declaration of Independence flows from those beliefs.

Doctrinal statements from the nonprofit world:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes that every life has equal value, and works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.”

The Maclellan Foundation: The first order of business at every board meeting of the Maclellan Foundation is the reading of the donor intent letter from Dora Maclellan Brown who along with, Robert J. Maclellan and Robert L. Maclellan, established the foundation. The letter contains a statement of beliefs that have guided the foundation’s grant making for four generations.

Doctrine is a statement of fundamental beliefs of the organization. The “we believe” statement for an organization’s fund development might look something like this:

“We believe our donors are our partners, working together with the organization to make a positive impact on our world.”

If you would like to more clearly define your doctrine and vision for fund development, below are six additional “we believe” statements:

2. We believe that building lasting relationships with our financial and volunteer partners to be among the highest priorities of our fund development program.

3. We believe that our fundraising should be truly donor-centered, seeking always the donors’ best interests and to accomplish their philanthropic objectives.

4. We believe donors deserve the utmost respect. We will never think of donors as merely “giving units” in a database to be managed or manipulated.

5. We believe that gratitude should be the constant theme of our fund development program. We will never take donors’ contributions for granted as if they owed something to the organization or to the cause.

6. We believe it to be our duty to be honest and straightforward with donors about the successes and failures of our initiatives.

7. We believe organizational leaders and staff are stewards of a public trust, accountable to those donors for how we spend their contributions.

Fundraising goals for the coming year are a part of the fund development planning process but are a ways down stream from doctrine, strategy, and operational planning.

A strategic plan for fund development begins with the general ideal in mind—the organizational doctrine or “we believe” statements about fund raising and donor relationships. From there it flows through strategy, to operations, to tactics.

Fundraising goals for the coming year are a part of the fund development planning process but are a ways down stream from doctrine, strategy, and operational planning. Without the preceding elements of the strategic planning process, fundraising goals and procedures tend to be more reactionary than proactive.

I’d love to hear from some of you about the “we-believe” statements that drive the fund development planning process in your organizations.

NEXT MONTH: More on strategic and operational planning for your organization’s fund development program.

Eddie Thompson, Ed.D.
Founder and CEO, Thompson & Associates
Copyright 2017, R. Edward Thompson