Last month, I visited my daughter’s homestead in Hawaii.  Some people go on Hawaiian vacations and sip fruity cocktails with umbrellas in them on pristine sandy beaches.  I go on Hawaiian vacations and help build bunny hutches out of recycled wooden pallets.  Some people stay in luxurious hotels in Waikiki or Kona.  I stay in a ten by ten cabin on the rainy side of the Big Island, with plywood and screen “walls” that let the trade winds come through and keep (most of) the mosquitos out.

Before you get out your tiny little violin, let me say that I LOVE my Hawaiian vacations.  I am not opposed to pristine beaches and lovely hotels. Nor am I opposed to cocktails – perish the thought!  But I am a dyed-in-the-wool-DIY-punk-rock-hippie-earth-mother.  I grow vegetables in pots on the patio of my condo. I pickle and can.  I like to make things from scratch.  I like to figure stuff out.  I like to jump in and get my hands dirty.

It shouldn’t be any wonder why I love working with smaller organizations.  Much like my daughter’s homestead, everything is built from the ground up.  When I walked into my last development position, it was the first time that the organization had an in-house fundraiser on staff.  As a one-person development department, I got to create my own systems and procedures and learn by trial and error.

Of course, the downside was that I had to build everything from the ground up, create my own systems and procedures, and learn by trial and error.  There is nothing more overwhelming than an empty slate.

So, where do you begin? The answer to that question will be a little different for every organization, but there are a few basics you will need in order to build a strong development department.  The order in which you tackle these will depend on your organization’s needs and priorities as well as the level of infrastructure already in place.

Donor Database – If you are building an individual giving program, you will need to be able to track who gave what, when and why.   There are a lot of options out there, from software developed specifically for nonprofits like Raiser’s Edge and Donor Perfect to CRM, or Customer Relationship Management programs, like Salesforce and Dynamics.  Many of these databases offer the option of hosting your data on their servers, allowing you to access it from any computer, or even your smartphone, via the internet.  If you don’t have an IT person on staff or you’ve cobbled your network together with donated computers this can be a great way to ensure your data is always backed up and secure.

Grant Calendar/Database – Some organizations track this information in their donor database while others prefer to keep it separately in an Excel spreadsheet or in something more robust like FileMaker or Access.  Whatever you choose, your tracking system should include contact information, application processes, due dates, history of past applications and support, report requirements, and a section for notes.

Gift Acceptance Policy – Do you accept gifts of stock? How about real estate? Are your Board members able to place restrictions on their annual contributions?  What is your process for acknowledging and receipting gifts?   Everything you need to know about donation protocols and procedures should be in this handy-dandy document.

Editorial Calendar – How do you make sure that your sponsors don’t get an end-of-year direct mail letter a week after they received your sponsorship appeal?   How do you integrate social media and blog posts into your end-of-year campaign?  Easy! An editorial calendar!  Yours should cover every print and digital communication from gala invitations to social media.  An editorial calendar not only keeps your communications timely, it ensures that your content is always targeted and on message.

Finally, you may want to conduct a Grant Readiness Assessment of your organization.  Is there adequate fiscal infrastructure in place to track grant funds as they are expended?  Are you in compliance with the IRS and any licensing requirements? Are program evaluations being conducted and the results being used to make programs more effective or efficient?   A grant readiness assessment is a top-to-bottom, in-depth evaluation examining the organization’s administrative, fiscal and program operations.  Just because the organization has received some grants in the past, doesn’t mean its grant ready.

I know it looks like a lot.  But you can do it! I have faith in you!  And if you do get stuck, contact me.  I can help.