What’s Your 2020 Plan? Four Things for a Successful Fundraising Year

Now that the dust has settled on 2019, you can focus on making 2020 your best fundraising year yet. And having a plan in place can make all the difference.

Have you had a chance to look over the past year to see what worked and what didn’t?

After taking some time to run the reports and analyze the data, please sit down and write a plan for this year. It does not need to be long and sophisticated and it shouldn’t take weeks to figure out. We see it again and again – organizations with written fund development plans consistently raise more money than those who fail to plan.

Here are four things to guide and inspire your 2020 planning…

1. Review Your 2019 Accomplishments

Maybe your annual appeal blew through its goal, pulled in more new donors than ever, and retained the majority of last year’s donors. That’s fabulous! On the other hand, maybe your event tanked and you’re figuring out what to do about it. Ugh, that stinks! Whether you are riding a wave of success or wondering what went wrong, putting your 2020 plan together now gives you an edge when it comes to kicking some fundraising butt.

First, look at your data, and go beyond the bottom line of how much you raised. What did you do to raise the money? Each organization’s mix of fundraising offerings is different, and yours might include some or all of these…

Appeals – direct mail and digital



Major Gifts


Planned Giving


Special project or program asks

Next, look at what it cost to do each of these types of fundraising. Are there areas that give you a fantastic return on investment? Others that are costing the organization way more than you thought they were?

2. Decide What to Do (and Not Do)

Based on your 2019 analysis, make sure your 2020 plan puts the most energy into the things that got the biggest bang for the buck. Did your major gifts program have a record year? Fabulous! Make sure your plan focuses on growing it even bigger this year. Did your appeal take a dip? Dig a little deeper into your data and see what is going on. Keep in mind that the nationwide trend is fewer gifts at higher amounts, so please don’t go chasing a hundred $25 donations when you will likely have more success going after ten $1,000 gifts. Do the math and tell me which one you want to see on your next database report.

Be very careful when deciding where to invest your organization’s precious resources. Events, I’m looking at you. All too often, well-meaning volunteer leaders convince executive leadership that you NEED to do an event. “Look at that organization across town – they raise $300,000 a year with their event. Let’s do that!” Sure they do, they have built it to that level over the past 20 years. I get it – events are the things that get the splashy attention. Pictures in the paper, fun social media posts, and maybe even a short spot on the local TV news.

What is often not understood is that events are so labor intensive that they will steal time and energy from other fund development activities – ones that give you a much higher ROI. Keep in mind that events are the single most expensive way to raise money. You will spend about 50 cents on the dollar to raise a dollar with an event. To put that in perspective, organizations spend around 20 cents on the dollar to raise an annual appeal dollar, and 10 cents to raise a dollar through major gifts fundraising. I know where I’d put my money. And it has nothing to do with printing silent auction bid sheets on the world’s oldest printer in the hotel business center 20 minutes before the event starts.

3. Put it in Writing

A business banker friend of mine is known for saying that some of the best business plans he has ever seen were written on the backs of envelopes. The same can be true for fund development plans. Please don’t write a novel-sized document that gets professionally bound. All you need is a clear and easy-to-understand outline of what you will be doing in the coming year, making sure to include:

The How – What you’re going to do to raise money? Appeals, face-to-face, crowdfunding, social media campaigns, sponsorships, memberships, events, major gifts, planned gifts, capital campaign?

The Goals – How much you are aiming to raise with each type of fundraising?

The Who – is the development staff solely responsible for this? How about the executive director, board members, development committee? Who else is involved?

The Nitty Gritty – fundraising is a detailed business, and you need to have a system in place for tracking all of those little tidbits. How is all of your amazing activity getting logged in your donor database, how are donors being thanked, when are reports being run, and who is making sure office doesn’t run out of coffee and chocolate?

Circulate a draft of your plan to the key players in your organization, including executive leadership, board, and development committee. Give everyone time to review and weigh in, make some key edits without changing the core plan, and then finalize it.

4. Lock It In

Here’s why it’s so important to lock your plan in early in the year.

So many of us have been there – a volunteer or a board member comes to you with an idea for an event or an appeal. It’s April, and they want to through a huge gala in May. Or they want to buy a mailing list from the highly successful XYZ Organization. I know it is an uncomfortable position, and often a lose-lose.

Having a written plan that everyone has reviewed and approved will save you from this situation. Every. Time. When everyone in your organization has the fund development plan to refer to, it is easier for you to channel their enthusiasm into the activities that have been proven to work. The signature event that has been going strong for 10 years. The year-end appeal that has been growing by 20% every year. The face-to-face fundraising with major donors that yields six figure gifts.

It lets you table the suggestions for discussion when you are writing next year’s plan. Not all ideas coming to you are bad ones. There are some gems, too, and you can keep a running list of them tucked away for next year’s plan. You have time to research them, ask the people they’re coming from to gather more information, and thoroughly discuss them before it’s even time to write an outline of your next plan.

The important thing is to get a plan in place, and keep in mind that you don’t need to write down every last detail. Leave room for creativity and flexibility. You will need to make a few minor changes along the way, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t stay true to the plan.

Want some help mapping out your 2020 plan? For the month of January, I’m offering a free 30 minute consultation phone call and 30% off any Fund Development Plan package. Schedule your call here and lock in your discount!

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