Where to Get the Information to Create Your Development Plan

development plan Feb 23, 2021

Sometimes getting all the information you need to plan is the hardest part of the process. People who have never been involved in development might not understand why this information is important. Or, they might be protecting their turf. Or they are too busy to worry about “that fundraising stuff.” After all, that’s the job of the development department or person. So, put on your sleuthing gear, you’re about to uncover the facts, and maybe even solve some mysteries along the way.

Let’s be real. Most staff, board members, and volunteers find the planning process to be grueling. You’ll need to make it fun and enjoyable. Go to your interviews or meetings with a blank sheet of paper. Help the contributor feel important and that the information shared is critical to putting a solid plan together. Give them a reward and don’t forget to thank them!

Figure out what will make the meeting or interview fun and productive. It could be food or “toys,” but seriously, do your homework early and don’t waste their time or yours. The list below should help you get ready.

  • Prepare your questions.
  • Be sincere.
  • Take notes.
  • Explain why you need their help.
  • Teach about development but don’t talk down to them.
  • Listen intently.
  • Ask questions.
  • Thank them – just like you would donors.

After each meeting or interview go back over your notes and begin to pull out common threads. List them on your white board so you can see them every day and reflect on how they can fit into your plan.

In another article, we’ve talked about the people who are critical to developing your plan. That same group is where you must go to get the information you’ll need. But what you ask them will be different.

Chief Development Officer

You will uncover some information on your own. Look at the trends in donor giving that are in your database. When you speak with donors what are they saying about your organization or giving in general? What makes your organization unique and why is it needed in the community?

Other Development Staff

This staff is also speaking with donors or reading their mail. Ask them for the words that describe what donors are saying. Find out what they cannot get done and why. What do they need to do their jobs better? What one action can they take that would add donors, increase revenue, or decrease expenses?

Non-Development Staff

The CEO will provide a direction for the future. This is key to your plan and will help you focus on what you need to do now to be prepared to embrace that vision. What major changes will take place in the organization in the future? Is there new technology available that will drastically change the way your organization is currently doing business? Are new programs being added? Are old ones being dropped? Are there facility needs which might require a capital campaign or more major gift fundraising? The CEO has a handle on the heartbeat of the organization and will speak to the future. And how well does the CEO understand the importance of the head of the organization’s role in fundraising?

The CFO will provide information about the bottom line. What major expenses are looming and may be funded by individuals or foundations? How does the CFO look at the numbers? Your numbers? CFOs sometimes want to cut expenses and your development office is probably expensive. But the CFO should understand that it takes money to raise money. Remember the CFO is going to take a hard look at the budget that accompanies your plan.

Program staff also deals with donors and potential donors. And the program staff has great stories about clients who have been helped. They will probably also be eager to tell you about unmet needs they would love to have funded.


Although the board will have limited input into your development plan, the chair of the board can help with answering questions about what lies ahead and what needs to be done immediately. What suggestions have board members been bringing up for fundraising programs and activities?  The chair will also need to buy into your plan since it becomes part of the organization’s strategic plan. You’ll want to seek out the chair’s hot buttons and determine if they are part of your plan.  You also need to get a good understanding of the board’s perception of fundraising. Is it something they embrace, run away from, or just don’t understand?

Development Committee 

The development committee can be a great source of information and support for the development department. Hopefully you can get the committee focused on one activity it can own and be proud of. This activity could be something you have been trying to do but had neither the staff nor the time to accomplish. This focus could be a win/win for everyone. Maybe the committee members can initiate a new fundraising program – getting it started may be extremely helpful. In asking what they see as trends and needs for the organization, help them get focused on the big picture.

Other Volunteers

Volunteers are a great resource and can tell more about what is being said in backyards than you are hearing directly from donors. Ask them what they are hearing. What do they like about the way they are asked to donate by other nonprofits? What information do they want from you? Do they understand what you’re accomplishing in the development department? Are they willing to take on fundraising roles?


Consultants can be a tremendous help when you want to benchmark. They can tell you if you are par for the course, way off the charts in a good way, or in need of serious revamping. Questions to ask them would be: What are the trends? How do we compare? What issues lie ahead? They can also help with what/if examples. Listen carefully to their suggestions before you put your plan together.

To learn more about getting the information you need for your development plan, take my course, Create a Development Plan That Works. Sign up here

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