3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need a Development Plan

From time-to-time, I will invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’d like to learn about how to be a guest blogger, click on the “Authors” tab above. 

This week, I have invited Amy M. Eisenstein, MPA, CFRE, author of 50 Asks in 50 Weeks, to share her thoughts with us about the value of planning. In addition to being an author, Eisenstein is a fundraising consultant for local and national nonprofit organizations; her firm is Tri-Point Fundraising. In her post, she looks at when planning is not necessary and, when it is necessary, just how easy it is to write one. 

As the official description of her book says, Eisenstein helps readers “Raise more money; create a basic development plan; identify new prospects; ask for gifts more frequently; review the basics of fundraising; work with your board on fundraising; hire your first development staff member; and work as a cohesive development team with your executive director, development staff members, and board members…. 50 Asks in 50 Weeks is a development planning tool that focuses on frequency of asking, but also the importance of having a diversified funding base, as well as making sure you are fundraising as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Whether you’re new to development or an experienced veteran, I think you’ll like Eisenstein’s frank, simple, no-nonsense, common-sense view of development planning:


Not all nonprofit organizations need a development plan. You may be one of them. Here are three reasons you may not need to write a development plan:

  1. Your organization does not need to raise money because it has an adequate, sustainable revenue stream that is either earned or unearned.
  2. Your organization comfortably raises enough money every year without a development plan.
  3. Your organization is closing its doors.

If you happen to work for an organization that does not fall into one of those three categories, and most development professionals do, then you need a development plan.

A development plan is beneficial for all organizations whether yours is a large institution with dozens of fundraising professionals or a small shop where you wear all of the advancement hats. A sound development plan will benefit you in a number of ways:

  1. It will help you, your colleagues, and superiors better understand what will be necessary to achieve your goals in the coming year.
  2. It will allow you to clearly prioritize your activities.
  3. It will make it easier to justify the resources you will need to execute the plan.
  4. It will ensure that you stay focused on key functions such as getting out and asking for gifts rather than being constantly distracted by the daily minutia.

Let’s face it. Fundraising professionals are swamped with endless tasks inherent in the development function. In a small development shop, functions that include database management, thank you letter writing, event planning, newsletter writing and more, could all be the responsibility of just one person.

Even in a large organization, day-to-day responsibilities can be crushing. For example, a director of gift planning at a large university may spend so much time supporting the major gifts staff that she does not have time to actually go out and meet with prospects herself.

Unfortunately, “asking” often gets moved to the bottom of a long list of urgent, but often not as important tasks. 

Think of a development plan as a roadmap that will keep you moving in the right direction by helping you maintain focus on what is most important at any moment. Usually, that will be communicating with prospects and donors rather than shuffling paper at your desk.

In order to raise more money this year, next year, and for years to come, you need a plan (and the ability to follow the plan, of course).  Below are some of the key steps to creating a plan and raising more money: 

Create a Baseline. When using any roadmap, you first need to know where you are before you can map out the course of your journey. In development, that means you have to first identify your asks or solicitations. Knowing what you are doing now is essential. Create a baseline by identifying how many asks you are currently making. For example, ask yourself:

  • How many grants did you write? Did you build relationships with foundation funders? Did you apply to foundations with a mission match to your own organization? Did you follow the guidelines exactly?
  • How many bulk mail requests did you send? Did you mail at least one or more appeal solicitations via traditional mail? Did you send solicitations electronically and provide donors with the opportunity to donate online?
  • How many corporate sponsors did you solicit for your events? Did you have relationships with the prospective sponsors? Did board members who have existing connections make the asks for you?
  • How many face-to-face asks did you make? How many individuals did you cultivate and solicit, in person?

Determine What is Effective. After creating your baseline activity list, you should analyze which solicitations are effective and efficient. Evaluate your current solicitations to determine which are raising the most money with the least effort and lowest cost. For example, many small events are labor intensive, expensive, and don’t raise very much money. Determine whether or not it is worth the return on your investment.

A word of caution: Some types of fundraising take longer to produce results than others and are more difficult to evaluate in the short run. This is especially true of individual giving and planned giving. Those take relationship building and time, but will pay off nicely in the future if done appropriately. 

Identify Prospective Donors for the Year. Within each type of fundraising (i.e.: grants, events, direct mail, etc.) identify new prospects for your organization.

Create your plan and calendar. Put identified prospects, ask tactics (i.e.: proposal, direct mail, face-to-face visit, etc.), ask amounts, and deadlines on a development planning calendar.  

Follow Your Plan. Like the old saying goes, “Plan your work and work your plan.” A tool I teach clients to help them follow their plan is the implementation of a weekly development team meeting.

The development team must be at least two people and should be composed of the same people each week. It should involve the senior development professional and/or the executive director and any development staff members your organization has. It can also include board members and administrative staff members who are helping with fundraising.

The meeting is to ensure accountability. There are only two agenda items for the meeting and they are: 1) Who did we solicit last week? (How did it go? What is the follow up?) , and 2) Who are we soliciting next week? (What needs to be done? Who is responsible for it?)

This is a very simple way to create a basic, yet effective development plan. It is perfect for small shops, with busy people who are doing it all. But, many large organizations would be well served by getting back to basics.

At organizations of any size, it’s easy to get lost within the sheer volume of activities we are asked to engage in everyday. However, with a solid roadmap in-hand, we can always remain focused on what is most important. By asking more often and by asking more efficiently, you can generate more money for your organization.

Let me know how it works for you in the comments or feel free to email me.  I’d love to hear from you. 

That’s what Michael Rosen and Amy Eisenstein say… What do you say?

8 Comments to “3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need a Development Plan”

  1. Amy,

    Although some readers may assume your guidance is intended for rank-and-file fundraisers, veterans (smart ones, at least) will recognize its value to even seasoned managers, who are not immune to getting sidetracked by minutiae and diversions. More than just sounding the alert, though, you show how easy it can be to organize our efforts and keep them on track.

    Many organizations today – including some leading national charities – operate in perpetual crisis management mode, punctuated every few years by producing a highly-touted strategic plan that goes by the wayside in a few short months, after encountering a bump or two in the road. Let’s hope that some of these “leaders” are wise enough to heed your advice.

    Oh, and the next time you do a guest column for Michael, please paste your photo over Michael’s. I’m sure you’re much more pleasing to look at.

  2. Jeff, thank you for your thoughtful remarks and kind words. Although I do cover the basics, many seasoned professionals have expressed their gratitude for the book and concept of 50 Asks in 50 Weeks, because it got them back on track and helped them raise even more money for their organizations! Feel free to check out my website for photos galore!

  3. Great article! I’ve found one of the most important pieces of the development plan is to actually write it down. Then, it can be shared with colleagues and board members so everyone is on the same page. Often the details are in our minds or on private documents, but having everyone on the team able to visually see the map is invaluable. Thank you for this specific roadmap!

  4. Jamie – As you suggest, the plan doesn’t have to be complicated, just documented. A map is a good analogy. As the saying goes – how will you know when you’ve gotten there if you don’t know where you’re going? A written plan certainly helps with this! Thanks for your comments.

  5. Amy, many thanks for this – as I’m starting out on a new career as a consultant this is especially valuable. One short plan for each client is a great idea to keep things focussed. Will get hold of your book too!

  6. Kay – Good luck with your consulting practice. I think planning is often the key to success – as long as you put the plan into action!

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