Who is Driving Your Development Strategy?

Listen to this post

Quick quiz — Is your development strategy/plan developed by

  1. The Executive Director
  2. Head of Development (Staff)
  3. Development Committee
  4. A board member or two
  5. The Strategic Plan 
  6. Donors
  7. Development strategy? Who has time for strategy? We are just getting by.

If you are trying to raise more money in 2024 — and who isn’t — you may want to consider whether your development plan will help you achieve your goals. And whether that strategy is working for you or against you.

In the past few months, I have seen all 7 strategies in a variety of places. And the right choice is not as obvious as you might think.

It may seem like following a strategic plan is the ideal option. But if the plan was created before the pandemic, a local crisis (think shooting, natural disaster, etc.), or an international crisis (Ukraine, October 7th, etc.) it might not be realistic. Whether funds shifted towards your nonprofit or away in the past few years (or the past few months), priorities, staffing, and costs may have also shifted. And all have to be accounted for in your development plan and strategy if you want to reach your goals. 

Was Deeper Engagement your priority? 

Let’s take an example that deeper engagement with your members, donors and volunteers was a strategic priority. Engagement may still be important, but now you must consider what kind of engagement you want and need. Do people who come to a lecture feel the same as someone who walks in your door and sees the artwork from your members on the wall?  Does someone who attends a class on Zoom feel like they are a part of a cohort? Did you lose or gain volunteers based on your current model? 

The Right Answer

I want a show of hands for everyone who wants to combine the executive director, head of development, the development committee, and the strategic plan. That kind of thinking will help you develop a sound and strategic development plan for 2024. 

If the past few years have taught us anything, financial stability is best achieved by being nimble yet steady. Find your balance by using every resource at your disposal while remaining strategic. And that ultimately stewarding and retaining donors—the essential element of a successful development plan—are only accomplished with careful forethought and detailed execution or not at all. 

The rest of the answers?

Ideally, board members who want to get involved in development will join the committee to help in a structured way. Board members who demand change or constantly make suggestions to staff don’t realize that they are making things worse. That is not how strategy is developed, and, frankly, it creates an awkward situation due to the imbalance of power — even if the suggestions have merit. 

Donors should be able to give where they want to give. But they don’t get to blackmail an organization into shifting its priorities based on their preference. Even for seven figure gifts. However, if there is no strategic plan or defined strategy, there is no way to defend your decision that their suggestion does not fit into the plan. However, if you decide their suggestion could fit in to the organization’s mission, make sure you also soliciting funds from them for existing programs as part of their gift. Shifting their giving away from what you already do to a new program will likely yield a budget shortfall, along with a new program to create, staff, and fund into the future. 

Organizations can get caught up in being reactive for many reasons. Large growth, staff turnover, and lack of strategic planning are a few that pop into my mind. But that is not sustainable. Continuing down the path of keeping up without a strategy will allow frustration to fester from donors, staff, and leadership. It’s time to step back and see what you can do to switch back into proactive mode. 

Of course, if you are interested in learning how we can help guide you along the path, email me.