4 min read

Planning is essential for fundraising success, and a table of gifts is the most important tool in a fundraiser’s arsenal.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented situation. The only thing we know is that we don’t know what will happen next. Planning is always important, but even more important when we feel vulnerable. How can we possibly adjust our plans if we don’t have one to begin with? 

In the Great Recession of 2007-2009, many organizations were caught off guard and felt their only option was to trim their budget as much as possible. If you should be faced with funding cuts or donors stepping back for a period of time, your first instinct should not be to make budget adjustments. Rather, your first instinct should be to create or adjust your game plan. If you didn’t know before what your priorities and strategies were, take the time now to develop them.

Over time, you will need to monitor progress and make adjustments as things change, but you will have a roadmap to make sure you’re headed in the right direction even in the midst of uncertainty.

Start big picture and drill down

Your organizational vision and strategic plan should drive everything you do. Before you begin fundraising, you need to know what your three-year vision is. Ask yourself, “what will be different in my community, state, nation when we are successful in moving our mission forward?”

Take this chance to think big, to consider some aspirational outcomes that will really take your organization to the next level and inspire your supporters and partners.

This vision will give shape to your strategic plan, and the plan will outline how you will achieve that vision. It needs to be specific enough to provide milestones and keep you on track, but still flexible and dynamic, able to be adjusted as needed.

With an articulated vision and strategic growth plan in place, you can begin to build your development plan. The key question here is to think about how development will support the achievement of the aspirational, big ideas in your long-term vision. Start with the transformational goals needed for moving that vision forward and then work down to an increasingly granular level.

Gifts table: the core of your development plan

There are many pieces to a development plan, but the gifts table is your most powerful management tool. It is, bar none, the best way to plan how you will achieve your revenue goals and to make course corrections and adjustments throughout the year. It is a development professional’s best friend, the most valuable tool in your arsenal. (You can see a template of a gift table here.)

And as unprecedented times demand significant changes, its utility for smart fundraising is even more evident.

A table of gifts orients your fundraising efforts by helping you to see exactly what asks you need to make and gifts you need to close in order to execute on your goals. You can see, in one place, the fundraising hill you have to climb and whether your goals are realistic.

Often our programmatic eyes are bigger than our fundraising stomach, so to speak. The gifts table is a helpful tool for determining the feasibility of a fundraising effort. If leadership is setting aspirational goals that will require large revenue increases, a table of gifts allows you to project what that will mean in terms of both the number of gifts and prospects at all giving levels. You can see, in one place, whether you can realistically achieve their goals and begin mapping out the investments necessary to get there.

Pivoting for pandemic: your table of gifts today

When all is going according to plan, your table of gifts charts a course for you (or, you must chart the course, but it provides the guidelines and benchmarks). But once we enter pandemic, our course is no longer so clear.

Each of us can expect possible reductions in funding—but the question is, how can we respond to that possibility intelligently and strategically? A table of gifts will guide your response even in uncertain times precisely because it was guiding your activity before the pandemic.

All donors need a plan—period. The question is not whether donors have donor plans, but how extensive their plans are. Lower-dollar donors don’t have individualized plans, but they do fit within various segments that map out how they will be engaged, solicited, and stewarded. Your major donors, however, should have individual plans—and your major donors are the ones at the top of your gifts table.

As we begin to reflect upon and plan for reductions in funding, we need to review each of these plans: the individual ones at the top of our gifts table and the segmented plans for the lower levels of our gifts table. As we review, we adjust approach and then expectations. As we adjust expectations, we can make informed projections into revenue changes—we’ll then know whether we can reasonably expect to meet our goals or, if we won’t meet them, we can have an informed judgment as to how short we will be.

Informed revenue projections

We can then take these updated projections and adjust our programming and overall budgets accordingly. As Doug Schneider wrote in Philanthropy Daily just yesterday, cash flow changes are hard to predict, but having the right tools in place makes it much easier and much more accurate. And an organization can behave much more responsibly with informed judgments about contributions revenue fluctuating.

None of this is exactly easier—but it is easier to be accurate by leveraging donor plans and gifts tables than to be accurate by guessing. My favorite quote is by Carlos Castaneda.  He says, “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” 

You can continue to raise money without a plan, not knowing how you are going to reach your goals, not knowing if you even will reach them… or you can take a little bit of time now to put a plan in place and give yourself some control over something in this crazy world.

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