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Work Smarter, Not Harder

Jeff Bagel, CFRE is the author of Annual Fundraising Plans Made Simple.  His book is a CASE Top Seller and has been become a solid resource for fundraising professionals in more than 10 countries. Jeff led a session on Annual Fundraising Plans Made Simple at Nonprofit Day 2018. Jeff is a Principal with eAdvancement Consulting and loves talking all things philanthropy. You can call him at 716.543.3400 or visit his website at  

I think we can all agree that we work hard. But do we always work smart?

An annual fundraising plan (AFP) can help fundraisers do just that: Work smarter.

Creating an AFP is easy. It’s a great way to manage and motivate your staff, volunteers, board members and supervisor. An AFP develops outcomes that can be used for organizational assessment and future planning. An effective AFP sets expectations and helps staff members reach their individual goals while clearly defining their roles and responsibilities. It is the road map for staff and key stakeholders to move their institutions forward.

First, ask yourself this question: “How would you describe your institution’s current annual fundraising plan?” Here are a few common answers and some thinking to guide where to go from there.

Plan? What plan?

Let’s be honest: Most fundraisers, especially in smaller fundraising shops, do not have a comprehensive AFP. You may have a plan for specific campaigns or programs, or staff members may individually plan what they are working on, but there most likely isn’t an AFP for the entire unit or team. If you’re in this situation, that’s okay. Begin a conversation today with your fellow staff members on the benefits of creating a comprehensive AFP that includes all stakeholders’ participation. (My book, Annual Fundraising Plans Made Simple: A Road Map for Community Colleges and Small Development Shops, can also help you get started.)


We have a plan, but it isn’t working well or meeting all of our goals.

You may have an AFP (usually limited in scope), but all or most members of the team have difficulty sticking to it. If that’s your situation, don’t be discouraged! You are already heading in the right direction. Your AFP may need some updating. One explanation: Those responsible for implementing the AFP may view it as an unnecessary inconvenience in a busy workday. There are many ways to overcome this hurdle. One is to review the targeted outcomes with your team to ensure that these outcomes are based on metrics and not-pie-in-the sky projections. Others may have an AFP that they adhere to, but it may not be working well or meeting their goals. If that’s you, don’t be disheartened. Take a step back for a moment and re-evaluate. Clear your head. Try to look at it from the viewpoint of a third party, such as a consultant. Remember, you are the one who is closest to all the action. You have the expertise. You just need a little separation. When you look at your AFP again, you may be able to do so a little more objectively. Your AFP is probably not working due to one or both of these factors:

  • The plan is not clear and concise.
  • The tactics in the plan are not being implemented effectively to attain the desired outcomes.


We have a plan, but it’s not realistic.

Still others may have an AFP, but it isn’t realistic. A common pitfall when creating an AFP is to over-promise and under-deliver. When this happens, people quickly determine that the AFP isn’t useful, which often has a negative impact on morale. The AFP may be placed on a shelf, never to be looked at again. Don’t fall into this trap. For an AFP to be effective, it must be realistic.

We have one, but it needs improvement.

Finally, you may have a pretty good AFP, but you know that there is always room for improvement. For the individuals in this group, I commend you for your effort and interest in continuing your quest for improvement. I encourage you to celebrate achieving your milestones.

You have the power to make your life easier with an AFP. You have the power to lead your staff, volunteers and board members. It starts with you. 

The Nonprofit Partnership's offices at The Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Transformational Philanthropy are open Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM.

Phone 814.240.2490