• Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Your Development Plan—Where to Start

Updated: Aug 24, 2019



Where have you been? To go forward, we usually look back first. We call this a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. And, although many of us use this method when doing a strategic plan, it’s equally important in the development planning process.

Your development SWOT, however, will focus on areas specific to fundraising—i.e. strength of the board’s fundraising skills, enough development staff, good fundraising software, new funding opportunities, etc. The answers to these questions will begin to identify where you need to go.

  • Have you had a development plan before?

  • Did the plan include goals, objectives, strategies, and action steps?

  • Was it tied to your strategic plan?

  • Were all the right people involved in developing the plan?

  • Was it monitored for progress to goals?

  • What three things worked best, i.e. They did what they were supposed to do—raise money, make friends, increase awareness, cut expenses?

  • Why did they work?

  • What three things bombed?

  • Why?

  • What trends do you see in donor activity from your database reports?

  • What are your donors saying—in email, texting, on the phone, in writing?

  • What did you plan to do and didn’t get done?

  • Why?

  • What one thing happened last year that you are truly proud of?

To get the answers to these questions, there are several resources you can use. They include data reports, campaign reports, feedback from development, program, and finance staff, volunteers, donors, and visitors. Some of the information you surface will be factual while some of it will be intuitive. You need to hear both sides to get your arms around moving forward.

Organizations that know where they’ve been to make better decisions about the next steps they need to take to grow—otherwise history (the negative side of it) can repeat itself.

Your History

We’ve all heard that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it (the bad parts of history). It’s great to repeat the stuff that did work, of course.

  • Does your organization have a history of planning?

  • Are plans usually scrapped for a better idea?

  • Are plans sitting on a shelf gathering dust? (or in a computer file never opened?)

  • Does your organization allow taking risks in the development area?

  • Are those risks planned out?

  • Does your organizational culture allow for testing or do you just “get it out the door” as soon as possible?

  • Is your organization flexible?

  • Does your organization encourage new thinking?

The answers to the above questions will help you through the planning process. Think carefully about any obstacles you may have as you develop new ideas and want to try to out new fundraising methods.

Past Budgets

As part of your development plan, you will need to create a revenue and expense budget. Review the last three years of actual revenue and expenses to budgeted revenue and expenses. Net dollars may be on target, but line items may be out of whack. Double check these numbers and you will make the CFO very happy.

Events and Results

Events are labor intensive with hidden costs. As you review event results, jot down the hidden costs—staff and volunteer time. And don’t forget opportunity costs—how much time did staff spend running an event that could have been better utilized cultivating major donors? What if you did not have volunteers? How can you involve volunteers in future events? How are volunteers recruited and trained? Are your event attendees suffering from “donor fatigue” and cannot take one more walk, run, rubber ducky race, golf tournament, gala? Look deep into the events so you can plan the next one based on best practices. For a special event analysis tool, contact Linda@LindaLysakowski.com.

Fundraising Results

Here’s where a consultant can be most helpful. An audit of each fundraising appeal and your entire development program is extremely helpful in planning your future appeals and programs. Not only will you find trends in your database, but the audit will also highlight the good, the not so good, and really ugly decisions of the past. A consultant will walk you through the audit, give you bench marks, and let you know how you compare to industry standards.

A full-blown development audit will look at every aspect of your fundraising, from technology to human resources, to systems and methods used to how you are using metrics to measure success, from infrastructure to implementation.

There are also some tools you can use to help measure your own success. You can find the Leaky Bucket Assessment at www.bristolstrategygroup.com. And, for more information on an in-depth development audit, contact Linda@LindaLysakowski.com.

Board Involvement

Take a careful look at trends over several years. Board members come with different skills and talents – most often truly wanting to help. Too often, they shy away from fundraising—or clearly declare: No fundraising! Yet, all board training, books, and seminars point to the board needing to take responsibility. Examine how this has been dealt with in the past and see if you have any current cheerleaders who will help the board take this responsibility to heart.

Part of your plan might include a way to educate and train board members, nondevelopment staff, and volunteers to take away the fear of fundraising and help them focus on more efficient and effective ways to raise money.

Staff Involvement

What is the history of your development office? Has it always been understaffed? Has it been a revolving door? If so, there may be deeper underlying issues in the organization that need to be dealt with before development can be effective.

And what about the nondevelopment staff? Is the CEO willing to take responsibility for identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding donors? Do program staff members realize they also have a role in fundraising? Does the CFO understand budgeting for development? Remember that fundraising is everybody’s business.

Volunteer Involvement

Do you ask volunteers to help with fundraising? Have you talked with program and other volunteers about ways they can get involved with fundraising? Do you have a development committee?

To delve more deeply into creating your development plan get the book CharityChannel Quick Guide to Creating Your Development Plan. http://amzn.to/2yUwAO3. Take the four-lesson online course at

https://www.lindalysakowski.com/create-development-plan-that-works.