Planning: priority or pointless?

10 simple tips for effective legacy fundraising

I’m a huge fan of planning for fundraising in general and legacy fundraising in particular. In my first role as a fundraiser (longer ago than I care to remember) we operated without a co-ordinated plan and, at times, it was a really stressful experience.

We’d try and put on event after event without having much of an idea whether they would be successful, how they would be promoted and without ever really having enough lead-in time. Learning to write a strategy was a revelation: if I hadn’t picked up those skills, I don’t think I would have stayed in this wonderful career.

I was flicking through some quotes on strategy and planning and came across this quote from Dwight Eisenhower:

Plans are nothing: planning is everything

At first I dismissed it – it seemed like a meaningless, even contradictory sound-bite – but it was one of those quotes that stuck in my mind. The more I thought about it, the more it actually seemed to make sense, even to a committed planner like me. It’s not the document you produce that really matters: what’s really important is to take time out to think about your approach in a careful and co-ordinated manner.

These are seven reasons why I think planning is everything, particularly in legacy fundraising:

  1. As legacy fundraisers, we’re working to longer time horizons than most of our colleagues, and seeking to build relationships between our donors and our organisations that will stay strong sometimes for 30, 40 or even 50 years. If we don’t approach these relationships in a considered, co-ordinated way, they’re unlikely to last long.
  2. Planning can also be a great way to get the buy-in of our colleagues – a hugely important issue for legacy fundraisers. If we involve them in the planning process it can help them to see the rational for what we’re doing, and feel a sense of ownership over the plan.
  3. Arguably, the most important part of any plan is to audit the current situation: to think about what in the wider world is affecting our donors and our fundraising, to take a long, hard look at where we are internally. As legacy fundraisers, for example, it’s going to be increasingly important for us to understand the needs and wants of the babyboomer audience, and how well set up we are to serve them. Ideally, we’d give ourselves the space to dig deep: to explore evidence rather than hearsay, to really understand external trends and the underlying reasons for our internal successes or failures.
  4. Looking at both the external and internal situation thoroughly enables us to seek out the key opportunities that we can deliver on by matching our internal resources and abilities to the trends we can see in the wider environment. If we can do that well, then the rest of the plan almost writes itself!
  5. We can translate those opportunities into goals and objectives, so we’re as clear as we can be about where we’re going. Even if how we end up getting there in a slightly different way than we first imagined, having that clear goal that we and our colleagues can work towards, can keep us on track over time.
  6. Although we might ultimately need to be flexible in our tactics, planning encourages us to think through the best way to achieve our goals, and encourages us to make sure that we have sufficient resources to get there.
  7. Finally, we can take some time out as part of the planning process to think about what’s most likely to go wrong. It’s almost guaranteed that issues will crop up with some aspect of a plan, and having some contingencies in place can lessen the stress considerably, particularly in a sensitive area like legacy fundraising.

Whilst these are all important benefits of planning, as a busy fundraiser, in practice, it can be difficult to find the time to step away from the day job and take a deep dive into forward planning. It can be helpful to literally step away: to take some time at home, or another space, to focus on the future.

Great Legacy Fundraising Masterclass

You might also find it helpful to take some time out to think through these and similar issues with other legacy fundraisers at Legacy Voice’s Great Legacy Fundraising Masterclass. It’s being held from 4-6 November at the beautiful Inch Hotel on the shores of Loch Ness.

About the Author

Claire Routley


Dr Claire Routley has worked in fundraising for twelve years, specialising in legacy fundraising for the last nine. In 2011, she completed a PhD looking at why people choose to leave legacies to charity.