• Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Who Creates and Implements the Development Plan

Updated: Aug 24, 2019

So, how does the busy development officer find time for planning and who will implement the plan once it’s done? By involving the right people in developing the plan and then implementing it, the development office can move forward in a timely manner and provide a framework for evaluating all their programs.

Many times, we hear development officers bemoan the fact that they’ve spent a lot of time and effort creating a development plan, but their boards and/or CEOs are not implementing it. To this complaint, my first question is always, “Well, how involved were they in creating the plan?” People work on what they helped create! It’s theirs; they own it!

Creating ownership of the plan is the key to successful implementation. Think about the best teachers you’ve had in your lifetime. Was it the ones who said, “do it this way?” Or the ones who involved you in the process and made you think about the best way to accomplish the task at hand. And what family hasn’t enjoyed a vacation more when all family members were involved in the planning. If you feel a little like Clark Griswold wondering why the family isn’t enjoying the vacation he so carefully planned, you probably didn’t involve the right people in developing your plan.

The “Who” is Critical

Typically, these are the people involved in the development planning process and implementing the plan:

  • Chief Development Officer

  • Other Development Staff

  • Non-Development Staff

  • Board

  • Development Committee

  • Other Volunteers

  • Consultants

Chief Development Officer

The chief development officer (CDO), in most cases, has the major responsibility for the development plan. The CDO establishes goals for the department including creating the development office budget. This person also develops the objectives and strategies to reach these goals, and usually assigns responsibilities to those who will implement the plan. The CDO is the person who will be held responsible for implementing the plan, evaluating the plan’s success, and adapting the plan as needed. The CDO will want to have a development plan to make the development job easier and to use in the annual performance evaluation.

Other Development Staff

In an office where there are additional development team members, they should be involved with the planning process, and will implement the various segments of the plan that pertain to their duties. Large development offices will often have different staff people responsible for areas such as planned giving, major gifts, annual fund, alumni relations, etc. It is important that these people are involved with establishing goals for their areas of the plan. It is also important to include support staff in the planning process. The development plan goals can suffer serious delays if there is not enough support staff and technology available to implement the strategies to meet these goals. Can your data management system support the plan?

Non-Development Staff

The chief executive officer (CEO) of the organization should be involved in setting the goals of the development office. The CEO’s role in implementing the plan, particularly the identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of major gift prospects, will be critical in the plan’s success. Therefore, the CEO must be willing to support the plan and to accept involvement in the process. The chief financial officer (CFO) might also be involved in the plan, particularly the budget for additional staff, technology, or other resources that will be needed to implement the plan. There may be other staff members’ involvement such as program people who may be consulted regarding their funding requests, facility managers that may have capital needs that will require funding.


While the board is instrumental in developing a strategic plan for nonprofit organizations, its role in the development plan is generally minimal. Where there is no development staff, the board may be more involved in the development plan. In any size organization, however, the board’s role in implementing the plan will be critical. As with the CEO, board members will have key roles to play in identifying, cultivating, and soliciting donors. The board should be involved in establishing goals, especially ones in which board members are expected to play a role, for example is there a capital campaign on the horizon? Are we expecting board members to open doors for us, host cultivation events, sell tickets to events?

Development Committee

The development committee will have a larger role in the planning process than the full board will have since this is their area of focus. The development committee should have some board members as committee members, and is usually chaired by a board member. However, it is important to expand the committee beyond the board and involve community members, especially those with community contacts and/or specific skills and talents that can be used on the committee, such as an estate planning attorney, financial planner, or CPA who can help with planned giving. This committee, along with the CDO, will play a key role in implementing the plan, so please involve them in creating it.

Other Volunteers

If there are other volunteers involved in the development program, such as a parent group, auxiliary, alumni association, planned giving committee, events committee, etc. they might also be invited to review and provide input into the parts of the plan that pertain to their activities. It’s also important that these groups understand that their area of focus is part of a much larger picture.


A consultant is often involved in the planning process, particularly in the assessment phase. Many organizations engage a consultant to conduct a development audit of their past fundraising performance before they establish goals for the current plan. A consultant can provide an objective view of the organization's development program and help establish realistic goals as well as develop strategies for the plan. Consultants can also help you establish realistic goals and objectives and keep the plan on track by reviewing progress with you periodically.

One final note is the CDO’s ability to evaluate the skills and talents of development staff and volunteers. It is all well and good to have a golf tournament but what if no one on the board or staff plays golf? Or let’s say the plan includes planned giving goals and no one has a clue as to what planned giving is or thinks it just involves wills? An astute CDO will recognize this and either hire the office’s deficits or wait for implementation.

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