By James V. D’Ambrosio

Nonprofit managers are keenly aware of the financial impact of the prolonged economic downturn — reduced donations, increased competition for grants, higher service demands, less special-event revenue, etc. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to have a strong development plan clearly outlining how you will obtain resources to run your programs or support your cause. If you don’t have a plan, here’s how to get started.  

Several months prior to the next fiscal year, the executive director/CEO and senior staff should evaluate the agency’s fiscal condition and begin planning how to meet next year’s obligations. Critical to this process is accurately assessing organizational resources — staff time, volunteers, fund reserves, restricted and unrestricted funds, in-kind services, and board activities — to ensure a feasible plan. This also requires input from program and support staff to understand current workload and capacity for new projects.

As for the plan itself, begin with an executive summary including the agency’s fiscal condition, budget, and general strategy for meeting anticipated costs based on internal and external resources. It should also provide a rationale for specific activities chosen, much like a business plan for a new business. 

For our purposes, we’ll use a hypothetical $1 million community center as an example. The plan includes an outline for each revenue stream — special events, direct mail, major gifts, board giving, grants, and a third-party event. Below is the special events component (other parts should follow suit):


OVERVIEW: The Center will hold four special events in 2012 — a golf outing, annual dinner, walk, and Jell-O slide. Events will be spaced evenly — one per quarter — providing consistent income and allowing adequate time for planning and implementation. The Center will draw from  volunteers to assist with clerical and organizational tasks — stuffing envelopes, manning registration tables, providing information to attendees, etc.

OBJECTIVE: Raise funds, build constituency, develop prospects, etc.

METHODS: Identify targeted constituencies; develop, print and mail invitations; record monies received prior to event (aim for securing 75 percent in advance); secure rental space, golf course and Jell-O slide; develop sponsorship proposals and distribute to corporate prospects; and meet with top prospects.

RESPONSIBILITY: Staff, board, volunteers.

TIMING: At least 3 months prior to each event.

TARGET MARKET: Center members, donors, board, staff, program participants, parents and caregivers, local leaders, major corporations, and targeted lists of potential attendees.

COSTS: Advertising, printing and mailing, invitations, rental space, greens fees and carts, tents, Jell-O slide rental, food and entertainment, insurance, journal, raffle gifts, plaques, T-shirts, centerpieces, decorations, name badges, etc.

REVENUE SOURCE: General operating funds.

EVALUATION: How much money was raised? How many new members were acquired? How many potential major donors were identified? Were expenses reasonable in relation to the amount of money raised? Were sponsorship goals attained?

QUESTION TO READERS: What else do you think is important to include in a development plan?

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