The 5 Things to Include in Your Nonprofit’s Annual Fundraising Plan

by Karen Lieberman-Daly and Tara DiDomenico

Posted October 21, 2021

Read on to discover what an effective annual fundraising plan should include and accomplish!


An effective annual fundraising plan can…

  • Create internal alignment and accountability.
    A thorough and thoughtful plan can help keep the development/advancement team focused on the right priorities throughout the year.
  • Break down any existing silos within your team.
    A collaborative plan will help ensure that staff working across different functions— be it annual fund, operations, major gifts, communications, etc.—are all driving towards the same set of goals.
  • Communicate your team’s effectiveness to organizational leadership.
    CEOs and Boards appreciate receiving an annual formalized plan (or executive summary) from the development/advancement team. A well-defined plan can and should build trust and support among other senior leaders and board members. 

With these goals in mind, your annual planning process should be led by the Chief Development Officer with active participation by all senior leaders of the team and some degree of engagement of every team member.

• • •

Think of your annual plan as a road map to achieving goals around dollars, activities, systems, and performance. Every team member has a role to play and their involvement will help them embrace both their personal objectives for the year and the collective objectives of the department.


Your annual fundraising plan should include…


#1 Overarching and individual function goals

As mentioned above, the plan is an important tool in uniting your team around a common set of goals, which should be clearly defined. Once those goals have been named, dive into the more granular goals of each development function and individual.

  • Overarching annual fundraising goals derive first from an analysis of institutional operating needs and new initiatives planned. This process can be the result of an operational strategic plan and/or an annual planning process and should involve the CEO, CFO, all senior leaders, and key board members. The results of that analysis must then be compared with an “opportunity analysis” of planned/anticipated advancement efforts (direct marketing, events, individual and institutional donor outreach and engagement.). Your goals should reflect how institutional needs/plans intersect with philanthropic opportunity.
  • Some organizations choose to set two overarching goals: one that meets the organization’s basic needs and another, a “stretch” goal, that is more ambitious and hinges on positive outcomes in the variables of projects and/or prospects. If you choose to go that route, be clear about the variables to achieving the stretch goal (e.g., a new capital project to offer key donors). Also, consider extending the approach to every advancement division, and even to individual and institutional portfolios, as relevant.
  • Your “opportunity plan” should include a comprehensive analysis of past year(s) activities by function and a determination of what to repeat and what to replace with something new.
  • Every annual plan should contain some experimentation aimed at improving outcomes.

#2 Monetary goals

  • Unrestricted goals should reflect an analysis of prior year(s) activity and factor in any new variables (staff expansion, additional direct marketing initiatives, donor upgrading efforts, etc.).
  • Restricted goals depend heavily on major and institutional giving and the nature of new organizational program and/or project activity planned.

#3 Donor goals

  • Your plan should include a goal number of donors, a participation rate (though keep in mind that this is most commonly used in the education sector), and retention and acquisition rates.

#4 Performance metrics

  • Donor engagement drives most advancement activity goals. It is important to measure not just how many people are attending events, but how many prospects are engaging.
  • Set numerical goals for your gift officers around face-to-face meetings, Zoom meetings, and all other substantive engagements. These goals are best developed by gift offers themselves through their analysis of their portfolios. Some review by the Chief Development Officer or Major Gifts Manager may be needed to ensure gift amounts are set appropriately, but if your major gift team is regularly reviewing portfolio activity throughout the year, this should be a relatively routine process. Progress to these goals should be incorporated into your team’s regular prospect review.

#5 Calendar of planned activity

  • Create a year-long calendar of all activities that have already been planned, including appeals, acquisitions, events, newsletters, etc. Mapping it out like this will be useful for a number of reasons: it will allow you to ensure events are paced appropriately; help you to identify any potential workflow issues; make it easy for gift officers to plan donor engagement activities; and allow you to consider the calendar from a donor’s perspective (and adjust, as needed).
  • Periodic wealth screening of new and existing donors should be incorporated into every calendar. For organizations that experienced a dramatic increase in new donors last year in response to COVID initiatives, wealth screening is a key to determining how best to cultivate and retain these donors and who should be added to MGO and PGO portfolios.


Keep in mind…


  • Your plan should not mirror job descriptions.
    The purpose of the plan isn’t to name the day-to-day responsibilities and activities of your team. Rather, it helps you focus on how this year will be different from last – in terms of goals, vision, and capabilities.
  • Revisions will—and should—occur.
    Expect to review your plan at the 6-month mark (and more frequently, if needed). It will be an opportunity to ensure your team is still on track and to make any necessary revisions if say, your organization has since created longer-term organizational goals, you have welcomed new staff to your team, and/or external events have had a significant impact on your philanthropic efforts (such as COVID did!).
  • Lastly, the most effective annual plans align with 3–5-year development plans tied to an organization’s strategic plan (which you should be creating as well!).
    Effective fundraising requires long-term vision.