Who Needs a Strategic Plan? You Do!

Whether yours is a large or small nonprofit organization, you need a strategic plan.

What’s all the buzz about planning? What do you need—a long range plan (and what is long range anyway?), a business plan, a strategic plan? Long-range these days is usually three years and that is how often you should revisit your plan. A business plan is really a term borrowed from, guess where—the business world! Although these terms are often used interchangeably, what makes the plan strategic is that you will identify strategies to help meet your goals and objectives. So that’s what we’re going to refer to your plan as here.

The strategic plan encompasses all components of your organization—program, finances, facilities, and human resources. One thing that make nonprofit plans different from a business plan are that there is a charitable component to most nonprofits; many rely heavily on charitable donations. Although your nonprofit might also have a revenue-generating model that might include fee-for-services, or social enterprise, even a for-profit division, donations are probably crucial to your existence. The other thing that is unique in nonprofit strategic plans is that the role of the board in implementing the plan is critical.

Is the strategic plan the same as your development plan? No! Although a great part of your strategic plan might revolve around fundraising, your development plan is different from your strategic plan. The development plan is an outgrowth of your strategic plan and provides the details on how you are going to obtain the resources to fulfill the goals outlined in your strategic plan.

Ah, that brings to me to one of my favorite topics—goals and objectives!

All nonprofit organizations have goals. Your goals might include--to remain or become financially viable; to serve your clients; to have a happy, well-trained, professional staff; to help solve a community need. You will likely establish somewhere between three and five broad goals for your plan, sometimes more. But goals are useless without measurable objectives to help you accomplish your goals.

  • Your plan should have overall goals (such as those listed above)

  • Every goal must have measurable objectives (we often call these objectives SMART—they must be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-defined.

  • Strategies answer the question—“How are we going to achieve our objectives and, as a result, our goals?”

  • Strategic plans must be translated into departmental work plans which include timelines, areas of responsibility, and budgets.

So, if you don’t have strategic plan, get ready to do one. If you already have one, it might be time to update it, and by all means, evaluate the plan you have and see if your goals, objectives, and strategies are still viable. And are departmental plans on track?

For more on strategic plans for nonprofits see Nonprofit Strategic Planning, co-authored by Lynne Dean, CFRE and Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE. You can find the book at www.LindaLysakowski.com.

Choosing the Right Charity for You

Choosing the Right Charity for You!

Gone are the days when people gave to the same old reliable charities because “It’s the thing to do,” or “My parents always supported this cause,” or “They have a great reputation.”

Today’s donors are looking for results, and they need to feel for passion in their own hearts for the cause or the project.

I’ve given lots of advice on how to choose a charity with your head:

  • Read it’s 990 forms

  • Ask if the charity follows the Donor Bill of Rights and if it has a Code of Ethics

  • Make sure the charity is registered in your state if required to do so

  • Ask if it has a strategic plan

  • Check to see who is on the board.

I still argue that all of these things are important, but you also need to choose with your heart.

Some of us naturally have a heart for certain organizations because we have a personal connection with either the organization or the cause.  Sometimes it is easy to identify with a disease-related organization if that disease claimed the life of a loved one. Or giving to your alma mater or local hospital because of the feeling of gratitude. But how do you find out if you have the passion for an organization that you might not have a close personal relationship with already—the kind of passion that might motivate you to serve on the board, to volunteer, to give an annual gifts, and eventually make this your charity of choice for the ultimate gift?

Test the charity. Test yourself.

When you read a letter from this organization does it “grab you by the throat” and more importantly, by the heartstrings? A letter is often the first contact you will have with your ultimate gift charity. But it will take more than words on a piece of paper to make you feel that passion.

Attend some events this charity runs. Do they tell a story at the event, or do they just invite you to play golf, buy a silent auction gift, attend an open house? If the charity is smart they will tell a powerful emotional story. One classic example of an organization that did it all wrong:

A human service agency that served people with disabilities held an annual awards dinner, where they recognized donors, volunteers, and others. But did they have a person with a disability give a testimonial, tell a powerful story? No. And worse yet, the president of the organization wanted to recognize his board members so he asked them all to stand as he called out their name. After he mentioned the names of twenty-one board members, only four were in attendance and stood up to be recognized. Did this send a message that he had passionate caring board members? Absolutely not! In fact people commented about the fact that the board members, who should care more than the rest of the community about an organization, did not even bother to show up at this event. Hardly instilled passion in any of the attendees.

Talk to staff, to volunteers, to clients, to board members. What drives them to work with this organization? Do others you know support the organization, if so, ask them why?

Visit the organization and see if the staff looks happy. Do they seem to have passion for their job?

An example of an organization that got this message through loud and clear is a free medical clinic, whose staff are mostly volunteers, except for a paid medical director, and a few other administrative staff. This clinic holds weekly tours for potential volunteers and donors. It is so apparent that this group has a real passion for what they do every day that almost everyone who tours cannot help but catch that passion.  The clinic’s case for support quotes several clients whose stories are so compelling it is hard for the reader not to feel passion.

Interact with clients whenever possible. They will tell the “rest of the story.” My husband is currently in a long term care facility and it was obvious to me from day one that after talking to staff members, and residents themselves, that this place is filled with passionate people who love what they do and that this passion is obvious to the residents and their families. I couldn’t help but feel that passion myself, and I've made donations of both volunteer time and money.

So, think with both your mind and your heart about the charities you want to support. What is your passion? What brings tears to your eyes? What makes you laugh with joy? What makes you feel inspired? What makes you angry enough to fight an injustice?  As Azeem said to Robin Hood in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: “Is she worth dying for?” This is passion! Is this charity worth dying for? Although no charity will likely ever ask you to die for it, is it a charity that you would remember in your will? Do you feel that much passion for it? If not, maybe you need to keep looking!

Does Your Nonprofit Need a Development Plan?

Scenario 1:
How many times has a well-meaning board member or volunteer come to one of your board meetings and offered this sage advice—“We should do a (golf tournament, gala dinner dance, art auction, walkathon, etc., etc.) because (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the Hospital, etc., etc.) did one and raised $100,000?” Before the meetings ends, the whole board or committee is caught up in “event fever” and has the invitations designed, the flowers ordered, and the T-shirt sponsors listed. And there you are, the new development officer, trying to meet grant deadlines, straighten out the donor database that is a mess, and organize the other events that your organization is currently conducting. So what do you do when the board is bitten by the “event bug?”  


Scenario 2:
Another fatal mistake that organizations make is relying solely on a grant writer to raise all the money it needs for programs and operations. Given the fact that foundation grants only account for approximately 12 to 14 percent of all philanthropic giving in the United States, this approach seems equally as foolhardy as depending mainly on events to raise money for the organization. While both grants and events are important parts of a well-rounded development program, they should not be the only methods of fundraising used by nonprofits. So how does one handle these board suggestions, or (in some cases) mandates?

The Answer:
Often boards and volunteers do not realize that events and grant research can be costly, not only in terms of hard costs, but in “opportunity costs.” In other words, what activities must you give up in order to focus your limited time on this proposed new activity? Your first reaction to the board or development committee that suggests either of these approaches should be, “Well, let’s pull out our development plan and see if this event/grant is part of our plan; if not, what other activities must we drop in order to concentrate on this event/grant?” However, many organizations do not have a development plan to reference. If your organization is one of those, this is one good reason why you should have a development plan.

Organizations that have a development plan complete with timelines, areas of responsibility and budgets, will be more successful at keeping the staff, board and volunteers focused on the activities that are most cost effective and produce the best results.

Getting Started with the Plan
The development plan should start with an analysis of current development activities. Some questions to ask:

  1. What has been the history of this activity; have results increased or decreased over the years?

  2. What are the costs of this event, both hard costs, staff time, and opportunity costs?

  3. Do we have the human resources to manage this activity?

  4. Do we have the technology needed to manage this activity?

  5. What are the subsidiary benefits of this activity, i.e., if the activity is a cultivation or awareness raising events, should we continue the activity even if it does not raise money?

  6. How do current trends affect this activity?

  7. Are there ways we can increase the effectiveness of this activity?

Once the current activities have been analyzed, a decision should be made to keep them status quo, focus more time and energy on them, or drop them.