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Ready for a Development Assessment?

What is a development assessment and why does a nonprofit organization need one?

Nonprofit periodically need assessments (audits) of all their operations. Think of it as a wellness checkup. A development assessment is like a traditional SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) evaluation.

Many nonprofits do really well with their fundraising efforts for many years until they don’t. Or maybe they need to additional funds for a special project or capital campaign. This task is often performed by consultants in order to provide an objective, unbiased overview and offer recommendations.

Gail Perry ( along with Penelope Burk and Dr. Russell James, are valuable, go-to resources for me.

Here’s Ms. Burk has to say about development assessments/audits.

She says, before you can create a fundraising strategy and plan of action, you must know where you are, take stock, and evaluate how things are working. She outlines five steps for a fundraising assessment:

Step one: Pull your data. What does it tell you?

  • What are the trends?

  • Are you retaining (keeping) or losing donors?

  • What is your donor renewal and attrition rates?

  • Are event attendees being cultivated as prospective donors?

  • Are visits and major gift asks being documented?

The numbers don’t lie. You have FACTS upon which to build your plan.

Step Two: Ask the tough questions.

When you do a fundraising assessment, you have permission to ask awkward questions.

Step Three: Assess your current fundraising results.

Review all your various fundraising programs – mailings, events, major gifts, grants, corporate and foundation support, digital strategies. What results are you getting?

  • What’s working well? What’s working not so well?

  • What can be improved or changed?

  • What is eating up time and attention, but not paying off?

Where could you add resources and receive a significant increase in revenue? Also, look at other areas that impact your fundraising success, such as your board and leadership, technology and data systems, internal culture of philanthropy, and your administrative support.

Step Four: Identify your fundraising challenges.

If you want to know how much you can raise, you must be willing to acknowledge what’s not working.

  • Are there people who are impediments to good fundraising?

  • Are you losing too many donors each year?

  • Have you cut your fundraising budget and staff but not your fundraising expectations?

  • Is your staff totally burned out?

  • Is your signature event losing steam?

Being realistic will lead to smart decisions and planning. Try to turn your challenges into opportunities.

Step Five: Identify your fundraising opportunities.

Does your organization have a new CEO? Were you recently in the news? Do you have a popular gala or other event? These are just some of the opportunities you may have not noticed that could impact your fundraising.

Your assessment document should be brief and answer these questions:

  • How effective is our current fundraising program?

  • Where are the big opportunities to increase our revenue streams?

  • Where do we need to focus our time, energy, and resources?

An assessment can uncover what’s holding your team back from raising big money. This will help you step back and look at how you can raise money in new and better ways. Having a written plan is important to help you prepare and track your fundraising efforts. How do you know what is working unless you take time to measure your efforts?

Additionally, the development assessment and plan work well with your strategic plan to identify your funding needs. If your organization is considering a new program, initiative, or especially a capital project, then analyzing your fundraising structure is an important first step.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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