M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

Essentials of Development

Building a sustainable development program

Essentials of Development

Over three 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 350 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 development coaches present valuable materials and strategies designed to help small to mid-size organizations build a sustainable development structure.

Program Basics

  1. Time and dates: Two days each in January 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: $750 per organization. The Trust provides all meals, hotel accommodations with private rooms for each guest, all seminar materials, and coaching fees. Learn more about the Essentials of Development coaches and faculty here.

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 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 of development teams, each organization will bring three people to both seminar sessions: the head of your organization (e.g., Executive Director), and 2 board members, preferably including the board chair. If an organization has a paid development staff person, that individual is welcome to join as a fourth participant.
  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

Questions? Contact Sarah Ruckle at sarahr@murdocktrust.org or 360-906-6089.

How to Apply

Thank you for your interest in the Essentials of Development Program. Applications for our 2025 Essentials of Development cohort will be released in spring 2024 and cohort selections will be shared in fall 2024.

If you would like to be added to the applicant waitlist for our 2025 cohort, please sign up using this link. We recommend all leaders review our webpage to ensure organizational fit with programmatic content and eligibility criteria.

We will proactively email the leaders on the waitlist with a link to apply as soon as our application process opens in spring 2024.



  • On May 31, 2022, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust hosted a seminar led by Colby Reade, Director of Communications at the Murdock Trust, on the intersection of social media and fundraising. In the seminar, Colby introduces skills for leveraging social media for development and answers questions from the current Essentials cohort. Watch the 53-minute recording here.
  • On March 28, 2022, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust hosted a 58-minute seminar led by Brad Layland, CEO of The Focus Group, on the subject of raising planned and estate gifts. In this training, Brad explains the critical importance of estate gifts to your fundraising strategy, and how to make the ask. Watch the recording here, and view the slides from the seminar here.

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.

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