Why We Are All Hypocrites About Fundraising Plans

A close up shot of a black locomotive speeding down the tracks

“It’s like you have been in our office!”

We hear this every once in a while from new clients. It usually happens near the end of summer when we’re helping them create their year-end fundraising plan.

We make a plan and everyone is excited. Then we say to them, “This is great. But now let’s talk about what could derail the plan.” Here’s the list:

  • A board member or program staff is going to object to the way a letter is written. At the last minute. Multiple times.
  • Someone will get excited about a new opportunity. They’ll want you to drop what you’re doing and do their (untested, unproven) thing.
  • You won’t actually start early enough. Things will take longer than you expect or (more likely) there are some parts of the job that you don’t like as much as others.
  • Someone will run late. Your website doesn’t get updated or you don’t get the info you need when you need it.
  • You’ll simply run out of time, unable to get everything done because there’s too much on your plate.

It happens to everyone. We all say we want a great plan. But then we don’t actually follow the plan and it never gets completed.

It happens to us, too. As I write this, we’re about to launch an online store with products like a tested year-end fundraising calendar proven to raise the most money. The plan was to launch a month ago!

Because we know your reality, we’re not going to give you trite advice like, “Have a plan and work your plan.” You know that already.

What you (and I) really need is practical advice on how to do our best fall and year-end fundraising when you know there are going to be a ton of distractions.

Here are the three things that have helped our clients. They aren’t “tips” or “weird tricks” — think of them as accumulated wisdom from the fundraisers that have gone before us:

1. Know how much money is at stake, and what percentage it is of your income.

In a word, this is the “why” your plan exists. You need to be able to say to someone, “We have a plan to raise $3.2 million before December 31st. That’s 40% of our total revenue.” Sharing the big picture quickly — and how important it is for your organization — is a very effective way to get things done. You’ll love how people will say, “Oh, you’re right, we can try my new idea in February.” Or, “That’s right, I’ll get that to you right away.” But if it’s just business as usual, we’re busy because that’s the way it always is, say, “bye-bye” to your plan.

2. Prioritize your priorities.

In addition to knowing how much money you expect to raise, know how much you expect to raise through your major donors, your mail, your email, your website, Giving Tuesday, etc. Then prioritize your time and attention on the actions that bring in the most money. That way when something comes up (which it will) or you run out of time (which you will), you can make a smart choice about what not to do. We’ve watched organizations focus on an email that will bring in $15k but neglect following up with a major donor who always gave them $50k. These types of things happen all the time — but not as much when you and your team have a list, on your desk, of which efforts produce the most revenue for your organization.

3. Publish your plan.

By this we mean, make your plan public. Post it on your door. Show the board at your October meeting. Talk about it in your first November staff meeting. Tell people what you’re working on and what’s at stake. They will be far more likely to be helpful in November and December when they know that there’s a really good reason why you’re so busy!

So, you still need to make a great plan. But use these three practical ideas to help you stick as closely to your plan as you can during the most important (and distraction filled) time of the year!

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