When I was a kid in the 70’s, I remember watching a show called “Mulligan’s Stew” on Public Television. The show featured a half dozen or so semi long haired urban kids of various races and ages who were in a band that played songs about eating a healthy diet. Back then, the USDA suggested that a healthy diet consisted of four servings of grains, four servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of dairy products, and two servings of meat. Hearing these kids singing “Four, four, three, two, that’s the formula for me and you” was kind of hokey, but my mom was a dietician who pushed a balanced diet so I was encouraged to watch the show. It meant well and encouraged eating a balanced diet for good health. It was pretty goofy in hindsight, but that was the nature of many educational TV shows at the time.
Now, you are probably thinking, what the heck does some forty year old Public Television show about eating healthy have to do with a development plan for your nonprofit organization? Well, like a healthy diet, a healthy development plan needs to be balanced. It needs to have different parts and cannot rely too heavily on just one or two methods of support. For a healthy diet, you need a combination of foods to get the nutrients your body needs, and for a healthy development plan, you need a proper mix of funds to support your programs. If you depend on just one or two methods for income, you will face problems funding your organization.
I have seen nonprofits that think they can succeed by using just one or two funding methods. They put all their energy chasing grants to fund their programs, but when the funding organizations don’t give them the money they were planning on getting, they scramble to make up the loss. I have seen organizations put hundreds of employee hours planning expensive events, and then not get enough people to show up for the event, leaving a big hole in the budget. I have seen organizations rely heavily on Federal, state, or city payments for services, and when cuts happen due to falling tax revenue, programs get cut and fewer people get served. I have witnessed organizations lose corporate support and not be able to replace them at the same levels, endangering the existence of their programs.
When you are putting together your annual development plan, use a variety of methods to support your organization, and be realistic. Plan something that will bring in grassroots support and new donors. Write a few grant proposals for your programs. Strengthen your existing donor relations and increase stewardship. Research your midlevel donors and encourage greater giving and major gifts. Find businesses that will support your organization with corporate gifts. A balanced development plan will maintain your organization far better than relying on just one or two methods.