With donor support, nonprofit organizations can deliver on their messages and serve their communities without issue.
But what would happen if organizations lost their donors?
According to Constance Karapelou, director of advancement at Cleveland State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and Terry Uhl, executive director at Shoes and Clothes for Kids, both in Cleveland, nonprofits ensure that doesn’t happen by instating donor development plans.
“(Donor development plans) are for an organization’s short- and long-term needs,” Uhl said. “Every organization, particularly in today’s environment, needs to look at donor development plans as helping you meet those short-term organizational needs and the longer-term view. It’s about continuing to meet the needs of the community and organization.”
Karapelou said each donor differs, so having a strategy makes it easier to build meaningful relationships with each individual.
“Each donor is unique, possessing their own passions and interests,” she said. “In addition, donors are at different phases in their lives regarding the capability of giving a major or planned gift to an organization. A strategy plan maps out the stages of building a relationship with each donor, unique to their circumstances, to best ensure success in philanthropy.”
On an organization’s long-term prosperity, both professionals said donor development plans are key.
“Donor development helps an organization plan for its future and creates a blueprint for how short-term and long-term needs will be met,” Karapelou stated.
Uhl added, “Sustainability of any organization is always critical. It is always easy for boards, staff and funders to get focused on what they’re doing this year. But if you don’t plan for the future, you can get too caught up on the short-term. Then, you can’t adapt to change. It’s having a good view of where your organization is and where you need to go.”
Donor development plans come in many shapes and sizes.
“You always need to take care and pay strong attention to your current donors,” Uhl explained. “Those who have already supported your current organization, you need to make sure you’re always staying in touch with them. Secondly, as you identify things your organization is trying to accomplish, you need to develop your donor base. Keep donors up to date on how you’re helping them down the path your organization is going. This helps them feel attached to the work.”
Uhl added developing “fresh” donors is a key part of donor development. This ensures future viability, he said.
Karapelou said donor development plans should identify organizational stakeholders, which in the case of Cleveland State, would be the dean, faculty, president and development officer. From there, it would include scheduled meetings, stewardship touch points, special events and recognition of special dates.
“(This) lets the donor know they are an integral and important part of the organization,” she explained. “Depending on approval of the donor, sharing the good news with the community when a gift is made is also very important, as well as continuing to involve the donor in the life of the organization.”
For donor development plans to work, it has to be a partnership.
“Partnerships are the cornerstone to success by creating a win-win for both the donor and the organization,” Karapelou said. “A solid partnership will enable the donor to feel satisfied with their philanthropic gift and investment in the organization, and the organization can fulfill their programs and projects to continue benefiting the community.”
Uhl added, “Different donors at different stages of their lives have different wants and needs. So, you need to keep that in mind. It’s about being flexible with all that and making sure the staff and board are helping implement all that because it can be a big challenge if you’re not ready for it.”