8 Simple Steps to Creating an Outstanding Development Office

November 19, 2012

Whether it’s your first day on the job at a new organization, or you’ve been at your organization for many years, you’re reading this because you want guidance on how to get your development shop off on the right footing, or significantly improve an existing one.

If you fall into the latter category, do not despair! It’s never too late to learn new skills, improve processes, or raise more money for your organization.

If you do only these eight steps and nothing else, you will be well on your way to creating a successful fundraising program.

Step 1: Recruiting a Board, and Getting to Know Your Board Members

A well-built and active board is one of the most essential components of operating an effective development program.

Do you have board members who are engaged in fundraising?

Do they identify new, prospective donors, help with solicitation, and assist by saying thank you to donors?

One way of ensuring a strong fundraising board is to recruit board members who have the expectation that they will make a contribution to your organization and help raise funds.

If you don’t know your board members well, call each one and schedule a time to meet with him or her one-on-one. Ask open ended questions to get to know them such as:

  • What made you join this board in the first place?
  • Why do you continue to serve?
  • What’s your favorite aspect of the organization and your least favorite?
  • What should we be doing to improve the organization and your experience on the board?

Step 2: Identify and Meet Your Best Donors

After you’ve met with your board members, the next step in creating a successful development program is identifying your largest and most loyal donors.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to quickly identify your best (biggest and most loyal) donors from your database. Make a list of your top twenty best prospective donors and hang it on the wall above your desk. Then call each one to introduce yourself and schedule a time to meet.

Step 3: Review Your Website and Make an Online Donation

If you’re starting a new job, you probably visited the organization’s website before going on the first interview and certainly before accepting the job. That’s what a vast majority of donors will do before deciding whether or not to make a donation to your cause.

If you’ve been at your organization for a while, when was the last time you visited your website? Is it updated regularly?

Your website is the first thing prospective donors will use to judge your organization, so it has got to be good.

Have you made a donation through your website recently? If not, how do you know what the donor experiences? Make a donation to your organization through your website today. Notice how easy or difficult it is to find the “DONATE” button and to make the donation itself. The simpler, the better.

Step 4: Create Calendars with Deadlines

Is there an organized, comprehensive calendar of events at your organization? If you’re new, this is one of the first tools you need to review (or create if you don’t have one) so you don’t miss any deadlines or delay any projects or events.

A comprehensive fundraising calendar should include major events, mailing deadlines, grant deadlines, newsletters, email blasts and solicitations, and more.

Review the calendar from the perspective of your donors. How many mailings per year or per month will they receive? Your goal is to stay in front of them with interesting, relevant content and information, but not to overwhelm them.

Mailings can be sent electronically or traditionally (snail mail). Use a combination of both traditional and electronic mail throughout the year to appeal to all types of supporters.

Step 5: Track a Donation from the Time it Arrives, to When the Thank-you Letter Gets Sent

How do the systems in your office currently work? Whether a donation arrives in the mail or through the internet, what happens next?

  • Who receives the donation?
  • Who enters it into your database?
  • Who generates the acknowledgment or thank-you letter?
  • How long does this process take from the time a donation arrives to the time the thank-you is mailed?
  • Are all the letters the same or are any different?
  • Do some letters get personal notes?
  • Do any donors get thank-you calls or emails in addition to letters?

If this system is operating effectively and efficiently, there’s no need to change it. If you find that letters are taking longer than one week to get out the door, it’s time for a system review.

Step 6: Plan a Board Retreat

When was the last time your organization held a board retreat? Was fundraising on the agenda? Or was it all strategic planning? Be sure to include strategic planning and development (fundraising) on the agenda of all future board retreats.

If your board has not had a retreat (half or full-day meeting with a different agenda than a regular board meeting) in the last year, it’s time to plan one. Board retreats are essential for planning and training.

Step 7: Develop a Plan

Whether you’ve been at an organization for ten years or you’re just arriving and need to create a development office from scratch, you need a plan for how you will raise money this year. A basic plan will have goals, timelines, deadlines, and tasks.

If you’ve been operating without a plan, it’s never too late to create one. If you need help creating a plan, 50 Asks in 50 Weeks could be just what you need.

Step 8: Say Thank You

One of the top reasons that donors cite for not making a second gift to an organization is that they weren’t thanked properly or told how their gift was used.

You worked hard to get the first gift and if you don’t follow up after the gift is made, then you’re going to have to start at the beginning again next year. Getting a new gift is always more challenging than getting a renewal gift from a repeat donor. As long as you consistently thank your active donors adequately, you significantly increase your chances of receiving subsequent gifts.

Create a follow-up plan for donors. Start with the basics—everyone gets a thank you letter within one week of making the gift.

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting from scratch or working to improve the development office you have; if you follow these eight simple steps, you and your development shop will be off to a strong start!

I pulled these eight steps from Chapter One of my new book, Raising More with Less. It’s perfect for executive directors, development staff and board members who want to raise more money for the organizations they love:

“Amy Eisenstein’s Raising More With Less is a practical, easy to use book that should be a key component of every nonprofit leader’s toolkit. Whether beginner or experienced in fundraising, board member or staff, this book will be used over and over again, as you build a successful fund development system.”

— Don Crocker, CEO/Support Center for Nonprofit Management

Check out Raising More With Less. You’ll discover tons of additional information to make your development shop the best it can be.

Reprinted with permission by Amy Eisenstein / Tri Point Fundraising