Elements Of The Perfect Fundraising Plan

by Seth Rosen

This is part 2 of our series "The Perfect Fundraising Plan". Here's a link to the entire series.

Welcome back to the second episode of How to Craft The Perfect Fundraising Plan. In my last post, I wrote about the often-ignored fact that no development plan can be spectacular without the dedicated assistance of the Executive Director.

This week let’s dig into the elements of the plan itself and discuss what your Director of Development needs to include.


First, let’s address the one thing that no Executive Director should expect from any fundraising plan. 

Magical thinking.

Your DoD is not Harry Potter.

She cannot cast a spell that will double your revenue in one fiscal year. She cannot get a major foundation to invest in your programs if the infrastructure and reporting capacities aren’t there.

Asking a Development Director to do something that can only be accomplished with magic is the best way for her to lose faith in you as a leader and to send that DoD looking for a new job.

What else could be considered “magical thinking”?

  • “I just know that if Bill Gates heard about us he would send a check. Can you get an introduction?”
  • “Last year our gala grossed $200,000, but I really think we can get it up to a million this year. Can you make that happen?”
  • “I know we have been flat in revenue for the past three years, but the Board would like us to have a 50% increase this year. Please draft the plan with this in mind.”

Being aggressive with your goals is fine, as long as it’s aspirational and well thought-out. But anything that would require a caldron and eye of newt needs to go.

So what should be in a perfect fundraising plan?


For a perfect fundraising plan, it’s no longer sufficient for a group of people, including the Board, to simply ask for money. You need more than that.

You need a vision or theme to rally your donors around and to set your organization apart from all the other nonprofits asking for donations.

What might a good vision or theme look like?

An orchestra: Music is for everyone

Facing the aging of its donor file, communicate the Executive Director’s vision that music must be part of life no matter a person’s age.

A charter school: The education of our children is everyone’s responsibility

Projecting a decline in government funding and with a small existing individual donor program, spend the year messaging that education funding is everyone’s responsibility and is not just the government’s job.

An HIV/AIDS organization: Help keep people HIV negative

Facing a declining funding landscape, focus on a compelling vision of how the organization takes care of people with HIV or AIDS, and how it uses tested interventions to keep people HIV negative.

Sometimes the theme comes easily, such as when the organization is celebrating an anniversary, but usually this requires deep thought and a real look at where the organization is going.

This is why it is so important for an Executive Director to deliver a vision for the organization. Once the vision is set, it becomes the responsibility of the Development Director to translate this vision into a detailed fundraising plan.


The six other items that need to be addressed in a fundraising plan are:

Historical Trends

A fundraising plan needs to be put into context. Include revenue data for each of the past 3-5 fiscal years. It is impossible to make accurate revenue decisions based on only one year of data. Historical data justifies and supports next year’s goals.

Here’s another post that gets into the specific details on what needs to be in this section and exactly how to get it: How to Forecast Fundraising Revenue


The DoD needs to be able to tell you how the goal or each revenue area (such as events, direct response, major gifts, etc.) will be raised. The Executive Director (and the Board) needs to be able to understand where the revenue will be coming from.

More details on this step here: A Great Fundraising Plan Must Be Specific

Acquisition Strategy

The fastest way to shrink a donor file is to not have a donor acquisition strategy. Whether it’s from events or direct marketing every fundraising plan needs to include a section on how new donors will be brought to the table.


Donors get bored easily, and they need to be engaged in new ways. Make sure the plan isn’t just a complete retread of last year’s work. ROI absolutely declines when fundraising programs feel stale.

Online Giving

The amount raised through online giving continues to increase every year, as does the number of people going to websites with a mobile device. Fundraising plans need to address an online strategy that complements hard copy and major donor solicitations. Social media is certainly a part of an online strategy, but remember to really think of how to use it to increase revenue.


Finally, fundraising plans need to address the expense of fundraising and any high cost purchases (such as the transition to a new online platform or database) and what the expected ROI is on these investments.


While this may look like a lot of items to include, each section fits in seamlessly to any plan, but the lack of any one item can be problematic for an organization’s fundraising efforts.

Trust me, I’ve left items out before and I have regretted it. The above list comes from personal experience, hard work, and many mistakes.

I hope you can learn from my wrong turns. In future posts, I will flesh each of these elements out with more specific examples.

So what are the next things you can do? Here are three.

1) Write in the comments below if you have followed this formula for the perfect fundraising plan. What were the results? Did I miss something important?

2) Share the perfect fundraising plan with others in your organization and other development friends. The entire sector needs to get better at this.

3) If you haven’t already, subscribe to this blog so that we can keep you informed of more posts like these.

4 thoughts on “Elements Of The Perfect Fundraising Plan”

  1. Thanks for the insightful blog. We are a new non-profit with no fundraising plan and a large goal that seems unrealistic but necessary. Refocusing and strategizing may not get us to the goal that has been set but I am sure it will help us set a more realistic and attainable goal that will get us on the way to reaching the enormous goal that we are failing to reach now.

  2. I absolutely loved the first part about magic. When I first got into fundraising years ago I thought some of it was obvious, I have quickly learned otherwise.
    Last year I was hired as the DOD at an org. After I started I was told that they wanted to double in one year (not mentioned in the interview), then a few board meetings later going from $200K to $400K to $1 million (in a year) was brought up (after losing about $60K in donations from the previous year after a leadership change). Needless to say I didn’t last too long when I tried to be realistic about expectations.
    Now after 15 years of experience and a CFRM, I’m going to start consulting as well. I’m glad there are firms like your’s Joan that give us an example of how to do things right, because nonprofits need us and I’ve seen too many fundraising professionals leave the field because of unrealistic and changing leadership.

  3. Scott, thank you so much for your comment, kind words, and for sharing your experience! Nest of luck consulting, I know so many organizations will be helped by your work. Have a great New Year!

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