Many organizations reach a juncture when – either because of natural growth or a change in revenue circumstances – they need a stronger focus on contributed income. But ramping up a development program isn’t always simple or easy. How do you know whether you’re ready to elevate your fundraising? Here are five questions you should ask:

1. What differentiates your organization from others?

The key to successful fundraising is convincing potential donors that your organization is a philanthropic priority. Is your mission or programming distinctive? Do you serve a unique population? Planning for a development program involves assessing the best way to position the factors that make your organization stand out.

2. Do you have a natural philanthropic constituency?

To maximize contributed income from individual giving, you’ll need a viable pool of prospects. If your natural constituent base doesn’t have philanthropic capacity, development planning will help you determine whether your case resonates with individuals beyond those you serve. If you need to rely on a development program that is more heavily focused on government and foundation grants and/or corporate support, you may need to tailor your business model.

3. Do you have a Board of influence and/or affluence?

Ideally, a nonprofit’s Board members make generous annual contributions and assist actively with fundraising. Development planning should explore whether your leadership can provide access to the right segments of the philanthropic community and if it’s possible to attract leaders with the appropriate profile for fundraising.

4. Are you ready to commit to a development program?

Whether your organization is starting from an annual dinner dance or a small mail appeal as your main source of fundraising revenue, it’s vital to understand that launching a development program takes an investment in staff and other expenses. You should not expect to raise money without spending money – and it may take some time to achieve a return on your investment.

Support may be available from foundations, or perhaps an “angel” from among your donors will provide seed funding for a development officer. Some organizations set aside internal funds so they can launch a development effort.

A successful development program also requires commitment of other organizational resources. Building meaningful relationships with donors takes time, and donors often want to hear from the head of an organization. CEOs should expect to spend at least 25% of their time – ideally closer to 50% – engaged in fundraising. In many startup organizations, it’s difficult for a chief executive to set aside that much time. Therefore, development planning should help prioritize the CEO’s tasks so he/she can optimize the time spent on fundraising.

5. Are you ready to think big?

Beyond thinking bigger about your fundraising, what are your overall goals? Does your organization have a strategic plan it’s trying to fund? How could you grow if you had more contributed revenue? Even though many organizations need private support just to keep their doors open, donors want to buy into a vision, not just react to the latest cash crisis. Development planning will align your needs—current and future—with potential fundraising opportunities.

Most important, are you ready to embrace a culture of philanthropy? This means that:

  • Your leadership recognizes the role of private philanthropic support in your business plan.
  • Staff and volunteer leaders throughout the organization engage in building meaningful relationships with prospects and donors. They don’t view fundraising as a transaction and don’t treat donors as checkbooks.
  • Development has adequate resources and is treated on par with all other departments in the organization. Planning for a development program will help outline the best way to implement these philosophical and operational changes over time.

Schultz & Williams works with organizations of all sizes and stages. But the organizations which benefit most from our services are the ones who are truly prepared, based on the above criteria, to elevate their fundraising. If you think you may be ready to explore the next steps with your fundraising, please contact us so that we can learn more about your organization and describe our process for helping organizations with nascent development programs.