Can Strategic Planning Help You Raise Money?

Can Strategic Planning Help You Raise Money?

You bet! And here’s how:

FIRST, strategic planning quantifies what you want to accomplish in the next five years. That means you can take a stab at what it will actually cost to do all that. As a general rule, the costs will roll-up into two separate fundraising goals.

The first goal is the capital goal. It includes all the expenses that will be one-time expenses. Land acquisitions, endowment, equipment and vehicle purchases, and trail building all fall into this category. You need to raise a specific amount of money over a specific period of time. You get that thing done, and move on.

The second goal is an operating capacity goal. This is how much money your organization will need to be raising every year beginning in year five of the plan. It will include all your personnel, administrative and operating costs, annual management and stewardship costs, and the costs associated with communications and fundraising.

Then you can ask yourself, if I keep doing what I’m doing now, will I get there (for both of these goals). And if not, what will I need to do differently in the first few years of the Strategic Plan to make sure I can get there by year five?

It seems funny to have a Strategic Plan that calls for more planning. It seems like it should be more comprehensive than that. But more often than not, I have come to expect Strategic Plans to call for additional planning. Comprehensive Conservation Plans, Communications Plans, Marketing Plans, Fundraising Plans are all support plans often needed to implement or enable the implementation of the Strategic Plan.

And that’s a good thing.

Because the Fundraising Plan makes the fundraising goal possible. And the fundraising goal makes the Strategic Plan possible.


SECOND, strategic planning helps everyone align their thinking, activities, and communications behind a common vision.

I’m fond of saying that “big gifts follow big vision.”

Strategic planning offers everyone a chance to break out of their comfort zones and silos and realign behind a bigger common vision – to see what they are doing individually in a larger context, as part of a larger whole.

And that’s a good thing.

Because when that larger vision gets effectively communicated with donors, larger gifts can result. Fundraising gets easier.


And THIRD, in the early stages of the Strategic Planning process, you will want to gather information about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and priorities from your stakeholders – and that most especially includes your donors.

This is incredibly important. People give money because they want to see something done. Strategic Planning is an opportunity to go ask them directly what they like about what you’re doing; what’s important to them. Including them in the process is a wonderful way to engage them in the outcomes.

I talk about this a lot everywhere I go: The words “we,” “us,” and “our” should always include the members and donors. Getting land conservation done takes technical and professional expertise, administrative support, board governance and oversight, and donor gifts. We’re all in this together.

So when you share the results with them later, you have a golden opportunity to ask for their investment.

And that’s a good thing.

Because they have been included. They are engaged. You are doing things they have told you are important to them. They can now be credibly asked for a significant investment in making their priorities happen.


* * * * *


Unfortunately, sometimes we can’t get out of our own way.

  • We fail to get the fundraising goals out of the Strategic Plan because we tire of planning. We wipe our brow when the process is complete, and think “Thank goodness that’s over for another three years.”
  • In the name of expediency, we delegate the responsibility for planning to a small group or even to a single person. Never mind that the lack of engagement means that we can all return to the comfort of our silos while the Plan gathers dust on the shelf.
  • And in the name of cost containment, we fail to reach out beyond our close families – to members and donors – for information and feedback. And by not doing so, we lose the opportunity to get to know them and miss opportunities to deepen their engagement.

These are not good things.


I think fundraising has a role to play in helping the entire organization become more aware of these lost opportunities. We can press for more clarity around long-term fundraising goals. We can press for more engagement and more inclusion. We can advocate for reaching out to donors as part of the process. Being more inclusive costs more money and takes more time, and planning exercises that (among other things) call for more planning can seem wasteful, especially when the land conservation needs are so pressing and urgent.

Then again, how much money are we not raising as a result?






Related Posts:

Strategic Planning and Haircuts

Everything Starts with Strategic Planning

Make Sure the Board is Involved in Strategic Planning


Photo by Heidi Sandstrom courtesy of


PS:  Full disclosure time: Yes – I do strategic planning – my Conservation Consulting Group business partner, Nancy Moore, and I do strategic planning for land trusts and other organizations. And I would certainly be grateful to be included in your organization’s RFP process. And we will definitely help you think through using it to raise money as part of our service!

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