A nonprofit development assessment is exactly what it sounds like – a thorough assessment of your entire fundraising program. It’s perhaps the most important component of creating a smart fundraising strategy. And yet, so few nonprofits take the time to conduct a thoughtful and detailed assessment. Why? Because a development assessment is a big undertaking. But, it comes with an even bigger payoff when done well.

Why focus on a development assessment now?

Especially right now, organizations need to look for new ways to connect with existing and potential donors to keep donations coming in. It’s those organizations that can demonstrate real value to their communities that are going to sustain support and keep their mission going. A development assessment is one of the ways you can help push through the challenges facing all organizations right now and come out on the other side still able to support your mission as well, if not better, then before.

Knowing where you’ve been is the first step in determining where you’re headed.

When I support a nonprofit with an assessment and guide them through the process, there are no short cuts. Your team works together to dig deep into the inner-workings of the organization and better understand what drives donations, engages your community’s support and, ultimately, how to get closer to fulfilling your mission. I always recommend breaking assessments down into three sections explored over the course of about 2-4 months. Each section is designed to help you gain visibility into exactly how your organization has secured donations up to this point. Here are the three sections I focus on along with some pointers as to the type of information you’ll need to gather and evaluate as you embark on your own assessment.

  • Review of the Past 3-5 Years of Giving History
    This can include a review of your fundraising activities, including events and online giving days, an audit of where your largest donations originated from, and much more.  Get into the weeds with segments of donors who really came through with big dollar donations or consistent support year after year. Data is huge here – the more details you can find on giving history the stronger your strategic plan is going to be.
  • Stakeholder Interviews with Board Members, Donors, Volunteers and Staff
    I typically recommend that you pull in at least one stakeholder from each of the major areas of the organization so you have a wide perspective on operations, fundraising and marketing. Use these interviews to gather anecdotal data and insight into what aspects of fundraising have worked and which need further development.
  • Review of Your Communication Strategy, Channels and Marketing Materials
    Take a close look at how you’ve historically communicated to your existing and prospective donors. This is about more than making a list of communication strategies. As best you can, think through what your messages can be and precisely what you’re asking the donors to doThis way, you can properly evaluate effectiveness later in the assessment.When you’re done, your development assessment will be your baseline from which you and your team can make strategic decisions about the future of the organization.

Get your entire team rowing in the same direction.

Once you’ve determined that a development assessment is the best way to set a strategic path forward, it’s time to pitch the idea to your Board and Executive Director. Sometimes the biggest challenge in implementing a development assessment is getting collective buy-in that an assessment is necessary in the first place. There’s a fine line between using the assessment as a tool for strategic organizational growth and unintentionally creating an environment where a stakeholder feels like their work is being viewed under a microscope. The key to success here is communication. Communicate with your team and make it clear that, in the end, finding new ways to connect with donors and expand your donor pool is going to bring in more dollars and better position you to fulfill your collective mission.

You’re ready to dive into a development assessment – great! Now, what?

Prioritize your organization’s development assessment plan now so you can better traverse the new fundraising environment we’re faced with. Many organizations prefer to have a consultant conduct the assessment because the process can be very time-intensive. Additionally, the consultant is an expert at implementing the process and emotionally neutral about the data, which can help take the sting out of the findings. It is, however, possible to conduct a development assessment without counsel and, for financial reasons, it may be the wiser choice. When you emerge with your development assessment plan in hand, you and your team will have the insight to be proactive during an otherwise reactive time. Your assessment will reveal your organization’s strengths, giving you the opportunity to lean into those strengths and pour your resources into what you know is working.