Fundraising Planning: Taking a Longer-Term Approach

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Experienced chief development officers know that budgeting and staff planning must take into consideration agreed-upon fundraising priorities and goals. We also know that fundraising plays a role in achieving the campus leader’s overall strategic vision. Since most campaigns or projects require more than one year to complete, budgeting and planning beyond a year at a time makes sense.

Why don’t we actually do this?

So, if we believe this works best, then why don’t we do it? Or, if we try, what gets in the way of following through on a longer-term approach?

Has any of the following ever happened to you? You secured input from your team of fundraisers and written approval from the campus leader on your five-year plan and then:

  • The chancellor or president steps down in year two of your plan, and an interim leader is appointed while a year-long search takes place
  • Your college or university’s governing body announces major budget reductions
  • Halfway into your plan, actual fundraising performance begins to fall below projections

Given these common pitfalls, can we really commit to longer-term planning?

I believe we can. But I have found that doing so requires communication, execution, focus and flexibility.

Communication and relationship-building are the keys to the success of any development operation. We know this to be true when relating to our donors and other external constituents. Do we value it and demonstrate it internally within our organizations, especially during our planning process and execution?

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Have I engaged in two-way, intentional communication?

In addition to including my direct reports, have I included the Chancellor or President and my campus peers (other vice presidents/vice chancellors, Provost, CFO, CIO, CTO, etc.) appropriately and sufficiently in my own process for planning, staffing, budgeting and goal-setting?

For example:

  • Did I ask them for feedback?
  • Was I able to incorporate some of their feedback?
  • Did I report back to them?
  • Will these individuals be advocates for the development operation in good times and in bad, during times of consistency and also in transitions?
  • Am I serving as an advocate for them?

When you engage in this type of two-way communication, you build relationships and trust rather than making a basic transaction. Planning is often seen as something to check off our list of things to do, but approaching planning in that way is short-sighted and misses the opportunity to build your credibility and buy-in for the long haul. You just might need the support of these people later.

2. Am I executing the plan?

Once the plan is approved, are you following through, executing each element?

For example, ask yourself:

  • Did I set deadlines and goals for myself? Am I meeting them?
  • Am I following up on deadlines and goals agreed upon by others?
  • Am I doing what I said I was going to do?
  • Are others doing what they say they would do?

Execution is key to ensuring that you and others follow your plan. Think of the approval of your plan as the beginning of your process, not the end. Now is when the meaningful work begins. Holding yourself and others accountable to tasks and deadlines leads to successful fundraising outcomes. This strengthens your personal credibility as the chief fundraiser, and the credibility of your plan, helping to maintain the relationships and trust that you worked so hard to build during your planning process.

3. Am I focusing on things within my control?

When things begin to change, what do I do?

  • Panic and complain?
  • Ask for clarity from campus superiors and leadership peers?
  • Pull out the plan and review it with my team?
  • Am I helping my team see how they can move forward on certain things while waiting for direction on other things?

Focusing on things within your control avoids wasted time and avoids the fallout of misdirected emotion. Remember, you want to take a longer-term view; that requires maintaining productive relationships and achieving success. If you take some time to discern what you can control, and continue to execute on those elements of the plan, you have a better chance to realize more success than you will if you use outside forces as an excuse to not perform.

You will also set a positive example of leadership for your team and for your peers.

4. Am I making adjustments to the plan?

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have enough information to know if I need to adjust the plan?
  • Do I know which elements are sacred and which can be changed?
  • Do I know if my team and peers would support my decisions?
  • Have I reinforced the key elements sufficiently with all parties?

Flexibility prevents your plan from becoming obsolete. Perhaps your plan needs to be adjusted because a part of it is not delivering the right results, or your organization’s strategic direction is changing. Revisiting your plan periodically with the same individuals with whom you drafted it, and assessing positive progress and/or areas for improvement together, preserves the longer-term value of your plan and helps ensure support from others when you need it.

3 next steps

Here are three action items to consider taking in the next week:

  1. Secure a few minutes on the next campus leadership council agenda to update your peers on priorities and progress toward goals. Highlight successes and also share transparently any points of concern. Invite input, listen openly and thank them.
  2. Do the same with your direct reports at your next development team leaders meeting. Include time to assess the plan and your progress, make adjustments and re-commit to moving forward. Ensure that your team has clarity about how to spend their time. Check in regularly.
  3. Schedule a 1:1 follow-up meeting with any campus superior or peer who has been in his/her position for less than one year.

Developing a plan beyond a year at a time and ensuring that it retains value is possible. It requires intentional communication with the right people, a focus on what you can control, and the discipline to execute the plan while making adjustments along the way. In the years I spent as a vice president for development, I learned the importance of building functional internal relationships, educating superiors and peer leaders about the responsibilities and goals of the development operation and knowing from the outset of my plan what elements could be adjusted and which were absolutely key to success. You can accomplish this with communication, focus and flexibility.