Four Wheel Drive: the four critical elements in a fundraising action plan

As organizations create an annual fund plan, they sometimes forget the most important part – action, which represents the horsepower needed to generate real growth. RSC clients are quick to adopt our title, calling it an “Annual Fund Action Plan,” because a plan without action is like a car with no wheels!

So, what are the four wheels that can put your Annual Fund Action Plan into high-gear? Here they are, followed by essential actions that should flow from each.

Wheel #1 - Establish your goal: No surprise there. You need to know what your destination is. Slice that number by the donor categories—individual, corporate, grants, events.

Actions: After consulting the accountants, bring in the visionaries. Financial goals are reflections of what the leadership believes is possible – aspirational, but not unrealistic. Spend time thinking about what actions you would take to reach an ambitious goal. What barriers would have to be overcome, and how? What qualities would the board and other solicitors have to possess? These are abstract questions that lead to more concrete action steps, so don’t overlook them.  Every dollar has a name, and you should have more names available than dollars needed. Build your list with as many qualified prospects as possible –you’ll need them to reach your goals.

Wheel #2 - Generate tactics, timelines and resources: Think granularly here. Who is getting the letter, who is signing the letter, and when is it getting sent? Every item here is an actual activity: what by who by when?

Actions: Front load the calendar to create momentum. Sure, the fiscal year has 365 days, but the early days of an Annual Fund are much more important than the latter days. Still, you should take action every day! Secure donations from those donors who are closest to you first. Individual donors usually have a lot of flexibility, so ask early in your fiscal year. If your donors are geographically close, go and meet with them. Make sure you align precisely to the decision schedules of your institutional donors (corporations, foundations, etc.) and begin cultivation early. If they can’t help you this year, find out as early as possible and continue to cultivate them. Develop your team of askers and stewards and measure your progress regularly. Our friends at Bloomerang have a suite of dashboard tools that might work great for you. But, however you track your progress, watch it carefully and be prepared to adapt for improved results.

Wheel #3 - Refine your Message: Change the vocabulary from “need” to “value.” Every not-for-profit needs money, so it’s your value that sets your organization apart. Why are you special? What do you do better than anyone else? What would people miss if you weren’t around? And the big one: what makes you worthy of the philanthropic investment?

Actions: Personalize the value story. Your value is both objective and subjective. It’s important to know the facts, but it’s just as important to capture the feeling of your organization. Let people (donors, board members, staff) express the value by sharing their own personal stories. Fundraising is about connectivity, not practicality. Sharing stories builds community, adds value, and personalizes the purpose of your organization. Talk about your purpose, write about your purpose, and publicize your purpose regularly; it’s the stories and personal connection that people will remember more than the facts and figures.

Wheel #4 - Identify your prospects and your messengers: Who are you going to approach, who is leading the conversation, what’s the message, and in what order?

Actions: Expand the conversation beyond mere solicitation, and you’ll expand your team. Current, past, and potential donors fit somewhere within a four-stage continuum: identification, cultivation, solicitation, stewardship. Categorize everyone so that you know where they are and how to move them through the continuum. And who will ask for support?  Well, not every board member or staffer is an asker, but everyone can help with the other three stages – it’s easy and it can be fun!  So, categorize your team members in the same way you did your prospects. Everyone has a strength. If hospitable, they are likely great with cultivation or stewardship. If assertive and bold, you probably have a great solicitor (or one in the making). When asking, it’s good to go in pairs. That way, one person can be the “fact giver” and the other can validate the mission, add to the story, and provide important support during the ask. Know your prospects, know your team, know the roles, and know the message.

Throughout your planning, never lose sight that you are assembling a program that is meant to move. Your goals, action steps, message, and team are the four wheels needed to turn your plan into a fast-moving machine! After all, even the most beautiful car is built to drive, so take the wheel and go somewhere special.

This post originally appeared on the Bloomerang blog.

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