Nonprofit Annual Development Plans: Why You Need One

We’ve all been there – an enthusiastic Board member approaches you about an idea for a ‘light lift’ event that they want your organization to host. It’s challenging to say no to a donor, let alone to a board member, but you know that it’s not going to be as light of a lift as it’s being made out to be. This is where an annual development plan steps in. An annual development plan keeps everyone on track and not led astray by the hot new fundraising idea or third-party partnership that doesn’t quite fit your organization’s goals.

Why Nonprofits Need an Annual Development Plan

A written development plan solidifies your efforts, saving you time and resources when followed. A development plan is a roadmap that your entire team, leadership, and board puts their fingerprints on. Most importantly, you can use the plan to vet and implement (or pass on) new fundraising ideas. 

In a 2020 study conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, 37% of nonprofits with budgets under 1M did not have a written development plan. If you’re working for a smaller organization, you can’t afford not to have a plan. You need to know where you stand with your fundraising efforts in real-time. So, how do you create one?

The Development Plan Team

Ideally, all internal key stakeholders should weigh in. After your Development Team creates a draft, circulate it to the Executive Director (ED)/CEO, CFO and Communications Team for input. Once they’ve signed off, present it to the Chair of the Board Development Committee for review. After reviewing, the Chair should circulate it to the entire development committee for buy-in (not edits or new opinions). Don’t have a formal board development committee? No worries. Schedule a meeting with your ED/CEO, CFO, Board Chair, and Treasurer to discuss the details of the plan. UG hint: The CFO is a Development Director’s best friend…spread the word!

The Development Plan Timeline

The written development plan will be approved by the Board at the same time as the annual budget; which for organizations on a July 1 fiscal year (FY) would be at the May or possibly June Board meeting. The more Board support you have for the plan, the better. This means that the Development Team needs to work backward and give themselves enough time to create and edit the plan as well as get the proper approvals before July 1.

During the June Board meeting is a great time to educate the Board about their participation in fundraising. Make the process less intimidating by offering tips or guidelines for fundraising. Also, provide your Board members with options for participating in the process and keep an open dialogue with them.

How to Create an Annual Development Plan

Step 1: Write an Overview Statement

The overview statement should express the nonprofit’s mission, the plan’s goal, and summarizes how the plan will impact the financial goals.


The (organization’s name) Development Plan is designed to realize the mission through an integrated and strategic approach to building diversified and sustainable revenue streams. The overarching development goal is to ensure that (the organization’s) financial resources can enable our agency to continue a long-standing commitment to quality services and community impact. This document prioritizes key sources of funding, reiterates the FY23 financial goals for each of these sources, and outlines strategies for achieving these goals in this fiscal year and laying the groundwork for doing so in subsequent years.

Step 2: Identify Sources, Goals, and Strategies for Each Campaign

To prepare to write the narrative, you can use this handy chart to outline the campaign sources, goals, strategies, and responsible parties.

UG hint: It’s helpful to reference the last FY goals and actuals in the planning process

Source FY22 Goal FY22 Actual FY23 Goal Strategies Responsible Party
annual campaign 475,000 475,000 500,000 Grow annual by 5.25% over FY22. Create a new campaign for top 25 donors to approach for larger gifts. Increase new gifts from x to y, increase # of monthly gifts from x to y. Dev Dir /CEO
planned giving       Initiate campaign, empanel planned giving committee, develop collateral, create legacy society, host first annual recognition event DD/CEO/ Planned Giving (PG) committee
corporate gifts 68,000 68,000 75,000 Acquire two new corporate donors at 5K each to grow campaign 10% from FY22 DD/CEO/ Board
grants 225,000 225,000 250,000 Acquire one new grantor at 25K. Approach xyz prospects DD/Grant Manager
events 175,000 175,000 175,000 Host annual gala and net 100K, host fall speaker luncheon to net 75K DD/Event committee
FY23 goal     1,000,000    

Planned Giving (PG) is a donation made during a donor’s lifetime or as part of a donor’s overall estate. UG hint: An organization will not know about over 90% of planned gifts until a donor passes. This does not mean that organizations shouldn’t be proactive about talking about planned giving and creating legacy societies.

Once you complete your chart, start converting it into SMART goals that are: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART goals will help you with the annual development plan as a way of a check and balance system, ensuring that your fundraising strategies and goals are achievable.

Step 3: Write the Narrative

Take each element of the overall campaign and explain it in detail. Do not assume that your readers will understand ‘development speak.’ Spell out exactly how you plan to meet the goals for each source by outlining the strategies in detail.


The FY23 combined events goal is $175,000. The goal is not being raised from FY22 given that we are just returning to in-person events after FY22’s hybrid events. The annual gala, scheduled for May 8, 2023, at the X Country Club, will be co-chaired by current board members x and y who have already generously committed to gold-level sponsorships. Fifteen additional community members have agreed to serve on the gala committee. The committee has established an event timeline and a schedule of monthly meetings to review the budget and event details. The committee will work closely with the Director of Development and the Event Manager to execute the event and achieve the net goal.

How to Communicate the Development Plan

Nonprofits absolutely need to support the organization overall as well as the annual campaign and events with a communications plan. You can do this as one combined Development/Communications document or create a separate plan detailing how the department will support every element, in what format (paper, flyers, paid ads, website, social media), and when. Citing your prior year, metrics will be equally as important so that all stakeholders understand what’s worked in the past and how to leverage those gains in the future.

Annual Plans Are Worth It

You will find that the time you spent creating the plan will be a sigh of relief when life gets chaotic. No matter what, you can refer back to the annual development plan to prioritize and keep you on track. Reminder – the plan is not static. You have room to be flexible and change course if necessary. Monitoring results in real-time with your CFO and reviewing the P&L statement monthly will help you decide if you need to make adjustments to the plan. By creating this plan, you have created a roadmap for your organization and volunteers to follow and be accountable for. You have also created confidence for your key stakeholders and volunteers that you and your team are good stewards of the organization’s development efforts.

Need help organizing fundraisers for your annual development plan? Check out the UncommonGood platform – filled with P2P custom profile pages, donor database management, and more!

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