Ellie Burke
Ellie Burke
Image of calendar for planning your fundraising strategy.

How to Plan Your Annual Fundraising Strategy

How exciting is a fresh, clean slate? And, how terrifying? A new year is an obvious time to revitalize your fundraising strategy and set new goals to guide you through the year. Yet sometimes, like with so many of our New Year’s resolutions, our initial excitement and commitment fades, leaving us short of our goals. We all talk the talk in January, but who are the people who actually walk the walk the entire year? They’re people with a plan. They’re people with a written expression of what they want and how they’re going to get there.

This year, challenge yourself and your organization to walk the walk. Create a fundraising strategy that introduces the wide-eyed dreamer in you to the analytical realist you need to become in order to turn your goals into realities.

The need for a fundraising strategy might seem obvious, but some organizations operate year to year without a written fundraising plan in place. With charitable giving expected to grow 4.9 percent in 2016 in the U.S., it’s surprising more organizations are not prepared to capture a segment of this growth. The Fundraising Authority believes operating without a fundraising plan isn’t nearly as sustainable or effective as operating with one due to the high risks associated with unplanned fundraising including “stress, headaches, and ultimately…financial ruin.”

A written plan aligns goals across your organization and helps keep your staff organized. While it does take some upfront work to create your fundraising strategy, the process will more than pay off. To get started, let’s look at why it’s so important, and what it takes to create one.

Fundraising Strategy, Defined

An annual fundraising strategy is your organization’s guiding force. This living document communicates the goals and deliverables that drive your organization’s success. A fundraising strategy is also a great accountability tool that allows you to check in throughout the year to mark your progress.

A fundraising strategy contains four main components:

  • Fundraising goal: The dollar amount your organization will strive to raise this year
  • Mission/message: Your organization’s reason for operating and how the funds raised will serve your cause
  • Fundraising methods: The initiatives you will use to attain your overall fundraising goal. Each campaign or event should outline a subgoal and the resources and financial investment necessary
  • Timeline for these method: The key staff members, dates, and times associated with each method throughout the year

Once your fundraising strategy is created, it becomes a tool that is not only useful to your organization internally, but also externally when articulating your goals and plans to other stakeholders to win support.

To make the planning part of it less daunting, break the process up into four simple steps.

Step 1: Review the Current Year

Whether you have a document in place, or are starting from scratch, the first step is to determine what, from the previous year, still serves your mission.

Ask,

  • Does this program/goal still serve our cause?
  • Is this strategy as effective as when it was first implemented?

Some campaigns likely performed better than others. If there are events and programs you complete annually because they are successful, put those on your document first for the upcoming year, with adjusted goals. Then, identify lackluster events or initiatives that you can swap out for new ideas.

It’s also important to take an initial stock of your current resources as this will impact what fundraising strategies you pursue next year.

Resources to consider include:

  • Budget
  • Staff
  • Volunteers
  • Donor Data
  • Preexisting relationships with partners and donors
  • Software

Assessing your available resources will better inform your decisions to continue, discontinue, or add any new initiatives. Once you’ve determined how many initiatives you can support and which to carry over from the following year, you can work to identify possible opportunities.

Read Next: 7 Social Impact Trends to Help Shape Your Strategy

Step 2: Do Some Prep Work

To determine areas of growth with the greatest potential, complete a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a tool that helps you break down your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Strengths.

List your most successful initiatives and campaigns.

  • What contributes to their success?
  • Do you have a large, reliable pool of donors?
  • Is your fundraising strategy diversified?
  • Do you allow fundraisers to raise money for your cause online?

Weaknesses.

In which areas could your organization invest more time to meet its fundraising goals?

  • Do you lack a standard process for thanking donors?
  • What is a donor’s experience on your website when they give to your organization online?
  • Do you have a strategic presence on social media?
  • Do you lack strong relationships with foundations or recurring large donors?
  • Is your donation landing page not optimized for mobile?

Opportunities.

Identify areas of uncharted territory ripe with possibility, and any low hanging fruit your organization could go after.

  • Would your organization benefit from more grant research and writing?
  • Are you filing for all applicable tax exemptions and deductions?
  • Do you have a system in place for securing large gifts and grants?
  • Have you developed a peer-to-peer campaign strategy?
  • Do you have a new idea for an event?
  • Can you identify any other nonprofit organizations serving your cause you could form a partnership with?
  • As much as 30 percent of annual giving occurs in the month of December. Do you have a #GivingTuesday campaign to increase your donations at the end of the year?

Threats.

The best way to prepare for worst case scenarios is to imagine them. Brainstorm what lurks in the shadows and consider how you might respond in the face of a threat.

  • What is the current and forecasted state of the economy?
  • Might any changes to government policy negatively impact your organization?
  • Does your development team face high turnover? In a survey completed by Nonprofit HR, a human resources firm dedicated to nonprofits, 90 percent of nonprofits surveyed did not have a formal strategy for retaining employees despite citing staff retention as a challenge facing their organization.

Completing the steps above will help you build out your goals for the new year. A SWOT analysis will help you identify a handful of areas that need improvement and therefore better inform your goals for the new year. Examples of different areas that may need attention include:

  • Content marketing
  • Social media presence
  • Recurring giving
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising
  • Donor retention

Step 3: Set SMART Goals

After you commit to particular focus areas, you should brainstorm goals for each category. For example, if you want to improve your content marketing strategy next year, brainstorm ways your team might experiment with video, SEO, storytelling, communicating impact, social media, or email communications.

Let’s say you decide you want to use video to more effectively communicate your organization’s impact. Great! Now make sure the goal is SMART. A SMART goal helps the task owner hold themselves accountable by making the goal specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound.

Poor example: “Create videos to demonstrate our impact.”

SMART example: “Hire a freelance videographer to produce at least two videos in the next year that communicate our story and illustrate our impact. Release the first in Q2 and the second in Q4.”

Step 4: Map Out Your Tactics and Timeline

With SMART goals to work toward, you’re ready to map out your methods for achieving those goals, aka the individual campaigns and initiatives for next year’s fundraising strategy.

Map out the structure of each campaign. This part of the document will include:

Time Frame

  • Soft launch date (Engage your super supporters and use this as a learning experience)
  • Hard launch date for all prospects
  • Any related event dates if applicable
  • End date (End dates are optional. Your organization can also benefit from open-ended campaigns that engage your supporters year round. Tip: Plan backwards to determine when you should begin work on a campaign)

Goals (make sure they’re SMART!)

  • While financial quarters and individual campaigns have monetary goals, your subgoals should clearly indicate how your organization plans to reach these monetary goals
  • Donor Acquisition Goals
  • For each campaign, ask “Is the focus of this campaign to acquire new donors or to retain current supporters?”

Materials for Communication

  • Physical Documents
  • Video
  • Email Content
  • Content Schedule
  • Email Touch Points/Milestones
  • Press Release Dates

Investment and Resources Required (What do you need to make this a success?)

  • Perform a break-even analysis and have a clear financial understanding of what each campaign must achieve to succeed
  • Outline staff members directly responsible for action items and the campaign overall
  • Assign staff members as content owners for marketing initiatives
  • Identify the number of key partners and large sponsorships necessary for the campaign’s success
  • If the campaign includes an event, determine the number of volunteers on hand and the number necessary to succeed

Congratulations! You’re ready to mark your Fundraising Calendar.

Download this free template to build out your calendar of activities.

After you’ve worked hard on your fundraising strategy and worked out the financials, don’t forget to distribute these documents to your team and make them accessible. With your whole team on the same page, your organization can stay on track throughout the year. Have the documents ready for meetings with potential partners and large donors so your staff feels empowered to clearly explain your cause, mission, fundraising work, and goals for the future.

Ready to build out your strategy documents? Get the full how-to guide below.


Your Roadmap to Defining a Year-Round Fundraising Strategy

successful year round fundraising strategy


  • SMART goals are so important – glad it was mentioned here! They can take time to create, but are well worth the effort. I’d love to hear how other nonprofit professionals go about planning their fundraising strategy for the year. Great post!

  • Richard Gelula

    Thank you for your blog which offers the elements of a fundraising plan, but not necessarily a fundraising “strategy.” The latter matches one or more fundraising methods to other key aspects of the organization, including mission, culture, assets, capabilities, programs, constituency, stakeholders, financial needs, etc. Such considerations put these decisions in the realm of “strategic.” It is important to evaluate what methods really fit the nature, need and opportunities for the organization, including whether existing fundraising programs still have that “fit.”

    • Ellie

      Thanks for reading, I appreciate your feedback. There are many elements an organization should review as they go into the new year and “fit” is such an important thing to consider to maintain focus in your strategy.

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