Business planning tools for fundraising – some good ones I use!

Here are some templates I have used to help guide the process of developing a plan for fundraising teams and departments. I hope they are useful to you!

Before you start…

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you writing a plan or a strategy? The difference is probably scope and timing. Your strategy might have more analysis of the fundraising environment and perhaps more organisational context. It might also contain some detail of some of the options you have discounted in the planning process and might extend beyond the financial year (but see below). The plan is the minimal output which says what you are going to do and when, how much it will cost and what you aim to raise. Every fundraising team needs a plan, but you can manage – at least for a while – without a strategy in my view. The primary value of a strategy is to do the broader thinking and to list some of your planning assumptions or research outputs in more detail.
  • Who is involved in developing the fundraising plan / strategy? The temptation for busy fundraising leaders is to drive the production of the strategy and end up doing most of the thinking themselves – I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past. Often, incoming Heads of Fundraising / Fundraising Directors will produce a strategy in their first 6-12 months in role. This makes sense in the context of doing the review of what has gone before, the assessment of current activity, and the horizon-scanning piece that would be part of a good fundraising strategy. What fundraising leaders who have done this a few times realise is that, for the strategy to be a live document, to which fundraising teams actually refer, those fundraisers need to be involved in its development, and also in its ongoing review.
  • What about other teams and departments? Your fundraising plan will have to align to the organisation’s business plan. The charities which have the best understanding of income generation are those which have a good dialogue between fundraising and the finance team in particular, and also the senior management and service delivery teams who will be spending a good chunk of the funds raised. This is where the fundraising leader really should be earning her corn: the project management aspect of producing the fundraising plan / strategy alongside the budget timeline issued by Finance is a key part of the taskYou can disconnect some of the strategic thinking from the annual business plan timings though, as long as you are confident that your analysis will still be valid when you come to write the detailed plan and budget.
  • How will you connect the plan / strategy to people’s job roles? This is pretty straightforward on the face of it, but still requires planning. Creating accountabilities within people’s annual objectives that relate to aspects of the fundraising plan is one way to do this but there can be obstacles to overcome here which you will need to plan for:
  • Annual objective setting cycle does not align to business planning – shouldn’t happen (in my view), does happen (in my experience)
  • The HR template has organisational-level objectives or value statements which must be met which don’t bear much relation to the fundraising plan you have developed
  • Plans change radically because the world changes – we all know about this from our recent experience with the pandemic

There are ways to avoid falling into these bear traps;  understand all of the timings and documentation your teams will be required to work with; ensure you start from the organisational strategy and the fundraising strategy flows from this; brief your managers on how to conduct reviews of progress and let them know you understand that a plan is liable to change from the moment it is written.

  • How do you get real buy-in to the new strategy / plan? My suggestion for fundraising leaders is to outsource elements of the planning work to team members. Delegate the management of some key tasks in the research, consultation, review components of the strategy to team members. Make sure you are actively reviewing progress as a group. Be accountable to each other and target focused in your work. Celebrate successes and be transparent about the things that don’t go to plan taking care of your people as you do this. (I’m going to write another blog about balancing targets with kindness!)
  • Who are you writing your strategy or plan for? Let’s be real here. Sometimes the Fundraising Director is tasked with delivering a fundraising strategy. In this case, it’s written at least in part for the CEO and/or the Board of Trustees. Yor job is to make it actionable and owned by the fundraising team, but to give the higher-ups what they need from it too. This is a golden opportunity to be educating the ultimate decision-makers about the reality of the fundraising process and where your organisation is in the fundraising cycle.
  • How long should you set your strategy for? If your organisation has a five-year strategy which is reviewed at intervals, and which is broad enough to remain valid over this time period, it probably makes sense to follow suit with your fundraising strategy so that you can align your fundraising objectives to the organisational ones. If you do this, your annual business cycle (budget setting) will allow you to review and update where you are. Honestly though, I think even three-year strategies are unlikely to look much like they did when they were written by the end of the term, so you might want to think about long-term goals in a different way. If your strategy sets out a direction of travel which enables people to understand where they are trying to get to, this may be more helpful than a chart showing income increasing by double digits in three or five years. An ambition to have the best donor care in the sector, or a quantifiable increase in the number of ways supporters can contribute might be a better strategic goal for fundraisers to aim for over the longer term.

So finally, some planning tools! 😊

SWOT and PESTLE

Doing a SWOT is a good way of getting on the same page – best done in a group (or a number of groups), it’s a good way of checking that you all agree what your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are as a fundraising charity. Pay attention to the balance of strengths and weaknesses that come up and keep an eye on the team members coming up with opportunities – these might be your entrepreneurial fundraisers and you can use their skills in other horizon scanning or product development tasks…

You might prefer to use STEEPLE if you’d like to explore the ethical dimension of the fundraising environment along with the other external factors; (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental, Ethical). In fact, I’d recommend including the ethical dimension bearing in mind some of the things you may want to consider in your planning; framing of ‘beneficiaries’ and voice; acceptance and refusal of donations; donor dominance etc…

You can find a SWOT template for download at my friends Nova Fundraising’s website along with lots of other good free stuff. I also found a really good blog on using PESTLE here

Boston Matrix for fundraising (further developed by The Management Centre)

I find this a really powerful tool to use in the review phase of your strategy development. Essentially it asks you to position your different income streams within the 2 x 2 Boston Matrix and ask yourself some hard questions about where they are heading – towards scale and growth, or decline.

I won’t say much about this because Bernard Ross covers how to use the tool in a lot of detail here. The one comment I would make is that, when you use this tool in group work (which I think is best, as with most of these tools), take care to think of people’s feelings. It’s possible that people might be a bit upset if the income stream they lead on is labelled a ‘Dying Dog’ in too thoughtless a fashion, so keep this in mind when using the tool!

Porter’s five forces

If the Boston Matrix encourages you to run the rule over existing products and income streams, Porter’s five forces can help you consider factors in relation to the launch of new fundraising approaches. The excellent Business Balls website has lots of management tools freely available – do take a look around. To access Porter’s five forces diagram (below), just key this into the search function.

My thanks to the organisations to which I have linked in this blog. I hope, by flagging these excellent free resources that fundraisers might find a use for them in their planning.

If you’d like help using these tools you are very welcome to get in touch with me and we can have a chat.

Future blogs to follow on tools for working with teams and setting KPI’s…

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