Maintaining Your Development Plan: There’s No Time Like the Present

By Jerry Henry

An organization we are working with is seeking to raise funds for “deferred maintenance.” For a while now, the Board has delayed installing a new roof and updating its heating and air systems, as well as taking care of other physical plant needs.

Instead, they have taken a “Band-Aid” approach of just doing the basics – patching the most urgent problems and covering things with a coat of paint.  The Board made the decision to spend money on things that directly impact the organization’s mission – no one could argue with that – and the Board members chose to worry about the larger capital issues and major repairs later.

Well, “later” finally arrived!

Now, the roof is leaking, causing other interior facility problems like mold and mildew. The heating and air system is broken, and there’s asbestos in need of abatement.

It’s much more exciting to focus on opportunities to enhance the mission programmatically and support new programs, rather than cash out to fix old, broken things! That’s understandable. But every organization needs a specific development plan for future major expenditures. The plan needs to be reviewed regularly, and these inevitable expenditures must be budgeted for in advance.

I could end this discussion here, but I think an analogy can be made regarding your development plans and strategies.

Maintaining the status quo with your development strategies can cause significant challenges when a change in your funding occurs. How are you dealing with the current shift from direct mail to online giving? Does your development office depend on phone solicitations for a portion of your annual fund? Is your telethon no longer effective? Have you noticed changes in fundraising over the past few years, particularly with the addition of social media fundraising?

Just as someone may choose to ignore an aging roof, you may be choosing to overlook things in your development program that could cause bigger problems “later.”

Think about these examples we’ve seen in our clients’ work recently:

  • An organization that has depended on one major donor to carry the load for the annual operating budget, or for achieving a campaign goal, learns the donor is cutting back his annual gift in favor of another organization. Remember, the competition for your donors’ attention (and dollars!) is increasing.
  • An organization used to receiving a large percentage of its revenue from a public grant of federal funds learns the funding will be phased out. Remember the angst over the result of the sequester?
  • An organization comfortable with a large group of major donors realizes those major donors are almost all over 70 years old, and the development office has done a terrible job of building a strategy to engage younger donors (and I don’t just mean using social media!).

There’s no time like the present. Don’t defer the maintenance on your development plans and strategies related to your donor base. Change is in the air, and that means opportunity!

But more about this – later!