The importance of annual plans in fundraising

Published by Reinier Spruit on

Everyone just started fresh with a new annual plan… hopefully! Annual plans are great. As a fundraiser you can’t live without them, because it’s your blueprint for fundraising success. Below a few reasons why I think you have to spend at least 10% of your whole year working on next year’s plans.

What do I mean with an annual plan in fundraising? In short, I would say a narrative document which explains all of your fundraising activities, and answers all why, when, how, who and how much questions. Obviously the annual plan should be linked to the overall organizational strategy. And attached to the narrative there should be a kind of Excel document explaining the numbers in detail per activity per month…

That sounds like an awful lot of work and, to be honest, it is! But it’s only the most important document in your fundraising department, so let’s do it anyway…

Involvement and agreement
The fundraising team needs to own the plans, so they have to work on it from the start. As a fundraiser you’re constantly thinking about the future, because you can always improve and refine your program. But you really have to start thinking about next year at least 3 months before you have to submit your plan. Are there any brainstorms going on in your nonprofit to discuss all programs and channels you are (not) using in this period? The more fundraisers are stimulated to think about plans for next year, the better these plans get executed.

But involvement and agreement also relates to your Management Team or Board, because annual plans are ideal for explaining what it is that you are actually doing. This is the best moment to get them excited for your plans. If you are running a major donor program they need to be aware what is expected from them in this area. And as one of the bigger expenditure posts in your organization they need to be aware of the financial implications of both the investment and the returns of short and long term fundraising scenarios.

Ambition and target setting
Annual plans are showing ambition and targets, hopefully. There should be compelling reasons for an annual plan not to show any income growth, but there is absolutely no reason not to show ambition to improve your fundraising program. In general the Head of Fundraising gets his/her target from the General Director, MT or Board (*). Then s/he has to translate that target in a set of preconditions and a strategic framework for the fundraisers to work with, e.g. maximum expenditure budgets, individual targets per segment or channel, focus areas, et cetera., without limiting them in their own ambition and thinking.

Ideally your annual plan gets translated into individual development or performance plans, which includes SMART targets per fundraiser. It all started with the long term organizational strategy; this is translated into strategic objectives for fundraising; these are translated into quantitative and qualitative goals for the fundraising department; these goals should be translated into an annual target, which are divided into specific projects, segments, channels, etc. where the fundraisers take individual responsibility.

(*) I tend to think that imposed target setting increases the ambition and results.

Planning and reasoning
Obviously, an annual plan is used for a general overview of when and what activities take place in the next year. This planning can be relatively general if, and only if, all activities are supported with more detailed planning documents. In the Excel document there should be a higher level of detail, which is needed for the financial projection of income and expenditure throughout the year. The narrative should focus on explaining why you have made certain choices to focus on area A and B or prioritize C above D and E, why you use your financial or human resources in such a way, want to start a brand new fundraising channel or explain your latest activities to battle your first year attrition.

Monitoring, evaluation and accountability
As a fundraiser you can keep quiet to your boss and keep your results in the dark so nobody will point to you when targets are not met. Or, and this is a bit of a crazy idea, you can explain them as much as possible and let them in on any “secret” you have so they understand you need to prioritize and squeeze the resources you have to get the desired results. The latter will work a lot better. The whole accountability bit is a lot easier if your management is well informed, because they won’t get any surprises.

Being more open and honest also gives you a reason to skip all sorts of general excuses towards higher management why the target is so difficult to reach. Reasons are only worth mentioning if they are sufficiently substantiated. It’s known, but also adds no real value to mention in one sentence, that you are in a very saturated market and next year it’s going to be even more saturated…

The annual plan, and especially the document containing all the monthly figures, gives an excellent tool to monitor the progress of your plan throughout the year. Only if you monitor your activities and results well, you can decide whether you need to adapt your strategy to reach your target.

What fundraisers often forget is that when they leave the organization, they leave with a substantial amount of fundraising information and insights stored in their head. A well documented annual plan is a great source of information for any successor in the years to come. Look back and see if you can find a proper archive for the strategic choices you’ve made throughout the last 3 years. Would the current situation make sense for someone who starts tomorrow?

These are just some of my thoughts, but if you want to add your own insights on annual plans, just leave a comment below.

Good luck with your 2012 plans!

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Reinier Spruit

Reinier Spruit

Reinier is in love with fundraising since 2001. Ever since he's trying to improve his own fundraising skills and those of others. He's one of the original founders of 101fundraising. At the moment working with amazing clients through his one-man fundraising consultancy. Loves running and baseball.


Wendy Scaife · March 23, 2011 at 09:29

I couldn’t agree more about the importance of plans Reinier and I read a US study some years ago that linked them to less fundraiser burnout and turnover. Would love any old fundraising plan copies to share with my students at QUT if anyone has some. Happy to deidentify if needed. Please get in touch on my email w.scaife@qut.edu.au if you like. Thanks!

Aidan Stacey · March 23, 2011 at 10:02

Timely reminder Reinier – when I was on the commercial side of the business, we began our detailed planning for the following year in June – trashed out the ideas and costs etc over the summer and we then presented to board in Sept and approved spend by Oct – so you were hitting the ground running in Jan. Its taken me a couple of years to get that mindset into fundraising here – now I’m working on the rest of the organisation!!
Nice piece!

    Reinier · March 23, 2011 at 11:53

    Thanks Wendy and Aiden!

    The next challenge i to include big fundraising campaigns and events that have longer preparation cycles than 12 months. The risk is they get squeezed in somewhere between. Take a look at this blog post from Lars about the Dutch Cancer Society doing a telethon. That is likely to be a 18 month prep cycle…


      Lars Arnoldussen · March 23, 2011 at 21:44

      Hi Reinier, great blog! Making annual plans is a very important and interesting proces and sometimes under estimated. I would like to add that you also have to make plans for more years but on a higher level. Furthermore it’s always very challenging to make integrated (fundraising & communications) plans.
      You did mention the preparation time of our telethon. The broadcast was 18 months after the first meeting, but this doesn’t mean that you really need this timeframe. But I can advise you to start very early, there are a lot of 3rd parties involved. It’s absolutely possible to manage this proces within 1 year.

Hester Viver · March 23, 2011 at 22:47

Thanks for the great article. I am new to fundraising and this is sounds like great advice. Definitely something I will consider doing.

Ric Fletcher · June 9, 2011 at 03:03

Thanks for the great blog Reinier. Also good that you have in bilingual.

I think annual plans are essential as they help in identifying priorities and resources for strategic and other activities in the short term. The big spreadsheet idea, linked to a targets and timetables is a constant reminder to all in the team as to where things are tracking. Visual stuff is so important and keeps a focus! Well done,

phoodle · April 17, 2023 at 05:54

Annual plans assist establish short-term strategic and other objectives and resources. The enormous spreadsheet, linked to targets and timetables, reminds the team of progress. Visuals are crucial and concentration! Congratulations, Cheers,

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