Building a Fund Development Program for Your Organization

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Written By: Marlene Mulligan, Design & Development

Let’s start here. What is the difference between fundraising and fund development? Fundraising is activities you undertake that garner donations and sponsorship like events, campaigns, grant writing, etc. These are short-term activities.

Fund development, on the other hand, is the strategic planning, coordination and management of fundraising activities so that they directly support your mission and generate reliable funding streams for the long-term viability of your organization. A development program is established with the long term in mind.

This can feel challenging in a context where your funding needs are acute, as they so often are in small and mid-size organizations. Moving from doing fundraising to having a development program in your organization definitely requires some heavy lifting, but if you are planning for your organization to be around for awhile and to grow its impact, at some point, you will need a development program.

When I began my journey as a fundraiser at Propellus, we were asking questions like – should we have an event, should we focus on major gifts, should we do crowd funding? Which one first? We would also hear things like, “That social media campaign worked really well for agency XZY, why don’t you do that?” We needed a way to answer these questions (and many more!) for our board and executive team. Of particular interest… predicting future funding.

For some reason, I really struggled to find basic resources in the fundraising industry to help me answer these questions for Propellus. (If you know of some great resources on this, please share them in the comments section! That would be greatly appreciated.) In the end, we pieced together a framework for answering these questions that is based on a mix of things from the fields of fundraising, sales, management and strategy.

Here’s the simple framework we use for organizing our thinking about fund raising:

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Asset Inventory – this is a list of all the activities your organization undertakes or things it owns that could have a value in the donations or fee for service market.  Including, but not limited to:

  • Magnitude of impact of a program (outcomes)
  • Reach/ volume of a program (outputs)
  • Visibility/ marketing (recognition and sponsorship)
  • Facilities
  • Products and services

Gathering all this information in one place and estimating its financial value, arms the development team with tangible, testable information about the fundraising potential of your organization.  And as an added bonus, this process spins off information on the likely donors or buyers of your wares. Yay!

Capability Inventory – this is the skill and knowledge that exist in your organization, whether through paid or unpaid human resources. Competencies that contribute to fundraising, include, but are not limited to:

  • Relationship/ partnership building
  • Marketing and communications/ grant writing
  • Program evaluation
  • Event management
  • Volunteer/ board engagement

Once you create an inventory of the capabilities you currently have and the ones you don’t, you can see what are the ‘low hanging fruit’ fundraising activities you can take from your asset inventory and start doing immediately. With the skills and knowledge you don’t have, you can make a plan of attack for getting them. This will help with making timelines for both when to execute an initiative and when your organization can anticipate revenue from the fundraising activities you do.

Effort – this refers to the discipline you bring to setting goals, applying best practices and tracking your progress… continuously. At an organization level, effort is also about how fundraising shows up in the organization day to day. Is fund development supported and enabled by all aspects of the organization so it can in turn enable and support the organization? If yes, this means your processes, systems and culture enable development. Double yay!

This critical element for success has seen much discussion in the sector and more can be found on it by searching for resources on ‘Culture of Philanthropy’ and ‘Integrated Resource Development’. My favourite resource has been this study: Underdeveloped (Compass Point).

When I first came to understand that fund raising for Propellus would be more successful if it was integrated, I had a meeting with my boss that went like this. I slid a piece of paper across the table to him with a list of ten things on it and said, “These are the ten things we need to build into Propellus in order to be successful in development. I can control the first four.” He reminds me of this from time to time, fondly I hope, and I’m glad to report that the majority of those items are now a part of our organization. But it wasn’t just my doing, that is for sure.

While the ultimate reason for doing this work is driven by setting up our organization to reach its long-term potential, we are seeing that it can have a number of short-term gains as well.

  • Increased our ability to forecast and plan with better predictability on revenue
  • Created a more stable and less stressful work environment, so far as financial predictability can do so (No, we are not immune to the downturn!)
  • Avoid having a fund development silo
  • Helping us figure out what sustainable funding is for our organization

My latest prediction is that this approach will help keep development staff in our organization for the long-term. The average turnover rate for fundraisers is 16-18 months. Yikes!

If you are thinking about, worrying about, figuring out some of this stuff too, give us a call. We’re here to help.

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