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Jul 26, 2019 | Insights

More Than Just Fundraising: Why Fund Development is an Essential Nonprofit Planning Tool

Download the FREE chapter on fund development from our Executive Directors Guide

Everyone in the nonprofit sector knows what fundraising is. We execute direct mail campaigns, host special events, court sponsorships, write grant proposals, and make face-to-face donor asks every day. What is less widely understood in the field is the art of fund development.

Fund development is the ongoing strategic positioning of an organization to sustain and grow its resources by building relationships with those who understand and care about the organization’s relevance to the community. Building these relationships requires creating a shared vision, clear articulation of mission, creative strategies, and a solid communication plan.

Sound fund development plans are built on top of two main factors: relationships that continually strengthen connections between people and the mission of the organization, and solid organizational structures and practices that enable the organization to carry out its mission effectively. Both take considerable time and effort. Approximately 20 percent of an executive director’s work week should be devoted to fund development. The time allotment grows to 80 percent if the executive director also functions as the primary development staff member.

To effectively strengthen your fund development, you must be able to make your case for support to your constituents.


  1. Describe your organization’s relevance to its community in terms of mission, purpose, vision, and need.
  2. Align the organization’s inner circle — the staff, board, and volunteers — around the mission and vision of the organization.
  3. Define the key strategies, programs, and activities for fulfilling your mission.
  4. Make clear the connection between the organization’s core cause and relevance to the community and the interests of your current and potential donors, as well as the interests of other community stakeholders.
  5. List all the resources that will be required to implement strategies, programs, and activities; include in the list the people that are needed, the time they will spend, the equipment and facilities they will need, and the administrative overhead that will be attributed to running the project.
  6. Assign the cost of all the resources.
  7. Determine (internally and informally) how you will know and be able to show that you have accomplished what you set out to do. This begins the evaluation process.

Raising resources for nonprofits is about discipline, planning, passion for mission, and knowing how to connect people to that mission. Once you can effectively make your case for support, you are on your way to building a powerful fund development plan.

Want some more help working through the steps outlined here? Download the FREE Fund Development chapter of our Executive Director Guide today for additional tips and advice.