What Does the Development Plan Look Like?

development plan Feb 23, 2021

One thing to remember about your plan: it is more than a document! Both the process and the product are important – even more important is implementing the plan.

The plan should contain a narrative of your fundraising philosophy and the overall mission of the development department. The plan should start with an analysis of prior development efforts (assuming, of course, that your organization has done fundraising in the past.)  It should state the mission and vision of the organization, because the mission and vision should drive all development efforts. You should also include a SWOT Analysis of your development office and explain how the plan was developed to build on your strengths, overcome your weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities, and deal with threats.

The plan should then list the broad-based goals of the strategies and the objectives under each goal.

Goals and Objectives

Often, people confuse goals and objectives. Goals are broad based items, for example: Raise public awareness of our organization, develop a more effective board of directors, or increase alumni participation. Objectives, on the other hand are more specific, and should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented
  • Realistic (yet visionary)
  • Time defined

Examples of SMART Objectives:

  • To develop a website that is frequented by one-hundred potential donors each month, by December 20xx.
  • To increase the size of our board from nine to eighteen people, by 20xx, adding three people each year over the next three years.
  • To increase the percentage of alumni who contribute through the annual phonathon from 14 to 25 percent over the next two years.


Strategies are the “how” of meeting goals and objectives. Strategies are the methods you will employ. For example, some strategies for the objective of improving your website might include:

  • Researching other nonprofit websites and making a list of what you like and don’t like
  • Engaging a professional website developer
  • Talking to program, marketing, and development staff to develop a list of things you want on your website.

Action Steps

Each of the objectives should then have specific strategies or action steps to accomplish the stated objectives.  It is critical to address these three questions for each objective in the development plan:

  • Who is going to do it?
  • When will it be completed?
  • How much will it cost/how much will it raise?

All areas of development should be covered in the plan including various fundraising approaches, such as direct mail, grants, special events, telephone fundraising, personal solicitation. The plan should also address the various constituencies that will be approached, such as foundations, corporations, individuals—which may include alumni, parents, members, community members-- and organizations, such as churches, service clubs etc.

The development plan should also focus on the infrastructure that is needed to manage a development program—technology, communications, research and cultivation, stewardship, human resources, including board, staff and volunteers, policies and procedures.

Each goal and objective must have the strategies and actions steps to accomplish them as well as the timelines, areas of responsibility, and budget, which will be critical in the evaluation process.

In setting goals and objectives, be sure to think about the SMART objectives mentioned earlier. Each strategy must be specific enough to be able to identify exactly what the organization is going to do to achieve this goal and objective.  It must be measurable—you can determine if you have accomplished this step. For example, did you identify twenty potential development committee members by August 31?

The strategy must be action oriented, outlining a specific action that will be taken to achieve this objective. It must be realistic, yet visionary, not too easy to accomplish. Can you list twenty people who are logical prospective members of this committee and who you believe would likely agree to serve on the committee?  And, each step has a timeline to measure the organization's progress. The development planning document should be easy to follow, be referred to often, and be evaluated regularly.

To learn more about what your development plan should look like, take my course, Create a Development Plan That Works. Sign up here

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