October 18, 2019

Are Your Fundraising Projections Realistic? Find Out in 5 Minutes

Joe was hired four months after the start of the new fiscal year. Among other duties, he was asked to raise money. The income he was responsible for getting included $150,000 in grants, $100,000 from sponsorships, and $90,000 from individuals. Was Joe set up for failure? Or were these goals realistic with a solid stretch?

Unreasonable income expectations include too little stretch, like not seeking growth to meet inflation, and too much stretch, like going from zero to a half-million dollars with a new funding source. Too little push causes underperformance and lost money. On the other hand, too much stretch stresses everyone out and causes staff turnover.

Nonprofits need “just right” fundraising expectations. These expectations include new funds to cover inflation, growth, and initiatives.

How Realistic Are Your Expectations? Find out In Five Minutes

Use the following “quiz” to determine if your projections are realistic. Read the sentence. Place a checkmark on each sentence that is true-for-your-organization.

Expectations about the nonprofit income to be raised next year are based on the following:

1. Experience

Does your income estimate represent moderate growth based on your recent experience? Joe checks, yes. In the last three years, Joe’s organization raised $120,000, $90,000, and $80,000 from individuals and similar amounts from grants and sponsorships.

2. Industry Standards

Do nonprofit organizations, ideally in your sector, size, and genre, regularly achieve this level of funding or income growth? For example, according to American for the Arts, fifty percent of nonprofit arts organizations’ income is earned. Joe calls his statewide association to confirm that the level of sponsorship support is a little high but not far beyond standard. He marks a second yes.

3. A Thoughtful Strategy

Do you have a path from here to there? Joe talks to his executive director and learns that several corporate sponsorships are in the works and active prospects exist. The two discuss how they can achieve the goal.

Mark this yes if you know the steps needed to achieve your goals. Mark it no if the goals exist without solid plans to achieve them.

4. Resources

You can’t make spaghetti if you lack pasta. Do you have what you need to achieve the results you seek? Resources include staffing or external labor, databases in good working order, and funds for stewardship.

Joe learns that there is a list of potential grant sources interested in his cause. Several foundations have funded the group in the past and are encouraging new applications. A budget exists to get some prospect research training. With a flourish, Joe checks this statement.

5. Skills

An individual can be an expert at brain surgery theory and have a hospital full of resources, but if they never operated, would you let them touch your skull? Obtaining nonprofit income isn’t magical. It takes skills. Joe has skills. He avidly studies the field. He has access to a consultant, board members, and professional groups. His board is experienced in raising money and donating. Last year, half of them gave gifts of more than $5,000. Joe knows the more skills he has or can access, the better the predictability of his income. He plans to grow his talents after he checks the statement yes.

6. Time

Having resources and skills and using them are two discrete states. Many people own treadmill machines and know how to use them. Yet, the treadmills are covered with spider webs. You may have incredible prospects. However, what are the odds of success if you fail to interact with them?

Joe speaks to his Executive Director. She assigns another staff member to the marketing and public relations function currently part of his job description. After this, Joe knows he has the time to pursue revenue. He marks the statement as yes.

7. Commitment

You, your board, and its members may understand that achieving your income goals will require different actions. Still, if everyone embraces efforts halfheartedly, you’ll fail to meet your goal.

When seeking income becomes difficult, does pursuing it becomes a low priority? When a major gift donor says “no,” does staff effort to seek major gifts decrease for months?

Mark this yes if

  • You are steadfast in your commitment.
  • The board and staff are willing to invest, grow, and take action, even if it makes them squirm.
  • Obtaining income and fundraising is a top priority.

Joe answers yes to this sentence based on the answers he has heard to his questions and his enthusiasm for his new job.

8. Flexibility

Flexibility is about a willingness to learn and respond to significant changes. All the skills, resources, commitments, and income strategies that were successful before the Great Recession, COVID, and the next crisis faced new challenges during and after. If you are flexible on how you will obtain income and recognize that you do not control all the factors influencing it, check this yes.

How Realistic Are Your Expectations Scoring:

To find your score, add the checkmarks. The higher your score, the more realistic your expectations are.

6-8: Great, go for it.

4-5: Maybe.

1-3: No way.

The Bottom Line

Like Joe, no matter your score, you can modify your goals and actions to create realistic expectations and find a way to earn the funds you need. Setting realistic expectations, obtaining income, and fundraising are all processes. Start sharpening the techniques you use today.

For more information, read Setting Realistic Expectations About Income.

For more answers, check out the Nonprofit CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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