Designing a Development Plan

A development plan outlines a foundation’s goals and strategies for developing resources. It explains how staff, board members, and other volunteers should focus their development efforts within a certain period (usually one or two years). A development plan also helps measure progress in the midst of a process that might take years or even decades to bring tangible results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is included in a development plan?

  • Short and long-term objectives
    • What does the board hope to achieve? Include more than monetary objectives.
    • Where will the foundation be in five or ten years?
    • How will the development plan support the strategic direction of the organization?
  • An action plan for each objective
    • Who are the target audiences?
    • What tools will you use to reach them?
    • What are the specific responsibilities of board members, staff, and volunteers?
  • A timeline for the action plan

How do we get started?

Look at development plans from other community foundations or samples from outside the field, such as from your local college or university. While your plan might draw on the concepts from other plans, it should be suited to your own individual community, region, capacity, and operations.

A plan will help you attract the most prosperous markets of your community, but first you have to find out who they are. Where is the majority of the wealth concentrated? Is it held by a few individual estates or spread among individuals, corporations, and private foundations? This will help you focus your planning and set priorities.

Who should design the development plan?

It’s important for the board to be heavily involved in development planning as well as in implementing the plan. Some boards assign a few members to a development committee. This committee either is solely responsible for writing the development plan or partners with the staff in doing so. In other community foundations, the staff is in charge of writing the plan and receives feedback from the board.

How do community foundations attract gifts?

Community foundations attract gifts and build funds over time in many ways. Here are some commonly recommended methods:

  • Create a well-conceived development plan.
  • Build long-term trusted relationships with donors and their advisers.
  • Provide quality services and market products to donors and their advisers.
  • Build credibility in the community.
  • Emphasize personal visits and small gatherings rather than direct mail or special events.
  • Offer multiple and flexible options for donors and their advisers.
  • Highlight gifts that make a difference over long periods of time.
  • Offer donors an option of permanent recognition or anonymity.
  • Look to long-term rather than immediate results.

Whom should we seek out as new donors?

Start your prospecting with the people closest to the foundation—those who know and care about it. These include current and former board and committee members as well as current donors and their families. They are your “inside” audience and can be your best bet for finding donors.

Then ask your board, staff, and even current donors who they know. Board members with corporate backgrounds might be able to identify sources of corporate wealth and motivate their business associates to give through the community foundation. Similarly, staff might have contacts from their former professions or from their universities or religious institutions.

From there, look to prospects outside the foundation:

  • community leaders
  • long-time residents
  • people without heirs
  • entrepreneurs/business owners
  • board members of other nonprofits
  • corporations
  • private foundations
  • charitable organizations
  • government agencies
  • parties representing judicial settlements (tobacco industry, utility overpayments)
  • people who were born and raised in your community and now live elsewhere

Don’t panic. This list is more than any foundation can cultivate at one given time. Pick one or two groups as your priority targets each year.

Tip: Some community foundations develop methods for rating individual donors on their ability to give. For example, if a potential donor owns a corporation, you can gauge the donor’s ability to give by learning the company’s worth and profitability.

How can we find these potential donors?

Community foundations cultivate relationships with potential donors in countless ways. Below are some ideas for getting started:

  • gatherings in board and committee members’ homes
  • annual luncheons
  • inviting guests to board meetings (professional advisers, for example)
  • newsletters
  • recognition events
  • roundtable discussions about community issues
  • tours or site visits
  • informational breakfasts
  • volunteer opportunities, including the foundation’s grant committees
  • get-acquainted sessions at scheduled meetings
  • telling the foundation’s story at monthly meetings of civic and social organizations
  • handwritten notes thanking people for their interest or volunteer work
  • outreach to former residents and retirees

What’s the best way to approach potential donors?

Resource development is about building relationships. This means building relationships directly with potential donors as well as with their peers, associates, and advisers. As in any situation, a personal, one-on-one approach creates the best impression and brings the most success.

Making a donor contact often begins with a professional adviser. Your community foundation should maintain active relationships with the professional advisers in your region—accountants, attorneys, brokers, estate planners, insurance agents, and so on. Set up meetings and make presentations to advisers—one-on-one, at professional associations, or at adviser breakfasts that you host. Stress to advisers how they can use the community foundation as a resource to help inform and serve their clients. Educate them on the types of funds offered and the variety of gifts the foundation accepts. You might also publish brochures, pamphlets, or e-newsletters designed especially for professional advisers.

When cultivating relationships directly with donor prospects, you should tailor your approach to suit the prospects’ interests and demographics. For example, you would approach an individual differently than you would a corporation.

Although your approach will vary from one prospect to another, remember one thing: People give to people, not to institutions.

What development approach yields the best results?

The success of any activity varies according to the community, resources, and staff at a foundation. Again, because every community foundation is different, coming up with a single strategy isn’t practical. We can, however, tell you the most common strategies:

  • Encourage current donors to upgrade their giving.
  • Solicit deferred/planned gifts such as bequests, IRAs, annuities, remainder trusts, and life insurance.
  • Partner with professional advisers.
  • Engage successor advisers/the next generation.

Small community foundations most often use annual campaigns and special events to raise funds. Larger foundations tend to focus on high-net-worth individuals and families and prospecting the next generation and diverse groups.

What should we consider when planning a fundraising event?

For small community foundations, one special event might be the main fundraising vehicle for the entire year. Fundraisers may be a lot of work, but they can raise money and also increase your visibility in the community.

Before deciding to organize an annual fundraising event, carefully consider the purpose and focus of the event and the possible appearance of competition with other nonprofits for the same supporters. Weigh the time and energy required of staff and volunteers to plan and carry out the event against the expected net proceeds from the event. Will the event be cost effective? Do you have the capacity to pull it off? Is there a better development strategy you could use?

How do we measure the success of our development plan?

It might take years to see the results of your development efforts, so it can be challenging to measure the success of your plan. Tracking your activity is important. You can measure your success in several ways:

  • number and value of gifts received
  • number and value of gifts pledged but not yet received
  • size of expectancies and number of legacy society members
  • number and content of calls/in-person visits to prospects and advisers
  • board involvement as donors
  • board involvement in donor visits
  • marketing materials produced and disseminated to an identified audience
  • presentations to groups
  • special events (fundraising, recognition, educational, celebratory)
  • objectives achieved by each event (participation, volunteer involvement, net receipts, staff resources)
  • diversity of donor base
  • referrals from donors and advisers
  • donor service on committees
  • donor service quality as measured by survey results
  • press coverage of donor stories and events

As you evaluate in the short-term, think beyond what gifts you received and look to what building blocks you are laying for the future. What key relationships did staff make? What response did you receive from a donor adviser presentation? How many potential donors did you recruit as volunteers on an advisory committee?

In addition to using these indicators, you can measure success from what others say. Offer donors and donor advisers the opportunity to give you feedback. You might consider calling them periodically or conducting a survey of how they think your programs are working. Create a feedback form on your website or dedicate a specific e-mail address to which donors and others can send their comments.

Sample Development Plan

The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, 2002, excerpted by permission


I. Raise Money For Operations





Sponsorships: $40,000

$7,500 CV, $10K Planned Giving, $20K Lunch, $3K web and W.I.N

By mid-Feb


Gifts to Operations: $45,000

Revisit “Friends”
Year-end solicitation letters to A & B lists



Board Gifts: $30,000

Points for early gifts

Sept. 1


II. Grow Assets Under Management by $3.25 million





20 new donor advised funds, totaling $1.6 million

House Parties
One-on-one calls 4 times/month
3 in-house Professional Advisor seminars
Update database with new names
Meet with Trust Officers at banks

All year
March, June, Oct.


5 new agency endowments, totaling $250,000


By November


87 New Pine Cone funds


By December


Endow remaining NOVA Awards

Contact Rotary, Ball?



$300K in gift funds

Presentation to SVP
Meet with Prof. Advisors 2 times/month



Get $250K from Knight

Initiate process, follow-up

By December


Increase admin. Endowment to $800K from $630K

Enhance Legacy Society



Increase UGEF

Culture of Giving envelopes


III. Coordinate Development Meetings





Work with Clair

Prepare agenda, materials for meetings



IV. Supervision of Development Activities





Supervise Claudia

Legacy Society implementation
Coordinate P.A. Events
Culture of Giving envelopes and balls
Assist with year-end solicitation



Oversee Stars Luncheon with Phoebe

PowerPoint or video
Seating Arrangements
Table Sales
Award Selection









Send to donors 3 times/year

Feb., May/June, Sept./Oct


Report to the Community

Produce nice, full report



Donor Relations





Be in touch with each donor

Split list, call for feedback, ideas, contacts

Before July


Put together “welcome” packets

Draft letter, materials
Send to new fund holders from 11/01-on



Grant Follow-up





Boettcher Progress Report


Due April 30


NLGCFP Progress Report


Due March?




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