Managing for Mission
Fund development is perhaps the hardest area of school management to plan for, and yet the area that needs planning most. The temptation is to say, “Well we’ll do our best and see what happens.” Given how much we depend on developed funds, that’s just not good enough.
I realize that there are many unpredictable elements in fundraising. But rather than being an argument against having a Development Plan, it’s actually a reason to be more intentional about our goals and how we intend to accomplish them. A written Development Plan keeps the advancement staff focused, widens the circle of those who can be involved, and gives the president and board a meaningful way to evaluate progress.
When I ask schools about their Development Plan, what they often show me looks more like calendar of events and appeals and how much they are expecting from each. The schools often feel these events and appeals are maxed out and the only way to increase revenue is to add another. I don’t want to denigrate this approach, but we can do better. To reach its full development potential the school must tap into the giving capacity of its donors and prospective donors. The question must shift from, “How much can this event or activity raise for us?” to “How much could our donors give if they were properly asked?”
In an earlier tutorial I presented the 5 Requisites for Development Success—Case, Prospects, Asks, Askers and Resources. Focusing on these five elements of the fundraising process will help us shift away from event-centric development to donor-centric development. Events and appeals reach a point of diminishing returns as we try to involve more people in what are mostly small transactions. We call that event-centric fundraising. Schools need to move toward realizing the aggregate giving capacity of the people who support, or would support, them. We call this donor-centric fundraising.
Managing for Mission has developed a template for formulating a donor-centric Development Plan. We offer you this template to lead the board and administration, development staff, and the development committee through a process of creating a collaborative plan for reaching the school’s full development capacity. You might want to download this template now to refer to as you read the following explanation of the process.
The Case Statement
In the first section of the template you will focus on the first of the 5 Essentials: The Case for support. Clearly, success depends on making a compelling case for support of the school. A Case is a value proposition in which the donor will see how their funds will be used. They need to see how they will benefit the school, its students, society at large and the donors themselves. The Case for support is based on the school’s mission and the strategic plan the school has formulated to accomplish that mission. It should be expressed in visionary and outcome-based language, but it also needs to identify important details about the school’s plan. I recommend including both operating needs and the bigger needs that might be sought in a capital campaign so that the school can see the whole picture.
The Case statement will eventually take different forms, adapted to various kinds of Asks and the types of marketing materials needed to support them. But this section of the Development Plan will serve as the source for shaping all versions of the Case Statement.
In the next section you will focus on the 2nd of the 5 requisites: Prospects. Funding the school’s plans will require a few donors making large gifts and many other donors giving at various levels. Not all will give at the level we hope. They may have other priorities, financial constraints or simply aren’t used to giving yet. So the pool of potential donors must be significantly larger that the number of gifts we hope to receive. The template shows how to build a Gift Table indicating how many donors, giving at what levels, will be needed to raise a certain amount of money. Often filling in this table will itself provide the first glimpse of the feasibility of the school’s goals.
The 3rd Essential for Development Success is Asks. That we need to make enough asks to achieve our goals might seem so obvious it’s not worth mentioning. But for many schools, maybe most, it is the Achilles heel. Too few Asks are being made in the right way. There are 4 rights to a meaningful Ask: asking for the right purpose, at the right amount, in the right way, by the right person.
Events and appeals are ways of asking, and they will remain part of a complete Development Plan. But they can’t be the only way, because they generally don’t move donors toward their full giving potential. So this section of the template helps the school identify the best ways to ask top prospective donors. It helps us determine where events fit into that strategy. And it lays out how we will track the process from identification to research to cultivation to asking to follow-up.
The 4th Essential for Success is Askers, people to do the asking. Again, events like auctions and annual giving appeals are ways of asking, but to realize the full potential of those who have the most potential, we need to ask them directly in the right way described earlier. This section will help determine what role school leadership and staff will play and what role volunteers will play. And it helps the school identify the training and support that will be needed to make these Askers successful.
The final Essential is Resources. What investment will the school have to make to be successful? The big items are salaries, technology, consultants, publications, donor recognition, events and entertainment and travel costs.
After the 5 requisites, the template has a section for key next steps. This is important because the complexity and long-term nature of the plan can tempt us to stay in the abstract. The purpose of the plan is not to plan, but to act. This section is updated constantly and shows what we need to be doing now, to end up where the plan is pointing us.
If you would like a free copy of our Development Plan Template, you can click here and find it on our RESOURCES web page, where you will also find a more detailed explanation about how to write and Development Plan using the template. Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are other resources on our website at managingformission.com to assist faith-based schools on development and other governance and administrative issues.
Thank you for all your efforts to make sure your school has the resources it needs to accomplish its mission. It’s a blessing to your students and to the world your school serves.