Developing a Common Vision

Close your eyes and try to imagine the differing ideas and perspectives that various stakeholders have about your organization’s future. Does your board think about the future the same way your staff thinks about it? What about your clients and consumers? And, what do your funders, supporters, and even potential funders have to say about your future?

We have good news for you. Your completed strategic plan can integrate these diverse perspectives into a well-crafted vision of your organization’s future. No matter how large the differences may seem among your various stakeholders, you will find that this diverse group can play a significant, even vital role in your planning process. They will have an opportunity to be heard. They will bring differing perspectives and ideas on everything from organizational resources to potential obstacles to priority action areas. And, believe it or not, your organization will benefit by listening and working through these widely varying viewpoints.

For example, we see organizations struggling with board members who have different ideas than staff members. Rather than limit the planning process to only board members or only staff members, most organizations find it helpful and refreshing to bring everyone together, recognize differences, and even incorporate some of these varying views into the process.

The end product—or your shared vision—will reflect the culmination of your work together throughout the planning process and will enable each contributor to “have ownership” and feel a part of its creation. Another benefit of this inclusive approach is that you and your stakeholders may discover an exciting energy and enthusiasm for moving forward on identifying the path to achieving that desired future.

 Increasing Sustainability  

 Strategic planning often lays the groundwork for development planning and these two levels of planning have a major impact on the sustainability of an organization. Before we go any further, though, we want to emphasize that your strategic plan should not simply say what your funders want you to say to get funding or be a response to an item in a grant application. Remember the importance of diverse perspectives we talked about earlier?

 We all agree that funding has significant impact on sustainability. And a successful development plan will generally start with the strategic plan and then add such elements as the case for support and an outline of how donors will be identified, cultivated, and asked to give.

 Strategic Plans are the basis for department action plans:

  • development plan
  • program plan

  • facilities plan

  • marketing plan

  • governance plan

  • financial plan

 But sustainability really includes more than organizational funding. Sustainability also relates to the programs and services your nonprofit provides or seeks to provide. Throughout the planning process, your organization and your stakeholders have the opportunity to look at what you do, or its particular service niche, as well as funding strategies for ensuring that you can manage and operate those services.

In addition to closely reviewing your organization’s current areas of service, the participants in your planning process may also identify areas of service that can be changed if funds are lacking. They may also pinpoint service areas that might benefit if more funding becomes available. You can thus directly connect strategic planning to sustainability in programs and services and have more clarity as you make critical decisions in the future.

So, yes, you can certainly develop and include information required on grant applications and proposals about planning. But this information really shouldn’t be a substitute for the strategic planning process. You will need a case for support, but often the case can be developed by building on the strategic plan.

Maybe your organizational budget includes restricted funds that are tied to a specific donor’s requirements. These restrictions, however, should not define or be part of your overall strategy. We emphasize here and throughout this workbook that strategic planning is a process. And, yes, that process is different for different organizations.

Why Strategic Planning?

Why Strategic Planning?

Whether you and your nonprofit are small and struggling, in the middle of a growth spurt, or large and well established, you can benefit by looking at the future together as board and staff.

In strategic planning, you have a unique opportunity to collaboratively envision your organization's future and determine how to get there. You can take advantage of strategic planning as a tool for changing the mode of functioning from “reactive to proactive.” And, such plans help get everyone moving forward toward a common destination or vision and have a positive impact on the sustainability of your organization. And, not exactly coincidently, these plans make excellent public relations pieces for funders and quite often you’ll notice them as a required item or reference in grant proposals for major projects.

Changing From Reactive to Proactive

 Everyone from fictional characters such as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland to well-known and even some not so well-known thinkers of our time tell us the importance of knowing where you are going. Our favorite sage advice comes from the succinct lines of Steve Maraboli, author of Life, the Truth and Being Free. He poses the thought-provoking question, “if you don’t know exactly where you are going, how will you know when you get there.”

 What you don’t want your organization to be faced with is that proverbial fork in the road, and trying to take it—going all directions at the same time. Or, as they say, fixing the plane while you’re flying.

 So, does your nonprofit organization need a roadmap, or a GPS (global positioning system) for navigating its future? We can say with a substantial degree of certainty that the roadmap or GPS you’ve created through your strategic plan will help you discover a major benefit of strategic planning. But even more than providing direction and guidance, a strategic plan can take you away from the land of quick fixes and reactive management and operations to a better place characterized by proactive management in day-to-day activities.

 We’ve noticed that many nonprofits have a tendency to plan and run at the same time and, generally speaking, the results are not too pretty. Quick fixes just seem to add to the pressure of accomplishing the greater good. Scrambling for a solution, wiping sweat off your brow, exhaling while you work—does that sound familiar? We hope not.

 Is your organization reactive? The reactive approach or quick fixes can be costly and you may have a tendency to overlook important details.

Or would you say that your operational style is more proactive? Now is the time to raise your hand to say you’ll join the ranks of proactive organizations. Once you take this important step, you will be joining the growing number of nonprofits who are taking the time and making the investment in strategic planning. Think about it. Doesn’t it just make sense to spend a little time and money up front in planning than trying to fix problems which seem to pop up over and over again?

 Lynne Dean, CFRE and Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

 Lynne and Linda are authors of Nonprofit Strategic Planning, nominated for the 2016 Terry McAdam book award.

Finding Companies to Support Your Nonprofit

I’m sure many of you are too young to remember Willie Sutton, but you may have read about him. Willie was an infamous bank robber who robbed hundreds of banks back during a forty-year “career” beginning in the 1930s. Willie is reported to have had a smart answer when someone asked him, “Willie, why do you rob banks?” Although it is reportedly an urban legend, his now-famous answer was, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Even if you never heard of Willie Sutton, at some point in time, you’ve probably been told this by your board or CEO: “Gosh, there are all these big banks (or hi-tech companies, or casinos, or whatever the ‘big guys in town’ are) in our community. Write to them and ask them for a contribution!”

Dollars to doughnuts (no pun on Willie or the police who nabbed him), if you listened to this advice, you struck out. You might have sent a letter to hundreds of businesses and received one donation (if you’re lucky).

Yes, there are a lot of businesses in your community. It doesn't matter if you’re in Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, or a small rural town in Wyoming—there are businesses there! But how do you narrow down the field to which ones will support your cause?

Don’t always think of the big companies in your community. There are lots of entrepreneurs, small companies, and mid-sized companies that are often far more generous that the larger companies and might not be on everyone else’s radar screen. So, let's get rid of the Willie Sutton theory and start thinking about the companies that are likely to support your organization.

The Ideal Business Donor Profile

First, you need to figure out which of these businesses (whether there are dozens or thousands of them in your community) would be likely to support your organization. Let’s build an ideal business donor profile for your organization. Here are some things you might include in your “Ideal Profile:”

  • This business gives to charities similar to ours.

  • We have a connection to a top manager/executive within this company.

  • This business is “in our neighborhood.”

  • We’ve done business with this company.

  • This business has given to us previously.

  • This business has a natural connection to our mission (i.e., a crayon, toy, or kids' clothing manufacturer giving to a child care center).

  • This company has an interest in supporting the community.

  • This company has an employee volunteer program.

  • This company shares our values.

    What other criteria would you add for your organization? You should be able to sit down with your staff, development committee or board and develop this ideal business donor profile in a matter of minutes—an hour at most.

    Okay, so you’ve developed your ideal business donor profile. Now let’s get started developing your list of prospects.

    Our Prospect List

    Now you’re ready to review your profile and match up the companies in your community to see which ones are your best prospects. So let’s start with a list of “suspects,” companies that might become donors.

    Hint: To help you develop these lists, use the brainstorming form attached here and have board members, staff and volunteers develop a preliminary list of people they have contacts with. Be sure to tell them that you are not going to contact these businesses yet but that you are trying to develop a list of prospective donors.

    You should be able to develop a huge list within one month by following these steps:

  • Meet with your CFO and get the list of vendors.

  • Drive around your neighborhood in an afternoon—take someone along to make note of the companies and businesses in the neighborhood.

  • Hold a brainstorming session, using the form, with your board at the next board meeting. This should take about 15 minutes.

  • Hold a brainstorming session with your departmental staff at the next staff meeting(s). This should also take about 15 minutes at each staff meeting.

  • Hold a brainstorming session at your next development committee meeting (another 20 minutes) and any other volunteer meetings you have.

  • Spend an afternoon visiting your local chambers of commerce and see if you can get a list (you may have to be a member, so join now). Remember that there might be several chambers in your area. My community, for example, has a major metropolitan chamber, three or four suburban chambers, a women’s chamber, an Asian chamber, a Hispanic chamber and an African-American chamber.

    Narrowing the Field

    Okay, you might have a list of hundred, even thousands if you’ve done your homework. And it took you only a few weeks! Now let’s narrow the field and fit these “suspects” into your ideal donor profile so they become “prospects."

    Suspect: A company that might be interested in supporting your cause.

    Prospect: A company, after being compared with your ideal business donor profile, that you believe would support your cause.

    Expect: A company, after cultivation (more about that later), that you believe will make a donation to support your cause.

    Let’s get started developing your list.

  • Start your business appeal by creating an ideal business donor profile.

  • Develop a list of suspects—all the businesses you can think of that might support your organization.

  • Narrow down your list by comparing it with your donor profile, and then develop a list of prospects—companies that you believe, with proper cultivation and a good case, would support your organization.

    Now go out there out and get them!

    You can purchase your copy of Raise More Money from Your Business Community and Raise More Money from Your Business Community—The Workbook at