This year’s budgeting and planning process: a Development Director’s guide

By March 13, 2017April 4th, 2017Empathetic, Optimistic, Focused

March and April mark planning and budget time for many educational institutions, and this year it will be tough. With the pressures of Brexit, along with economic and demographic changes, many institutions will be looking to make cuts in their operating budgets. All senior managers will be asked to ‘do their bit’ and model cuts to their budget. Some might be tasked with outlining how they can save 5, 10, or even 15% from their budget. Added to this there may be a freeze on recruitment to new or existing roles, and there will almost certainly be an atmosphere that discourages requests for additional budget.

In the midst of this there may also be a pressure to demonstrate how fundraising income can be increased or how philanthropy can play a part in making strategic plans (often capital) come to fruition.

‘Raise more with less’ appears to be the demand of fundraisers within education.

Added to this there is increased legal risk and uncertainty (in the form of the #ico and #gdpr) regarding the very tools which fundraisers may have relied on to help them increase income – the use of data and research to drive smarter, more targeted fundraising.

So it’s not only ‘raise more with less’, but ‘develop new practice and manage significant risk with no budget to do so’.

In the face of these challenges, how should a Development Director handle the planning and budgetary process?

Protect and defend

Shape up the budget you need, not the one you think you will get. As fundraisers, we are team players and will want to be seen as ‘doing our bit’, but perhaps doing our bit is actually about raising more, not finding cuts to our budget.

Just because the message is one of cuts does not mean you should not articulately defend or indeed seek an increase in your budget. If your institution cuts its fundraising budget, it must also proportionately cut its target for philanthropic income, and I feel sure that is not something any institution will want to see. Show how you can raise more, not less – and be honest about what it will cost to do so.

Be prepared to professionally outline what you need and justify it in terms of the return on investment. Use benchmarking data to help you make your case. Institutions with long-term growth in fundraising income have invested in a sustained way – in good years and in bad – in development. Short-term gains in budget cuts now will have long-term implications in fundraising income.

Use your risk register

Ensure fundraising and, in particular, data. ICO and GDPR are on the risk register with mitigation activity being an essential budget line for 2017/18. Consider including four areas of spend within the mitigation budget:

  • Investment in an assessment of your readiness for GDPR from a third party.
  • Increased alumni communications (focused on gaining consent).
  • Alumni surveys (to assist with consent and also to identify those with philanthropic interest).
  • Alumni telethon (to gain consent and thank rather than ask).

Also ensure philanthropic income is on your risk register with clear narrative as to how a reduction in income will affect university strategic plans.

Build support from other senior managers

Identify which other senior mangers have an interest in your area and put in joint bids to protect or increase your budget.

If you are raising money for specific projects, include the academic leaders of those projects in endorsing your bid to protect fundraising expenditure which supports that project. They will still expect you to raise money to assist them whether your budget is cut or not.

If you are requesting money for GDPR-related activity, do so jointly with the Chief Information Officer or Director of IT Services and the Legal Services Officer or Director of Finance. None of these colleagues will want there to be ICO/GDPR issues on their watch.

If you are focusing alumni activity on support employability and careers initiatives, involve your head of Careers in supporting your budget.

Link your plans to the institution’s strategy and KPIs

Demonstrate how your plans and the associated budgets support institutional strategy and KPIs. By disinvesting in your team’s work, the institution will be disinvesting in the very things they need to do to succeed. If budget cuts are absolutely necessary, then you will have provided clarity as to their impact.

Show long-term implications

Be prepared to outline how cuts will not only impact on funds raised this year, but those raised in subsequent years. Does your institution want to stymie future philanthropic income or force a delay in a campaign that is in planning by disinvesting now? How will the cuts affect ROI not just this year but in subsequent years? How will future risks increase if GDPR is not addressed, for example?

At Graham-Pelton, we know that planning and budget times can be stressful and time consuming, and that this year may be the toughest yet within the sector. We are here to assist, advise, and support our clients to face the 2017/18 year in the best shape possible.

— Susie Hills, Managing Director

All Services

Fundraising Strategy

  • Annual giving
  • Planned giving
  • Principal and major gifts
  • Risk assessment


  • Planning studies
  • Campaign strategy and counsel
  • Campaign assessments and audits
  • Communications
  • Coaching

Attraction and Retention

  • Donor relations
  • Alumni relations
  • Grateful patient programs
  • International scoping
  • Member relations

Organizational Effectiveness

  • Operational assessments
  • Talent assessments and development
  • Training and engagement
  • Interim staffing

Business Intelligence

  • Prospect profiling
  • Database optimization
  • Wealth screening and analysis
  • Fundraising metrics


By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.