M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

Essentials of Development

Building a sustainable development program

Essentials of Development

Over two decades ago, the Murdock Trust assembled a group of small and emergent nonprofit organizations to teach them the basics of fundraising. Since then, more than 250 organizations have benefited from the Essentials of Development — valuable training that helps them both articulate their mission and create a development program that will sustain the organization for years to come.

Over a pair of two-day sessions, our team of coaches of Pacific Northwest leaders present valuable materials and strategies designed to help smaller or start-up organizations build a sustainable development structure.

Program Basics

  1. Time and dates: Two days each in December and May (four total days)
  2. Topic overview: These seminars introduce important strategies, such as methods for developing a case statement, special approaches to donors with major gift capacity, role-playing on how to make the “ask,” an overview of the board’s role in the development program, and more.
  3. Registration: $600 per organization. The Trust provides all meals, hotel accommodations in a private room, and all seminar materials.

Core Values and Outcomes

Essentials of Development is named for its four essentials, which are directly tied to the program’s outcomes:

Essential #1: The Case Statement

Essentials of Development

  • An organization’s presentation piece for one-on-one interactions with prospective and continuing donors, the case statement is a key element of the Essentials program. It is written in conjunction with a philosophy of development describing how and why your organization seeks financial support from stakeholders, and what benefits or outcomes donors receive when they give. Each organization completes the Essentials of Development program with a polished case statement. To put the case statement into practice, at least two personal donor calls will be made and assessed by the Essentials faculty before the May session. (Log in to see the Case Statement Videos.)

Essential #2: The Annual Plan

  • A strong annual plan allows organizations to execute their mission and purpose through budgets and funding goals. This written strategy is prepared during one of the two-day seminars.

Essential #3: Segmented Donor List

  • Segmenting your donor list and having unique strategies for each segment — even to the level of individual donors — is a key value of the Essentials philosophy. Seminar participants will learn how to divide their roster of donors for maximum personalization and effectiveness. Each organization will leave with a segmented list of its donors, including a written strategy for re-engaging lapsed donors.

Essential #4: Development Team

  • An important component of any development strategy is having a core group of organizational leaders involved in the cultivation and solicitation of major donors. Each organization will begin to establish its development team, beginning with those who attend the seminar (see #3 below under Expectations).

As we’ve been following the Essentials manual, it has truly revolutionized our development work. It’s allowed us to become more focused on relationships and less focused on events… our team feels like we’re finally getting to know our donors, understand them, and thank them well.

Nathan Kessler-Jeffrey, Executive Artistic Director, San Juan Community Theatre


In addition to a willingness to work within the structure of the core values listed above, there are four additional expectations of organizations participating in the Essentials of Development program:

  1. Prior to the seminar, each organization will complete a current survey that asks questions related to the organization’s finances, donor history, development strategies and more. Two additional surveys will build on the first survey. Completion of all surveys is a requirement of the Essentials program. The Trust uses this information to assess each organization’s progress and improve the Essentials program, and organizations will be given feedback regarding all survey results.
  2. Organizations will be coached by an Essentials faculty member, who works with the organization from the survey prior to the first seminar through the remainder of the training, to assess and build the organization’s development process.
  3. Because of the core value regarding development teams, each organization will bring three or four people to both seminar sessions: the head of your organization (e.g., Executive Director), at least one board member (the board chair is preferable) and an additional board or staff member involved in fundraising.
  4. Each organization will complete its assigned work — specifically, the creation of the documents described above under Core Values and Outcomes. These documents will be evaluated by the Essentials faculty.


Real-time evaluation and feedback are provided during the Essentials of Development seminars and coaching sessions. Additionally, the Trust follows up with each participating organization to determine the program’s impact on the number of donor calls being made, board/director support, and the level of increase in giving revenue.

Additional Clarification

Essentials IS for organizations that are…

  1. Small- to mid-sized that need help increasing the contributed income base of their revenue stream
  2. Willing to exert the concerted effort to implement the four “Essentials” of development in their fundraising practice
  3. Desiring to focus mostly on increasing their individual donor base, including major donors
  4. Committed to including the Executive Director and two board members in both training sessions (Note: the same two board members should attend both sessions).

Essentials IS NOT for organizations…

  1. Looking for help mostly in the area of foundations and grants
  2. Seeking to get their foot further in the door with the Murdock Trust
  3. Hoping for a “quick fix” for their contributed revenue need

Have questions? Contact us at essentialsofdevelopment@murdocktrust.org or 360-694-8415.



  • On June 18, 2021, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust hosted a one-hour webinar led by Brad Layland on the subject of establishing a planned giving program within a nonprofit. The conversation focused mostly on estate planning and includes keen insights on how to approach donors for an estate planning conversation. Brad is the lead presenter for the Murdock Trust’s Essentials of Development fundraising training program and has over 25 years of fundraising and consulting experience. Watch the recording here.
  • Fundraising During Uncertain Times – An insightful webinar series produced by American Philanthropic. Topics include strategies for shifts in major gifts, in-person events, foundations and grants, and social media and digital marketing.

Digital Downloads

Below is a list of materials and handouts included in the Essentials of Development Book:

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The Trust guides nonprofit organizations through every level of their development through grants and other resources.

The Trust has a wealth of knowledge and experience that can make all the difference to you and your organization.