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Development Assessment & Plan FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:   What is a development assessment?

A:   A development assessment evaluates an organization’s essential fundraising elements, identifies strengths and opportunities, and recommends a course of action for future success. Benefactor Group examines the development program—including organizational structure, personnel, and procedures; revenue streams, fundraising strategies and tactics, and donor relations; board structure and volunteer engagement; case for support and relevant materials; and data management and software. We then provide a summary with recommendations.

Q:   What are the elements of successful fundraising?

A:   Successful development efforts are built on a strong foundation composed of six essential elements:

  • a compelling rationale for development objectives, which articulates specific fundraising goals in a way that appeal to potential donor constituencies;
  • committed leaders (staff and volunteer) who are willing to devote their time and skills to the various tasks required to implement fundraising strategies;
  • trust by the philanthropic community; a high level of confidence that gifts are used in the way they are intended and the organization is fiscally sound;
  • broad-based support from a variety of fundraising activities such as annual appeals, direct mail and social media, and special events;
  • substantial gifts from individuals, corporations, and foundations that inspire confidence and stimulate major contributions from others; and
  • sound management of day-to-day fundraising, with sufficient infrastructure and human resources, to implement effective strategies.

Q:   What are the steps of a development assessment?

A:   A development assessment has three steps or phases. Information gathered through this processes provides the foundation for the creation of a development plan.

1. Discovery
Meet with the staff. We hold in-depth discussions with the organization’s CEO/Executive Director, the development director, and other development staff. These discussions provide insight into the organization’s fundraising culture, infrastructure, procedures, and plans.

The staff will be asked to evaluate fundraising effectiveness both by financial and non-financial indicators. For example, financial indicators include total contributions to the organization, return on investment, diversity or mix of revenue sources, and gift size. Non-financial indicators include retention rates, number and breadth of donor pool; number and types of contacts with a prospective and current donors; engagement of volunteers; and role of the organization’s leadership (staff and volunteer).

To complement the internal discussions, we conduct a review of organizational documents. These documents may include the Articles of Incorporation & Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest Policy, strategic plan, executive leadership succession plan, donor recognition policies, investment and spending policies, recent financial statements, and budgets. We also review samples of materials used in fundraising efforts—such as the case for support, recent multi-channel appeals (web, direct mail, telephone, etc.), gift and grant proposals, and planned giving documents.

Examine data management. Management of fundraising data is essential for effective and efficient development activities. The organization will be asked to demonstrate its gift processing, from the initial receipt of the gift to the acknowledgement. A determination is made whether the organization is utilizing its data management system to its full potential, the recording of gifts is consistent, and acknowledgements are generated in a timely manner.

Interview stakeholders. The trust and confidence of the philanthropic community are critical to fundraising success. Interviews with a select group of board members and other key stakeholders keeps them engaged and provides insights about how the community perceives the organization. During one-on-one conversations with the consultant, participants will be asked to access the organization’s fundraising leadership and reputation in the community. Interviewees will also be asked about their motivations for supporting the organization.

Benchmark with similar organization. For many organizations, comparison with the fundraising practices of similar organizations can help establish realistic expectations for the development program. A baseline for benchmarking will be created from publicly available information gathered for each comparable organization. Up to six comparable organizations, identified by the client, will be compared for their development infrastructure, fundraising activities, revenue, and other factors. A matrix will be developed to compare the measurable data. In addition to an analysis of quantifiable statistics, we will suggest best practices in fundraising, donor management, and other activities.

2. Analysis of Data
Based on the information and insights gathered from discussions with staff, stakeholders, and benchmarking, the data is analyzed and a summary of the preliminary findings is provided to the leaders. Our analysis will identify strengths of current fundraising activities and areas for growth. It will contain current and past giving patterns and trends and projections for the future. This report will state the strengths and opportunities around mission, organization reputation, fundraising leadership, donor loyalty, resources for fundraising, and giving trends. It will also suggest the effectiveness of various fundraising tactics, processes, and communication vehicles.

3. Report
Based on feedback from the meeting with leaders, our written report will include an executive summary, method, findings and conclusions, and recommendations. The recommendations become the foundation for the development plan.

Q:   What is contained in a development plan?

A:   A three-year development plan will be created with strategies, tactics, and suggested timelines to achieve your financial targets. The plan will include:

  • fundraising projections and goals for major gifts, annual fundraising, special events, multi-channel fundraising, planned giving, etc.;
  • a description of each fundraising activity, with step-by-step instructions for the implementation of tactics that will yield the projected revenue;
  • recommendations for the various areas of your fundraising program—major gifts, broad-based fundraising, corporate and foundation grants, special events—to increase and strengthen your initiatives; a timeline for the implementation of each plan component;
  • job descriptions for staff and volunteers; and
  • recommendations for the collateral materials to support fundraising efforts.

Q:   How much time does an assessment take?

A:   Development offices vary in their maturity—some are one-person operations with a modest development program, while others have multiple development professionals and sophisticated fundraising programs. Typically, the assessment takes 14 to 16 weeks, from the initial orientation meeting to delivery of the plan.

Q:   How much can we expect to pay for a development assessment and plan?

A:   The fees vary based on the scope of the project, the size of the development department, and extent of fundraising programs. Will you use a national consulting firm or a local group? How many interviews will you conduct? Will the study include internal and external assessments, benchmarking, an online survey, or other options? We have conducted development studies and plans from $20,000 to more than $50,000. For most community-based organizations that request a fairly conventional development assessment and plan, a budget of mid-$20,000s to $40,000 should be sufficient.

Benefactor Group would be happy to discuss your specific situation and help you determine whether a development assessment is appropriate for your organization. Please call 614-437-3000 or 1-877-437-3711 or send a message to [email protected] to begin the conversation.

is a proud member of the Giving Institute. The Giving Institute is a member association that promotes the evolution of the professional fundraising field and philanthropy. Since 1935, the Giving Institute and its member firms have embraced and embodied the core values of ethics, excellence, and leadership in advancing philanthropy.

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