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Do you have a fundraising plan for 2024? It’s not too late to make one—and it’s critically important. Here’s a crash course.

The economy hasn’t gotten much better and the importance of a plan hasn’t waned. As you head into 2024, here’s a refresher—from last year—on putting together a plan for the year ahead.

2023 promises to be a difficult year for fundraisers. Raising money is always a hard job—and in a tough economy, that job gets even harder.

The most important way to be successful in fundraising is to have a strategic plan. When times are good and when times are bad, development plans help organizations grow and hit their goals.

And the first rule about development plans is that they should be based in reality. That’s why a fully-fledged, multi-year development plan begins with a comprehensive assessment of your current fundraising practices. It’s hard to get from A to B if you don’t know where you’re starting from!

You also need to take account of the world around you. Basing your plan in reality requires a serious assessment of your context—which is why the uncertain economy is an important factor. How will inflation affect your expenses, and therefore your fundraising needs? How will it affect your fundraising opportunity and goals? As Chris Kuetemeyer pointed out in our “Fundraising When Times Are Bad” series, donors don’t stop giving when the economy is bad—but they may stop giving to their fourth or fifth favorite nonprofit. So your task this year—as ever, but perhaps with increased pressure in 2023—is to make sure you’re in your donors’ top three favorite organizations.

Let’s look at high priorities for putting together your 2023 development plan to make sure you can stay close to your donors and hit your goals.

WHERE ARE YOU NOW

As the last few gifts trickle in and you close the books on 2022, it’s time to take stock of where you are. Ideally, you are operating with a multi-year development plan to help you track growth over time. If not, it’s still important to see how things went last year to set your goals for this year.

The first question, of course, is topline revenue: how much money did you raise last year? How much growth does that represent over 2021? Did you meet or exceed your goal?

Next, look at what went into making up that revenue by looking at your donor base:

  • How many donors did you have in 2022?
  • How many donors were renewed, and what was your one-year retention rate?
  • How many new donors did you acquire in 2022?
  • How many donors did you reactivate in 2022?
  • How many major donors (or donor club donors) do you have?

You can—and should—dig into your donor base in a little more detail with a gifts table. Break out your entire 2022 donor base by giving level to see how many donors you had at each level. (The specific levels will vary based on the size of the size of the organization.) This will help you determine whether or not this year’s goal is realistic: create a gifts table for 2023 and determine if the change is reasonable or not. If it’s reasonable, what kinds of things do you need to do to realize it?

After looking at the composition of your donor base, you can understand it more by looking at various revenue streams. How much money are you raising in these broad buckets?

  • Direct Response
  • Major Individual Donors
  • Foundations
  • Digital

Now, review your messaging. How strong is your pitch, and how well does everyone know the pitch? Should you revisit your elevator pitch or your value proposition? Do you know what sets you apart and why a donor should support you right now? Do you have collateral to accompany that pitch and assist fundraisers in meetings? What are your priority fundraising areas this year, and why? Can your fundraisers pitch those priority areas?

Money follows mission in the development world, which means that articulating your mission clearly and compellingly us of utmost importance. How can you stay in your donors’ top three organizations? By making a strong case why you should be there.

Finally, review your fundraising activities. How many foundation LOIs and proposals did you send in 2022? How many mailings or newsletters or reports did you send (and were they on time)? Did you send any postcards or other mailings? What donor acquisition efforts did you undertake? How many major donor meetings did you have? Was your donor thank-you process well executed? How many events did you host?

HOW WILL YOU GET THERE

When you put together your comprehensive strategic development plan, you’ll want to spend more time on what “there” is. But for your 2023 plan, hopefully you know what you need to raise this year.

Once you’ve reviewed your donor base, your messaging, and your fundraising activities, you can start putting together the pieces for this year.

First of all, determine whether you need to improve your messaging, and take steps to do that. And make sure your fundraisers are equipped with the collateral and tools they need to communicate the organizations mission and priorities well.

Next, build out the 2023 gifts table. What does your donor base need to look like in 2023 to hit your goals? Is that realistic?

The single most important thing for success in 2023 is going to be individual donor plans. Every major donor at your organization should be assigned to a caseload and should have a written plan. That plan may not be extremely detailed for every donor, but basic goals and dates should be in place—but the top donors on every caseload should have a detailed, multi-step, written plan in place.

Do you know how much you are asking each donor on your caseload for, and when you plan to make the ask, and what you’ll do to communicate with them ahead of time? Those are important steps to hitting revenue goals! And will your caseload predictions fund the major gifts goal you have for 2023? If not, you need to make adjustments somewhere. (And if you don’t know, you should find out!)

In addition to preparing plans for major donors, every donor at your organization should have a detailed, written plan—but for the majority of those donors, that plan is your direct mail calendar.

At the beginning of the year, you need to prepare a direct response calendar for the entire year. Your review of 2022 should tell you how direct response performed last year: how much money did you raise? How many new donors did you bring in? What mailings performed better and worse?

Karen Garven’s recent article explains why an integrated calendar is so important for your organization. Another value that these planning tools provide—especially in 2023—is that they save on opportunity cost. Here’s what I mean: if it’s extra important in 2023 to stay in close contact with your donors through this rocky year, you don’t want to be caught up making last-minute mail or messaging decisions in October. That’s an important time to be calling donors, sending handwritten notes, scheduling end-of-year meetings. Every moment spent deliberating about things you could have answered ahead of time is a moment not spent talking with donors.

Finally, the last set of donors to make a plan for is your foundations. First, build out a grants calendar (you can include this on your integrated calendar!) that notes key deadlines, report due dates, and application dates. Use this not only to stay ahead of the curve on preparing reports and new proposals, but also as a reminder to check in with your point-of-contact at foundations throughout the year. They don’t need extensive communication all the time, but it’s a great cultivation tool to send timely updates to let them know how their grant—or whatever program they are interested in—is doing this year.

Remember: foundations are people, too, and people don’t like to be treated like ATMs. Your foundation donors may feel different than individuals, but at the end of the day, they should be cultivated and treated like individuals. Let them know how things are going with your organization that they are funding.

Your grants calendar should give you a glance at how much foundations revenue you’re expecting this year, which will help see if—and how—you should increase activity. Did you send enough LOIs and proposals last year? Can you send more LOIs to bring in new foundation revenue? That may be a key part of hitting your revenue goal in 2023.

GETTING IT ALL DONE

That’s a lot to do to build a fundraising plan for 2023! It’s not an easy task, to be sure, but putting in the hard work at the front end is the key to hitting your goals any year, but especially in a rocky economy.

But you should also consider who all to involve in this process. If your organization has more than just you in fundraising, then all the steps above should include others in your department. Make sure the database administrator helps with getting the numbers right, and the direct mail coordinators take a lead on the direct plan planning. Have the major gift officers set goals and plans for their caseloads, and the foundations fundraiser take a lead on reporting 2022 performance and setting 2023 plans and goals.

Good luck and happy planning!


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