When we start a strategic planning process, we always ask for the organization’s most recently completed plan.
This gives us a sense of their prior goals – as well as how well the client has achieved those goals. In reviewing the old plan, we’re often surprised that many nonprofit leaders are literally “leaving money on the table” by not using their strategic plan as both a tool and an opportunity for raising money.
Not directly linking your strategic plan to your fundraising strategy is also ironic because nearly every plan we’ve seen (and create) includes significant growth over a 3 to 5 year period. Yet these same plans seem to believe that donors and funders will just step up once those great programs and facilities are expanded or built.
While “build it and they will come” might work in the movies, it’s a poor strategy for nonprofits providing important services for a community.
There are several ways to use your strategic planning process and your final plan as a tool for fundraising:
1. Cultivation and prospect research: We include stakeholder interviews in each of our strategic planning projects. This includes working with the Board and staff to develop a list of 80+ people who are essential to the organization’s success. This includes Board members, organizational partners, civic leaders, and of course donors and funders. In addition to providing us important 360-degree insight about the organization, the interviews with donors, funders, and civic leaders are also important prospect research. In addition to being an excellent cultivation opportunity, it also presents a chance to gain deeper insights into the passions and interests of those who are most likely to fund your organization. Taking thorough notes for future follow-up is not only important but essential for building meaningful relationships and maximizing fundraising potential.
2. Identifying fundraising strategies: The strategic planning process will help an organization better understand what fundraising investments will generate additional revenue, as well as which current development efforts need a dramatic overhaul (or even to end). We worked with one client, for example, that increased its funds raised from individuals by about 3% to 5% every year. Yet, when we dug into their donor retention numbers, it became clear that they were spending a lot of resources acquiring new donors but were losing the vast majority of those donors after the first year. We helped this organization compare their donor retention rate with the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ retention data to demonstrate that they were well below average. Their plan included investing staff resources in donor retention so that they could pair their incredible donor acquisition rate with a stronger donor retention rate. And the increased revenue fueled organizational growth.
3. Setting fundraising goals: Any good strategic plan will include pro forma financial projections for the next several years. These projections estimate total income and sources of that income each year (as well as a summary of expenses), and the projections should match the growth you are planning to achieve through the strategic plan. These income estimates should be developed in partnership with your fundraising team because they are the ones who will need to achieve the goals.
4. Developing a fundraising plan: Once your strategic plan is complete, your staff can use the plan to develop a multi-year fundraising plan that aligns with your plan and pro forma financial statements. As an example, several of our clients have used their strategic plans to determine specific planned projects or expansions that foundations or government funders would support. And they’ve done the research to identify the prospective funders, calendar the deadlines, and submit the proposals.
5. Communicating your organization’s mission and impact goals: It’s difficult to seek support from anyone – individuals, foundations, or government agencies – if your mission and goals aren’t clear and relevant. Your strategic plan will clearly articulate the organization’s mission and the impact it has on the community. And this clarity will inform all of your fundraising campaigns and cases for support.
There are also many ways your nonprofit can use your final strategic plan document to support and enhance all fundraising efforts:
1. Share the plan with donors and stakeholders: Sharing the strategic plan with donors and other stakeholders will build support for and excitement about your plan’s big goals. There are several ways I suggest sharing your plan:
- Schedule one-on-one meetings with each stakeholder to share the final plan with them. Help them understand how they shaped your final plan because seeing their voice in the plan will prompt them to give more.
- Develop a short public document that you can share with all donors and stakeholders (with bonus points for posting it on your website).
- Hold a special “launch event” for your new strategic plan, inviting all of those key stakeholders who are essential to achieving the plan
- Send a press release announcing your new plan. While your press release might not make the New York Times, it could gain you coverage in your community media, podcasts, newsletters, etc. Don’t forget to send your supporters links to each media hit you get as your success is their success!
2. Use the plan in fundraising appeals: There are all kinds of ways you can incorporate your plan into your appeals. Use your plan to ask for money, reminding donors you have a big goal of serving 100 additional clients this year. Use your plan to thank donors for their contributions. And when asking for next year’s renewal gift, include your plan and remind donors that you were able to serve an additional 105 people last year thanks to their generosity. Don’t forget to tell donors how much their gift means through the lens of just one of those additional clients served!
3. Use the plan to inform grant proposals: In the section above, we discussed using your strategic plan to identify fundable projects and prospective funders. When you sit down to write those grant proposals, you can literally copy, paste, and edit text directly from your strategic plan. The environmental scan will help you write the grant proposals section “stating the community need”; the tactical plan will be used to develop the proposal’s “implementation plan”; and the pro forma will demonstrate the project’s “long term sustainability.” A well written, thorough strategic plan makes grant writing easier.
4. Increase corporate support: Nearly every corporate funder wants to know how your organization fits into their stated ESG priorities (Environmental, Social, and Governance). Your strategic plan makes the case for aligning with a company’s ESG efforts. In fact, one of our clients created a strategic goal of becoming a model for addressing climate change (this was a human service organization that wanted to show the community that everyone had a role to play in mitigating humanity’s impact on the planet). As part of this goal, they planned to either renovate or rebuild their facility to reduce their carbon footprint. You can be certain that companies will line-up to support this.
Why I’m Writing About This:
As a strategic planning facilitator for nonprofits throughout the United States, I always want my clients to maximize their benefits from strategic planning. If you’re ready to start a planning process that will energize your board, staff and constituents and prepare your organization for growth – reach out to us.
Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:
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