A Great Fundraising Plan Must Be Specific

This is part 4 of our series on The Perfect Fundraising Plan. You can read the first three parts here:

Fundraising plan specifics

It was a giant red flag.

A new client had lost its VP of Development halfway through the fiscal year. My job was to keep them moving forward while they recruited and hired a new VP.

I reviewed the fundraising plan. There were several lines like, “$500,000 from major donors – TBD.”

Placeholders? “TBD?”

In other words, they had no plan. Goals? Sure. But no idea how to actually get there. We’ll figure it out later.

Is this your nonprofit? Does your fundraising plan simply state a goal with zero details about how revenue will actually be obtained?

A TBD is the archenemy of a successful fundraising plan.

Do how do you avoid the dreaded “TBD”?


My client had the best of intentions.

But six months into the fiscal year they still hadn’t actually written a real plan and the person with the most fundraising information was no longer with the organization.

In the end our client recovered thanks to hard work and enormous success in other fundraising lines. They were lucky. That TBD easily could have caused layoffs and program cuts.

It certainly caused a lot of unneeded stress.

Here’s what to do to avoid the dreaded TBD, and be specific in your fundraising plan.

Be Honest

This goes back to my “no magical thinking” rule. No one is helped by putting in numbers that only Harry Potter could achieve.

Development directors are often put under enormous pressure to agree to insane fundraising goals. But relying on a miracle is hardly a plan. In fact, it’s a huge mistake.

Be honest with what is possible. If you can’t demonstrate how you can reach a goal realistically, change the goal.

Use Your Data

Data is the best tool you have when being specific in your fundraising plan. The reason I suggest doing data analysis as the first step in drafting any fundraising plan is because it sets out the numbers and logic you will need to show how you will reach your goals in a specific way.

For example, let’s say you work at a food bank that needs to raise an additional $50,000 in unrestricted funding above the prior year’s fiscal close. While this number is high, you feel confident it can be done based on the food bank’s growth over the last five years.

You could simply enter a TBD of $50,000 and worry later about how you’re going to reach this number. Instead, use your data and look at metrics like:

  • The average gift amount for the food bank. How many new gifts would you need to reach $50,000?
  • The number of major donors that increased their gift each year. What is the average increase? Based on these numbers can your forecast that with some higher asks your major donors can fund the needed $50,000?
  • Your net return on your direct marketing pieces. Is there room to add 1-2 more bulk solicitation pieces during the year, but spaced out so existing solicitations are not impacted?

Include in your plan exactly what you need to do to hit your revenue goals. As many wise people have told me over the years, hope is not a strategy.

Commit Your Thoughts to Paper

There are many exceptional fundraisers that complete these first two steps and know exactly how they are going to reach their financial goals. But not all of them make the effort to create a document outlining the plan.

This is especially true for successful people who have been at their jobs for some time and have a great handle on what needs to be done.

For two reasons please do yourself a big favor and write out your plan with all of the specifics. Why?

  • You might leave. If you do, the organization will truly suffer.
  • The Board Development Committee should see your hard work and strategy so you can show them where they can be helpful. Boards are most helpful with fundraising when they understand why they are being asked to do something.

For a plan to be truly specific, it cannot exist only in your head.

As our client and I can tell you, a specific and written plan is truly invaluable.


How have you overcome the TBDs? What are some additional ways to make a fundraising plan more specific?

Tell me (and your fellow fundraisers) in the comments below. Let’s help one another.

Seth Rosen
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Seth Rosen

Senior Associate at Joan Garry Consulting
With more than a decade of experience raising funds for major nonprofits, Seth now shares his fundraising expertise with readers and clients of Joan Garry Consulting. Seth lives in New York City with his husband, daughter, and two increasingly fat cats.
Seth Rosen
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