Perfecting Your Fundraising Strategy in the New Year

By Aly Sterling, founder and president of Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Perfecting Your Fundraising Strategy in the New Year

With the new year comes a fresh start. You have a full 365 days to fill with fundraising activities, social activities, and positive impact activities fueled by gifts from donors.

You have another year of efforts under your belt, a year that was probably full of successes and less-so. To make the most of the fresh new year, you need to incorporate all that you’ve learned. If you’re ready to make the most of fundraising in 2020, to make every day a campaign day— begin with revisiting your fundraising strategy.

We’ve outlined six steps to follow when perfecting your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy in 2020. Make sure to:

  1. Assess your strategy from last year.
  2. Outline your goals.
  3. Research your prospects.
  4. Revisit your fundraising collateral.
  5. Fortify your internal operations.
  6. Lay-out your action plan.

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to revisit and refresh your fundraising strategy. If you’re ready to kick the year off right, let’s get started!

1. Assess your strategy from last year.

There’s a famous quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, that goes something like this:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Perfecting your fundraising strategy, by definition, means changing aspects of it to perform more optimally. However, how will you know what to change, what to improve and what to leave alone without first assessing your strategy from last year?

The first step in assessing your strategy is simply reviewing your organization’s fundraising data. Consider:

  • Donor retention rate.
  • Participation in initiatives, such as events and campaigns.
  • Email open rate.
  • Success in campaign fundraising.

During this assessment, consider the initiatives that had the most success. What worked, and what didn’t? For example, you may notice an email funnel with a particularly high open rate or an outreach method that furthered your campaign’s goals more than any other. Use this information to help refine your future marketing approaches and encourage engagement.

It can be difficult to assess your fundraising strategy’s successes and failures, especially when it’s something you’ve put so much work into! An outside perspective (from a fundraising consultant) can help you pinpoint any gaps you may be missing and refine your future strategy. This team member can provide a fresh perspective informed by experience working with other organizations. For more information, check out this Aly Sterling Philanthropy on fundraising consultants.

2. Outline your goals.

Setting concrete, actionable goals gives organizations something to work toward. Let’s take a look at this in two parts: your overall fundraising goal and your gift range chart.

Overall Fundraising Goal

Your overall fundraising goal can either be the amount you want to raise by the end of a campaign, such as a capital campaign, or simply the amount you’d like to raise over the course of a year. We’re going to discuss it as an amount (“raise X in donations”), but realize that you can add goals such as increasing donor retention or volunteer participation to supplement your main objective.

You should aim to set a reasonable stretch goal— that is, one that expands on your current fundraising ability without being too unrealistic. To do so, use historic fundraising numbers to predict your current abilities and interview key stakeholders to get their input on your goal.

Once you have this overall number (or other metrics), create a gift range chart.

Gift Range Chart

A gift range chart outlines exactly what you’ll need to raise to reach your fundraising goal, split into tiers of donors. It separates your overall fundraising goal into tiers of gift amounts, the number of donors you’ll need at each tier, and the number of prospects you’ll need to identify to reach that number of donors.

As you build your chart, you’ll realize that the higher the gift amount is, the fewer prospects you need to reach your goal. It’s a good idea to focus on stewarding those major supporters as by doing so, you’ll be able to solicit fewer donors overall. If you don’t have a strong major gifts program, now might be the time to re-evaluate it.

3. Research your prospects.

Remember the prospects we mentioned in building your gift range chart? They’re identified through a process called prospect research.

Prospect research is a technique used to discover those donors most likely to give to your organization. It examines wealth and warmth indicators as evidenced by your donor data to identify individuals, foundations and corporations likely to donate.

This research looks at donor characteristics such as:

  • Philanthropic indicators like previous nonprofit donations, involvement and personal information and demographics.
  • Wealth indicators like real estate ownership, SEC transactions, business affiliations and political giving.

While this is an incredibly valuable tool to improve your fundraising in the new year, it can also be hard to complete. We can’t all be IT and data analysis experts!

There are consultants that specialize in guiding nonprofits through prospecting, often researching your donors and narrowing down the most likely prospects. Then, you can immediately incorporate that information into your fundraising strategy!

Or, as recommended in this article, you can use technology to support your efforts instead. Prospect research software evaluates the information in your donor database and identifies these key potential donors for you. However, it’s still important to remember that genuine donor stewardship— not technology-led— is crucial to secure gifts. Check out this Double the Donation guide to prospect research tools for more information.

4. Revisit your fundraising collateral.

Once you hit the ground running with fundraising, you may not have time to perfect your donor-facing communications. It’s a good idea to revisit your fundraising collateral now, before the year ramps up, to make sure everything is up to date.

First and foremost, your case for support needs to be ironclad. This is the document that answers one crucial question: Why should donors support your nonprofit?

It needs to be compelling and factual; persuasive and trustworthy. It should articulate:

  • Your organization’s mission and impacts.
  • The need for your work.
  • Why donor dollars are needed.
  • How those dollars will be used (hint: to address need and benefit the community, thereby furthering your mission).

Your case for support is arguably one of the most important documents your nonprofit creates. This is because it’s used as a resource by your board, staff members and volunteers and serves as a source document for all other communications vehicles and mediums — website, social media, appeal letters, you name it.

Similarly, this is also a good time to revisit your other marketing collateral. Check out your nonprofit’s website and social media profiles to make sure they’re up to date. Further, revisit any fundraising letter templates you intend to keep using. For assistance, check out this guide to fundraising letters.

5. Fortify your internal operations.

There’s little point in perfecting your fundraising strategy if you don’t have a strong team to carry it out first. If you’re not working as a cohesive unit, the strategy will fall apart— fast.

Luckily, fortifying your internal operations doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Evaluate where your organization succeeded and where your organization met roadblocks internally. Then, simply outline procedures accordingly!

Focus on the following:

  • Delegation. Make sure every task is delegated to a specific team member and communicated accordingly.
  • Communication. There should be procedures in place for communicating in various situations and open channels between various team members.
  • Timelines. For the next step, you’re going to create a fundraising calendar. Ensure that your timeline, benchmarks and check-in and meeting procedures are outlined.
  • Culture. Communicate expectations around participation in fundraising for all members of your team, from board members to volunteers.

Just as it might be difficult to evaluate your fundraising strategy’s success, it can be difficult to evaluate your own internal operations. Being close to an issue can bias your view! Consider hiring fundraising consultants to help guide the process.

These third-party team members provide an unbiased view of your organization’s operations and can help you navigate tricky conversations around changing expectations.

6. Lay-out your action plan.

Once you’ve done your prep work and homework, you can finalize your new fundraising strategy by creating a definitive plan of action.

This plan of action should outline your fundraising goals and the initiatives you’ll use to reach them. These activities should be outlined in one overall fundraising calendar. When creating this calendar, make sure to:

  • Schedule fundraising initiatives without overlap.
  • Note the team member or committee tasked with completing the task.
  • The estimated cost to complete the task.
  • What defines “success” of that task.
  • Benchmarks to evaluate success for that task.

This could be as in-depth as working with a capital campaign consultant to set deadlines for the beginning of your quiet phase. Or, it might be identifying a few smaller fundraising campaigns to hold throughout the year and choosing where they’re going to fit into your organization’s calendar.

Let’s look at an example.

  • Timeframe: The month of January.
  • Activity: Send out donor surveys.
  • Team members: Marketing committee.
  • Cost: Approximately $100 in staff costs.
  • Definition of Success: at least a 25-50% response rate.
  • Benchmarks: Evaluate survey responses at the end of the month.

Create a calendar in this manner featuring all fundraising activities you plan to complete throughout the year. Team members will always know what they’re supposed to be completing and when.


The new year represents a fresh start, a full 365 days to use to the fullest! To make the most of this year, begin by revisiting your fundraising strategy.

While that may seem like an overwhelming task, this step-by-step guide will help you get started. You’ve got this!

About the Author

Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations.

Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.

Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.