The Indispensability of Multi-Year Donor Planning

Let’s say your portfolio has 150 prospects.   Most readers of this blog (because they are some of the sharpest development folk out there!) have a plan for how each will be solicited in the coming year.  It may be that you plan to solicit 40-60 during face-to-face visits with specific, major gift proposals.

Others in your portfolio will get some sort of personalized annual fund proposal based on a myriad of circumstances (e.g., they just completed the final installment of a recent major gift).  A minority in your portfolio may end up in the regular direct mail, e-solicitation, phonathon flow.

Whatever the strategy for each donor, you have an annual plan.  That’s good.

But what about taking it a step further.  Do you also build multi-year donor plans?  These are plans created for each donor in your portfolio which forecast a donor’s giving over the next five years.  Such planning introduces the strategic question of, “In 2015, at what level do we want this donor to be giving?”

I find some CEOs, VPs, DODs and MGOs who annually do this type of multi-year planning.  And while they don’t always hit their multi-year goals for each of the donors in their portfolio, I’m convinced they stretch the giving of those donors far more than those development professionals who do not plan similarly.

So why doesn’t everyone create multi-year plans for the donors in their portfolios?  My sense is that the biggest reason is the unknown.  I hear development professionals say, “There are a million and one things that can happen in a donor’s life or in our economic/financial world which will impact their giving over the next five years – it’s folly to try to create such a long-range plan when so much is unknown.”

And while this perspective is logical, it misses a bigger point.  As Dwight D. Eisenhower is quoted as saying,

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

It’s almost never about the plan, it’s about the planning.


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