It’s that time of year when organizations are finalizing their development plans for the upcoming year.
Whether you’re a development officer or a non-profit CEO, writing a development plan can be a daunting task, especially if it is the first time you’re going through the process. I’ve been involved with organizations that had no plan document, just budget goals to achieve, as well as with some who had lengthy plans with a lot of narrative to go along with their goal numbers. Why have I seen such a variation in plans (or lack thereof) over the years? The simple answer is; every organization is different. Organizations have different needs, different boards, and different sized development offices. The key to putting together a development plan is creating one that works for you.
It may be January, but if you still want to craft a plan for 2017 and are afraid you’ve already missed the boat, fear not – you are not alone, and the exercise is still worthwhile. My goal for this post isn’t to provide you with the answer of what your plan should look like, but to provide you with a few questions you should ask yourself as you move through the process in an effort to guide your plan.
1. Why am I doing this crazy thing?
If you are a seasoned development professional a lot of what you’ll do this year is natural to you, you do it every year, you know what goals you need to hit. Even if you are a 1-person development office and your boss and board are exactly the same as last year, there is still merit in putting your plan on paper. It doesn’t have to have an accompanying narrative, it can look similar to a GANTT chart, showcasing the major tasks, when they happen and your goals. Even a document as simple as this would be extremely beneficial to your boss or board should you unexpectedly have to take leave, or get hit by the proverbial bus.
Think of it like an evaluation plan. While you may have just rolled your eyes after reading those words, your development plan, at its core, is a type of evaluation plan. It lays out your tasks, your outputs, outcomes, and goals. If you are in a situation where you feel like your board doesn’t quite get what you spend your time doing, or you are gearing up to ask for an additional staff member for your department, your development plan could be your key to showing what you’re currently spending your time on, and the results you’re experiencing. This is part of your case statement for going after additional resources if you can show an increased ROI with some additional investment. Bonus: when you get that new staff member, your plan will serve as a great on-boarding tool!
2. Who is my audience?
This will dictate much of how you structure your plan and how detailed it will be. Is this plan just for your team? If so, are they new to the field, or seasoned professionals? Is this plan for your leader or board? If so, how much do they know (or want to know) about the pieces and parts of what you do throughout the year?
3. What should be in my plan?
So, thinking about your answers from questions #1 and #2, let’s think about the major pieces that should be in your plan…
What are your expected to raise this year as a whole?
Personally, I have two major buckets I build my plan toward – my unrestricted dollar (greatest need) goal and then my goal/projection for funds raised toward my current capital campaign.
Even if your major ask phase of your capital campaign is over and you are primarily concerned with making sure pledge payments are coming in, there is still work there on sending reminders and stewarding those donors so they continue to pay their pledges – don’t let folks forget that!
Your major budget buckets
- Breakdown your overall budget into common chunks based on your sources of revenue – grants, special events, direct mail, major gifts, planned giving, earned income (if that falls under you), etc.
Now, highlight the major factors of what you’ll do to hit those budget goals. Make your high-level to-do list for the budget period.
Measurements: Lead & Lag
Consider using lead measures and lag measures.
If you have a new team, or really want to let your board have a deep dive into what you do, detail the lead measures (the calls, the lunches, the number of proposals you want to write, etc.) that will lead to the lag measures – the dollars that show up. We know these things don’t magically happen, so talk about it.
Lead measures can also include mini-goals within your plan, such as securing 6 new corporate sponsors, 2 new foundation funders, or having X% of donors increase their giving over last year. If you put it out there, you have something to measure against. This also shows that you’re thinking of way and have small goals for increasing your donor base.
I’ve had some interesting chats with colleagues about where and how to put donor stewardship activities into development plans. If you’re lucky enough to have a staff member dedicated to stewardship, they are most likely stewarding donors based on the buckets you outlined above. So, if possible, divide up those pieces and talk about them within those buckets – what did you do with your direct mail folks, or event attendees, foundation funders, or capital campaign donors? If this is difficult, the beauty of there being no one single development plan template means you can talk about these activities as a whole, and how they should influence the various goals.
4. Measure throughout the year
Look at your progress toward your goals. Depending on your revenue mix, you will most likely have months with high dollar goals and some with lower goals based on when you’d expect grants to come in, or when special events are held, or direct mail is sent. But looking at your progress quarterly will allow you to make course corrections if needed, or to content with the fact that everything is on track.
5. The year is over, now what?
Create your year-end wrap up. If you’ve been monitoring your progress toward goals throughout the year, most of your work is done. But a Year-End Wrap-up is a great piece to show your leader or board, you can explain any deviations and what you tried to do to fix them (if things were below goal) as well as what made the last year so successful (if you were above goal). It certainly looks better to your board or leader if you can explain it, than to be surprised at the end of the year and say, “I don’t know why….” Even if there is no smoking gun, you have a hunch, don’t you? Sure you do!
6. Here’s the new plan, same as the old plan
Our field and what we know about grants and donor behavior is always changing and you’ll want your plan to keep up with the times. However, try to make sure you’re looking at year-over-year progress toward goals, don’t just throw the old measures out. If you need to tweak them or calculate them differently, do so, but denote this in your plan. This will help keep your team on the same page about “how” you are measuring things, and will reassure your leader or board that you’re keeping an eagle eye on trends over time, even if the “how” it is being measured changes. An * and an explanation will usually do the trick!
Remember, there is no one right way to craft a development plan. It should be the right plan for you and your team, based on your organization’s needs.
Best of luck!