How to nail your fundraising strategy

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How to nail your fundraising strategy

How to nail your fundraising strategy

Where does your charity needs to go, and how will you get there? Paul Marvell is here to demystify the development of your new fundraising strategy.


In a world in which change is here to stay and where many charities need to completely re-evaluate their approaches to income generation, now is a good time to think about reviewing and updating your fundraising strategy (if you have one!).


In this article I hope to demystify a process that can be scary for many, particularly if you’ve never done it before. What I can’t do in 1500 words is provide you with anything more than an overview; so this is not a detailed how-to guide. What I can do is reassure you that this is not as hard as it seems.


There are plenty of textbooks on the subject of strategy development, but for me the best place to start is Fundraising Management: Analysis, Planning and Practice by Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay, which provides some excellent theory, practical frameworks  and case studies on developing a fundraising strategy. The Strategy Workout by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal is also a great book to help develop your strategic thinking skills and knowledge if this is all new to you. There is also some invaluable content in the Institute of Fundraising’s Five Minute Fundraiser videos.


But, as with many things in life, I find that Rudyard Kipling’s poem, I Keep Six Honest Serving Men, is a good place to start:


“I keep six honest serving men, they taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When, and How and Where and Who.”



  • What do I mean by strategy?
  • What do I want to achieve from developing a new strategy?
  • What do I want it to look like?



  • Why do it?
  • Why now?



  • When will I do it? How long will it take?
  • What time span will the strategy cover?



  • How will I go about doing this?
  • How will I engage relevant people?



  • Where can I go to find out more about strategy development?
  • Where do I need to go for support internally and externally to make this work?



  • Am I the right person to do this, or should it be someone else?
  • Who will I engage to support on this?
  • Will I do it myself or will I hire external help?


This process can help with some of the early decision-making on how to go about developing the strategy and the resources you will need to make it happen.


Having asked yourself some or all of these questions and hopefully come up with the answers, it’s time to get on with it!


So what are the key stages?


Once you have answered the above questions and done some desk research on how to go about developing a strategy (or indeed brought in some external support) here are the key steps that you will need to follow in developing your strategy:


Do it in-house or hire external support?


A crucial early issue to address is whether you hire consultancy support. An external consultant can help you get where you want to get more quickly, as well as providing (rightly or wrongly!) the credibility you need to get your strategy approved and embedded within the organisation and expertise in strategy development that you may not have internally. For me it’s a no-brainer; if you have the budget, hire external support for all or part of the project.


Internal audit and research


How is each area within your current fundraising portfolio performing? Which areas are growing or declining? Which areas might you need to stop? What are the expectations of the organisation’s leadership from fundraising? In addition to desk analysis of your fundraising, it is also useful to interview key people across the organisation to collect their opinions and insights; this might include trustees, senior management, colleagues within the fundraising team along with other key internal stakeholders. You should compile these findings into a written report that will help you make the case for the need for a new strategy.


Market and competitor research


Developing a strategy in isolation is never a great idea, so it’s advisable to look at what’s going on outside of your own walls. Who are your main competitors? What are they doing? What areas of income generation are in their ascendancy, and what is not working anymore? What trends are going on in the charity and non-charity world that might impact on your strategy? How does your current offer match what others are doing in the sector? How does your past and current performance look against others? Again, you should compile a written report to add to your internal audit data.


SWOT and PEST analysis


Now is the time to do your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and PEST (political, economic, sociological, technological) analysis. It’s best to do this as a team so that you get as much input from others as possible.


Once you have your SWOT and PEST drafts, it is advisable to whittle these down to a few key bullet points under each category and, if possible, prioritise each point by assessing likelihood and impact.


There are all sorts of other tools you can use such as Boston Matrix and Ansoff’s Matrix to assess your fundraising product mix, but SWOT and PEST are the very basics.


Strategy drivers


You’re hopefully now ready to put together your strategy drivers. These are the key issues that the new strategy will seek to address. You should base your strategy drivers on your internal and external audits and your SWOT and PEST. For each strategy driver you should be able to cross-reference it with your internal and external research and/or a point within your SWOT or PEST.


The strategy itself


Now you have done the groundwork, you are at the business end of the process! I think it is a good idea to be clear about your vision, your mission, your key change goals (what do you need to change in monetary and non-monetary terms to achieve your vision and mission?) and your key objectives.


I like the strategy map, which is essentially a summary of your strategy (and the theory of change behind it) on one side of A4. There are however many other models or formats for strategies, and your ultimate choice is sometimes simply a matter of preference combined with what is likely to work in your organisation.


How will you measure progress against your strategy?


You will also need to develop a system for tracking progress against your strategy. I recommend using a Balanced Scorecard. The beauty of the balanced scorecard is that it summarises your measures against each objective on one side and also summarises the initiatives you will need to put in place to ensure you achieve your objectives.


Implementation plan


The final stage is to put together a plan that will ensure implementation of the initiatives that will make your strategy happen. This will answer the questions what, how, when and who? The simplest way to do this is on a spreadsheet or Gantt chart, which again summarises the plan on one side of paper (probably A3 this time!).


So what will your final strategy document look like?


In its detailed form the strategy is likely to consist of your internal and external analysis, your SWOT and PEST, your strategy drivers, your strategy map (or equivalent), your balanced scorecard and your implementation plan. It may therefore be quite a weighty document that most people will never read! If you choose to use the strategy map approach, your key document for communication purposes will be the map itself and the balanced scorecard. It also makes it easier if you ever need to do an elevator pitch on the new strategy.


Engagement, engagement, engagement


Finally I cannot emphasise enough how crucial organisation-wide buy-in is for developing and implementing your new strategy. If you skimp on internal engagement, you will almost certainly not succeed in getting the buy-in you need.


It’s a great idea to engage the leadership team and trustees throughout the strategy development process. This will help when you need to get the strategy signed off and will also help you throughout the implementation. But you also need to engage across the fundraising team, however big or small, as well across other key internal stakeholders, including service delivery, communications, finance and other support functions. You cannot expect people to be committed to a strategy they have not been involved in.


Paul Marvell is head of fundraising strategy at British Red Cross

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