Creating Your Development Action Plan – Part 1 of 2

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part blog post on Creating Your Development Action Plan.  In this first installment we’ll cover the reasons why you need a written development action plan for the year.  In Part 2, we’ll get into the details of how to write the plan, what information to include, and how to track your progress to the plan.

Creating Your Development Action Plan – Part 1 of 2

Does anyone really like writing development plans?  They’re tedious, time consuming, sit on a shelf collecting dust for 11 months out of the year — and let’s face it — they’re just not that fun to create.

But if you suffer through the pain, a well written development plan can be really valuable in the long run.

Why you need a plan
When I was a kid I played sports all through high school.  Baseball mostly, but football too.  One of my coaches had a beloved saying that he’d repeat at every practice…If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

I didn’t realize how true that statement was until many years later.

After all, being a development director without a development plan is like being without a road map or compass when you begin a cross country journey.  You know where you ultimately want to end up, but have no idea how to get there or if you’re even pointed in the right direction to start with.

The same holds true for your fundraising efforts.  Without a development action plan you have no way of knowing where you’re headed or how to get there.  And no way of telling throughout the journey how close you are to your final destination or whether you’re going dangerously off course.

The process
The planning process is just as important as the final result.  If you create a development action plan in a vacuum without any collaboration or input from key stakeholders (i.e., your boss, your colleagues, subordinates, board members, etc.), you’re in for a world of hurt.

Get buy-in and clarity on the goals, opportunities, potential roadblocks and resources you’ll need to successfully execute the plan before you begin a draft.

In fact, take a full day, go off site with key team members (anyone responsible for approving or executing the final plan) and strategize about your goals and objectives for the year.  Bring someone else along with you to act as a scribe so you and the stakeholders can stay focused on generating content.  When you assemble the team, don’t overlook people like your Webmaster.  You might not think he has much to do with development – until you try to implement an online giving strategy that he isn’t aware of or bought into.  Same goes for PR and Marketing, etc.

Once you’ve gathered input and every stakeholder feels like they’ve had a chance to share their point of view, you’re ready to draft the plan.

What to include in the plan
An effective development action plan is aware of the organization’s historical fundraising context (what you’ve achieved in the past, what the hurdles/roadblocks were, and how you overcame them), but forward-looking in its orientation.  It is comprehensive (i.e., don’t leave any fundraising efforts out) focused on action and based on specific, achievable and measurable goals.

Specifically, your plan should include details about each of your organization’s audiences (i.e., regular donors, middle donors, major donors, volunteers, staff, etc.), every current fundraising channel, communication vehicles, key themes/messages, timing estimates and cost and income projections.  It is also wise to incorporate a schedule of regular progress updates throughout the year so you can assess your progress to goal early enough to make course corrections if necessary.

Lastly, your development action plan should include a section indicating the person in your organization that is responsible for each initiative.  There should be no initiative in the plan left to a group or an unidentified person.  Remember, when something is everyone’s job it will end up being nobody’s job.

Check back next week when we go into greater detail on each of the plan components and build out a sample fundraising plan that you can download and start using right away.


P.S. If you’re ready, check out Part 2.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Creating Your Development Action Plan – Part 1 of 2

  1. One of the things I always struggle with is whether the development plan should inform the budgeting process or vice versa. My thinking gets further complicated because our budgeting is done on a mid-year fiscal year, but of course donors think about their giving on a calendar year. Is there a best practice you would recommend?

    • Debra, this is a great (and huge) question. You’re not alone. I think nearly every organization struggles to one degree or another with this same issue. Ideally your board and executive leadership have created a strategic plan for the organization. In order for that strategic plan to be realized, they’d need to put budget against each of the key short and long-term objectives. I think this is where budget should inform the development plan. Because it should be Strategic Plan => Budget => Development Plan. If you’re working off of strategic plan objectives to build your budget, this may help manage your FY vs calendar year budgeting issue, because you’ll be planning for longer than any one year. If you’re looking at five year objectives, you can begin to build multi-year budget projections instead of just FY or CY.

      In reality, most organizations probably operate in a hybrid environment where the budget informs the plan and the plan informs the budgeting process, to a point. What I mean is, your board will likely say, “We have $XXX,XXX to spend in this FY on marketing/fundraising.” Then you’ll be tasked to build a plan to that budget (which assumes you have a finite number of dollars to work with from the start).

      BUT (and this relies on some big assumptions), if you can come back to them and either a) show them that achieving the organization’s strategic plan objectives is impossible given your current budget constraints, or b) show them how spending 20% more could help you acquire 50% more new donors, produce significantly more major donor dollars, etc., you may have a good chance at getting your budget increased. Obviously, this assumes that the organization either a) has additional cash in reserves that can be used to capitalize on opportunities like this, or b) there are other areas in the budget that are “less necessary” that you could draw from. And those are the big assumptions I mentioned earlier.