Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan

As Linda Lysakowski reminds us in Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan, the creation of a development plan is a complex endeavor requiring strategic vision, team building and management skills, and a commitment to meeting objectives in a timely fashion. And while most nonprofit leaders realize their organizations would be better off if they had such a plan in place, many would be unable to tell you what a development plan looks like or how to implement one. Fortunately, Lysakowski's book demystifies the process, presenting the challenges one must be prepared to address to achieve fundraising success in a practical, no-nonsense manner.

Lysakowski begins her book by introducing the concept of organizational "life cycles" and argues that effective development planning often rests on an understanding of where in its life cycle a nonprofit organization is. Borrowing from the works of writers such as Carter McNamara ("Basic Overview of Organizational Lifecycles"), Richard L. Daft (Organizational Theory and Design), and Judith Sharken Simon (The Five Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations), she asserts that, without a fundraising plan, newer development officers, and even seasoned professionals, "can get caught up in the whims of board members and volunteers or the demands of their CEO." Moreover, the absence of such a plan makes "it hard to assess success, and harder still to justify the development budget, including staff salaries or increased staff positions."

So what does a successful development program look like? According to Lysakowski, the key elements are:

  • Clear fundraising goals and objectives
  • Board commitment to and involvement with fundraising activities
  • Adequate resources dedicated to the technology needs of fundraising staff
  • The ability of the organization to create community awareness and build relationships
  • A diversity of funding streams coupled with a variety of fundraising techniques

And, of course, a good development plan. But, as the reader learns in chapter three, "Planning to Plan," you'll never get there without a clearly thought-out process to follow. That process, usually led by the organization's chief development officer, should begin with an assessment of the organization's past fundraising results and proceed to an analysis of its current fundraising capacity and future fundraising goals. Lysakowski recommends the much-feared SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis as a helpful exercise in this regard. But she cautions that any such analysis should involve the board and senior leadership of the organization, not just development staff.

Throughout the book, Lysakowski provides a variety of practical tools designed to facilitate the planning process. These include a "Philanthropic Profile Assessment Tool," which can be used to assess the fundraising capacity of your organization and its readiness to proceed with a development program; as well as a "Development Audit," a check list that's especially helpful when working with consultants. She also provides a number of tips that can be used when assembling a development team, and clarifies (once and for all) the role(s) of the board, the CEO/executive director, the development director, volunteers, and consultants in meeting your organization's fundraising goals.

Along the way, the reader gains a true appreciation for the role of the development director, who must navigate a multitude of inputs, agendas, and personalities to arrive at a workable plan that makes everyone and happy — and yields results.

The book is full of charts, from charts that help you monitor the accountability of individual team or board members, to charts that help you chart your fundraising progress (or lack thereof), to charts that can be used to begin charting your future fundraising plans. If nothing else, they remind you that a good development plan is like a sea chart, without which the ship (and its crew) is unlikely to reach its destination. It is, as Lysakowski might say, the essential document, and the development director is the person whose experience, knowledge of the surrounding waters, and steady hand guides the ship safely to its destination. Or, as that great lover of the sea Joseph Conrad once said: "To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence."

With Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan by your side, fundraising success is sure to be your next port of call.