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By November 8, 2017No Comments

It’s a yearly dance.

  • You, representing fundraising. The finance person, creating the organization’s budget.
  • Back and forth. No and no and maybe and yes.
  • It’s exhausting. And so much is at stake!

There are two problems you may experience:

  1. Finance creates a budget based on everyone’s wish list and needs. The hole in that budget is assumed to be your fundraising goals.
  2. Fundraising creates safe goals you’re sure you’ll meet. And your new year begins with an unmanageable deficit.

Neither is a good outcome.

There’s a lot at stake. This process is crucial to your mission and your organization’s health – if not survival.

And unless you have another income stream – ticket sales, or other non-contributed income – a lot rides on what the fundraising department can raise.

Fundraisers, don’t accept numbers you’re handed. And don’t sell yourself short.

Instead, create a process – one that will allow you to make informed projections.

  • Review your results from the last 3-5 years
  • Review your assets
  • Review your needs
  • Decide on your goals
  • Create your plan as you create your goals
  • Put your goals on the table
  • Collaborate

Your results

Looking back at what you’ve raised each of the last several years will not predict the future by itself. But it will ground you in some solid information – rather than guesses.

Use this review to see what has worked – and what has not.

Look for trends in various donor segments.

  • Are you losing more donors than you’re replacing?
  • Are you seeing a change in what communication channels or messages are spurring responses?

What should you change?

Understand how fundraising has been working. Then think about what you can and should be doing differently. Big changes may mean you will need more money invested in fundraising. That’s OK. A fundraising investment will usually pay off better than others.

Your assets

Begin with your list.

Dive deep – even person by person. Look for trends: whose giving has been increasing? Who has been decreasing? Where are you losing donors? What’s your donor retention rate?

Is your list in great shape? If not, plan to spend time getting it there. This is a precious asset for fundraising – you need to treat it that way!

Look at your case statement.

A case statement is your best argument for your mission. It answers the question: why should I give? Why should I give NOW? If you haven’t made a compelling case – one that speaks to donor’s desires to help, not your organization’s desire to have money – you will need to work on this.

Your case does not need to be a beautiful, finished piece. For this purpose, your case needs to make a compelling, emotional argument for your mission.

Look at your organization’s connections.

Bring the board into the process – ask them who they know. Could they introduce people to your organization’s work? Would they add a note to some letters? How can they help you widen the circle?

And review your stories. If you haven’t begun to build a story bank, put that on your to-do list, as well. You need a collection of moving stories that illustrate your mission.

If you have staff, look at the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

Your needs

Now look at what you’ve spent each of the past several years, too. If you learn something has not worked, do you need to spend more – or do you need to change your tactics?

Be sensible

Don’t skimp on your needs, but don’t throw every wish in, either. Invest in good communications, good database management, and good staff (if you have staff!).


If you’ve been cutting back on mailings, but those you send have been doing well, plan to spend more.


If you haven’t invested in a good donor database system, you should. If you have, but are not using it as well as you could, invest in training.


And if you are working no staff or a very small staff, take a hard look at whether more help will result in better results. You could consider outsourcing some of your work as well. Sometimes an experienced fundraiser can accomplish more in less time and with better results.

If you are not a writer, for instance, an experienced copywriter or grantwriter could free you to work on building personal relationships with your most generous donors.

Or perhaps an investment in staff training could improve your results and staff morale!

Decide on your goals

Now that you know where you’ve been, you can make choices about where you want to go.

Don’t simply repeat last year’s goal. Certainly, something has changed since then!

Review from the top down

Begin with what you raised before. Then look at your largest donors (either institutional or individual). What’s your sense of what they will do? What’s your sense of what they could do?

It’s about relationships

You should have a fairly good idea about what to expect. That’s because you should have been working on relationships throughout the year. If the foundation you’ve depended on will be changing their focus, they will have let you know that if you have a relationship. If one of your most generous donors has had a change in circumstances, she will have told you.

Then look at the rest of your program.

If you’ve seen growth in a particular area, what would more investment mean there? If your retention rate has been dropping, what would happen if you made that a focus?

Work through the numbers. If your list is small, you can even do this one donor, one funder at a time. What did they give? What could they give, if inspired enough?

Set a reach goal.

That means it must be possible, but not easy. You’ll need to try new things in order to get there. You’ll need to grow if your results will.

Create your plan as you create your goals

You have been looking at your fundraising program in order to suggest your goals for the new budget year. But you have also been creating your fundraising plan.

Take what you’ve learned, and put it on the calendar. Will you be adding a mailing? Trying a social media campaign? Finally getting serious about your major giving program? Get it all on paper (or screen). Begin with your grants calendar, since those deadlines are usually externally fixed.

Look at timing for your communications. Change anything that didn’t work. (August is usually a terrible month for mail here, for instance.)

Build a calendar in Excel that tracks message, timing, list segment and channel. It won’t be that hard – all of that is now in your head.

Then look at your major giving prospects. Schedule touches and meetings as well as goals. Even if you need to change those dates later, have them in the calendar. Commit to them.

Finally, look at your events. Count back from the event dates if you will be looking for corporate support. Leave more time than you think you’ll need.

You now have your plan for the year.

Put your goals on the table

Now you’re ready to sit down with the finance person or team. You have made a smart, informed decision about what you can raise.

Your number might not erase a deficit. You’ll be pushed to go higher. But now you have all the information behind you, not just your guess. That will be harder to argue with.

At this point, other choices might have to be made. Sometimes, it’s wiser to cut back on an underperforming program in order to invest in fundraising. Sometimes, there is no good answer.

Consider, then collaborate

Come to the table having done your homework. Your response will be better respected – and accepted.

This is an organization-wide process. Your board should be part of it. Every staff leader should, as well. It’s also a great time for you to make the case for developing a strong culture of philanthropy throughout the organization.

When program staff request increased funding, you can explain that they can help – by noting and collecting stories, by saying thank you to volunteers and donors, by representing the organization and its needs to the community.

Because the truth is, you’re all in it together. When fundraising succeeds, you can do more mission.

And when everyone thinks about philanthropy, fundraising succeeds.

This post was written by Mary Cahalane of Hands On Fundraising and was shared with us by our friends at Jitasa. Jitasa provides accounting and bookkeeping software and services exclusively for Nonprofits, K12 School Districts, and Unions.

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