How to Set Fundraising Goals

November 23, 2008

Posted in Fundraising.

Last year, I missed a board meeting. I was eager to hear how it went, since we were in a time of turmoil and many of our meetings took unexpected turns.

The board made up a fundraising goal for me.


Yep, that’s pretty much how it went.

1. Start with your budget.

The biggest difference between last year and this year is that we have a budget for 2009. We’ve had “budgets” before, but they weren’t really based on reality – they were based on the previous year’s numbers and mostly uneducated guesses about how we were going to change. They had lots missing. They were unnecessarily complicated.

Assume for now that this is your barebones budget, no extras or dreams included:

Income $500
Expenses $700
Net Income ($200)

There you go! You need to raise $200. I call this an operational goal.

That’s your Mendoza line. That’s how much you have to raise to break even. This is a good start. It’s part of the general health of your organization, being able to sustain your current way of life.

Obviously, you should work hard to bring those expenses down and push that income up. It takes a lot of pressure off of the fundraising goal.

2. Identify your needs.

This year, we need to repair buildings, replace our pier, and buy some equipment for a new program. These are outside of the $200 goal above.

The #1 question I get when I talk to prospects is “What do you need?” This list is a great answer.

3. Dream big.

What’s on your list for next year? The next five years? Start planning and raising money for these dreams now. If you have a $3.5 million project you want to take on, most of us aren’t going to accomplish that overnight.

If you’re lucky enough to have a major donor willing to make a large gift, you don’t want to dream too small. Don’t leave your donors disappointed by asking for too little when they are willing to make the big dreams come true.

4. Don’t do it alone.

Get buy-in. The board, the staff, and your biggest donors must be able to support your fundraising goals. They must respect the magnitude of the number and be willing to help you get there. Help everyone understand how you came to this goal and just what it will do for the organization if you can reach it.

5. Meet the goal.

I’m just kidding. I’ll write about how to meet your fundraising goals in my next post. But it’s on this list for a reason: setting goals don’t mean anything if you don’t work to achieve them. Like creating a strategic plan with no implementation, a fundraising goal you can’t realistically achieve is a mountain you wistfully admire but will never climb.

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