Skip to main content

Developing a strategy

Audio artwork

Strategic planning for advancement

Warren Buford, St. Anne's Belfield School, USA

Warren discusses the importance of strategic planning for advancement. Download audio file.

A fundraising strategy identifies the financial and other expectations of your institution and outlines the activities, time scales and resources that are needed to meet these expectations. It is a working document that evolves as circumstances change, but it typically takes a forward view of three to five years.

Why do we need a fundraising strategy?

Having a well thought out strategy will help you to prioritise your projects and target your energy and resources effectively. It is also a useful tool for articulating your goals and activities to colleagues and other stakeholders to win their support and cooperation.

The process of developing a strategy brings into focus the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that are relevant to your fundraising ambitions.

What should it look like?

There is no set template for a fundraising strategy, though several common elements (outlined below) are included in most strategic plans.

The important thing is that your plan should not be written and then filed away. Rather, it should be a living document, shared with colleagues and regularly reviewed and updated.

Here are the common elements of most strategic plans:

The overarching case for support

This succinct statement should set the tone of what you want to achieve. It says why your organisation exists, what it does, whom it benefits, how they benefit, why funds are needed and why donors should give. The case for support should be based on the vision and priorities set by the institution’s leader and should be the touchstone for all your communications with donors.

What you want to achieve

This section should set out why you are fundraising, detailing the individual projects and/or programme areas for which donations will be sought. Each project description should outline the benefits the project will bring and identify the funds it requires and within what time scale. All the projects should be ranked according to their priority.


It is useful to identify what resources you have as well as a plan of how you would like those resources to develop over time to support your fundraising goals. Resources include staff, budget, data, volunteers, established lines of communication (e.g., website or alumni magazine) and an events programme.

Identification of fundraising prospects

Knowing who your best prospects are is an important element of a fundraising strategy, as it enables you to target your efforts effectively. You may want to categorise your prospects (e.g., individuals, trusts and foundations, corporations).

How can you tell who your best prospects are? Keep in mind the Pareto Principle, which says that 80 percent of your gifts will come from 20 percent of your donors. This 8020 Rule is generally a reliable method for determining your ‘best prospects’ in your fundraising strategy.

In addition to knowing who is on a prospects shortlist, it is also important to understand the wider mass of data you have to work with. If you have inherited a database of contacts, you need to know how many are accurate, how many of those on the list have an existing relationship with your institution, where they are located and, indeed, if any are already donors. You might also want to record how you wish to improve the quantity and quality of this data.

Gift table

Creating a gift table is one way to set out how you anticipate achieving your fundraising target.

For example, if your goal is $500,000, your gift table might be:

Gift LevelNo. of Gifts NeededNo. of Prospects EstimatedAmount
Defining your methodologies

This section of your strategy document describes your tactical plan (often referred to as the fundraising mix) – what fundraising methods you want to use to generate income from the prospects you have identified.

Typically, you will choose to use a combination of methods (e.g., trusts and foundations, corporate sponsorship and partnerships, planned giving from individuals, major gift donors, community fundraising, telephone fundraising, online fundraising).

Different methods will bring different rates of return and over different lengths of time, so the exact balance will depend upon a number of factors, not least the resources available and the number and level of prospective donors.

SWOT analysis

The classic SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) is an invaluable planning tool. It helps anchor the fundraising strategy in its context by highlighting risks such as resource shortages and competition from rival institutions and identifying the strengths of the organisation that might mitigate these risks and the new funding opportunities that might previously have gone unnoticed.

It is not always necessary or useful to show a full SWOT analysis in the strategic document. Rather, you can include a summary of the main issues and how they relate to your institution’s objections. A SWOT analysis should be repeated on a regular basis.


You need to establish criteria against which you can measure progress. This should be done in consultation with colleagues and should represent realistic expectations based on what can be achieved with the resources available and in the time scales the income is required.

Targets should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed.

Targets tend to be predominantly financial; but in the early life of an office, it can be much more instructive to measure activity rather than income. Nonfinancial targets might include things such as increasing the number of major gift prospect meetings held, foundation proposals submitted or addressable alumni added to the database.

It may be beneficial to set targets that are based on benchmarking criteria already used by other institutions and in surveys, so that realistic milestones and comparators can be agreed upon.

Don’t forget that you will be accountable for achieving these targets, so it may be unwise to set overly ambitious targets. Any section on targets should also state how and when progress toward the targets will be evaluated and the targets revised accordingly.

Calendar of activities

To be useful as a working document, your strategic plan should set out a calendar of activities. It is typical to have proposed activity recorded in detail for the first 12 months and then less detailed accounts for future years. The plan for these subsequent years will become more populated as time moves on and the strategy evolves. It is also useful to record who will be responsible for each activity.