29 Nov Five Ways Your Strategic Plan Helps Your Fundraising
29 November 2022
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Let’s get real. Strategic Planning isn’t hard. In fact, it’s pretty straightforward. You and I could bang out a serviceable Strategic Plan on a Friday afternoon and still make it to happy hour on time.
But between now and 2027, that plan would gather more dust than interest.
If you want to go fast, go alone. To go far, we will need to bring everyone else along.
And that takes time.
But we don’t have time. But no one wants to do it. But we seem to be doing just fine without planning. But the last consultant we hired took us for a ride. But … But … But …
But we won’t miss what we’ve never had.
I work with land trusts all over the country and they probably represent the full spectrum of organizational relationships with strategic planning. Some throw themselves wholeheartedly into the process. Some have put it off for ten years and seem to be OK with that.
But I would say the great majority are reluctant. And for this pretty simple reason: they don’t see the value in it. Land Trust Alliance says we should. The Accreditation Commission says we have to. But it still feels like a pointless exercise. A waste of time.
So let’s look at Strategic Planning in a different way. Through a fundraising lens.
See that woman over there? She just gave $300,000 to another charity. She gave us $500. That charity is her $300,000 charity. We’re her $500 charity. I wish we could be her $300,000 charity.
That other charity just completed a $5 million capital campaign. Their Board contributed the first $1 million and raised the rest in 18 months. I wish our Board could do that.
The difference? That charity has a BIG vision – a shared vision – and a plan to get there. They believe. It turns out that the woman believes, too. And their Board found other people who believe. Because they overcame their reluctance to talk about what they believe.
I wish our organization could do that.
BIG money will follow BIG vision.
How do we get there?
Strategic Planning – in fact any planning – generally progresses through the following steps:
- Frank assessment of where we are now,
- Aspirational description of where we want to go,
- Goal-setting appropriate to both the direction and the planning timeframe,
- Consideration of various options (strategies) for getting there,
- Implementation, assignments, benchmarks, and accountability.
It would be short-sighted to consider the product of Strategic Planning to be the document alone. The more significant product is consensus. When everyone involved – explicitly including not just Board and staff, but also volunteers, partners, donors and funders, and other community leaders – understands the vision and goals the same way and has some level of buy-in to the chosen strategies for getting there, the resulting synergies drive the organization farther, faster, and more efficiently than otherwise.
AND it helps make fundraising easier and more fun.
There are at least FIVE ways your strategic plan can help your fundraising.
The Strategic Plan establishes fundraising goals based on need and not history
How much money do we need to raise? When we understand our organization direction, and when we know what we need to do, we can begin to get a handle on how much that’s going to cost. And if we’re going to raise THAT kind of money in five years, THIS is what we have do this year. And THIS might not be exactly the same thing we did last year. (Because those things won’t get us far enough fast enough.)
Staff and Board buy-in
Fundraising too often feels like exercise. Get the appeal out. Host the annual event. Organize the Giving Tuesday campaign. Or outright distasteful – “hitting my friends up for money.” The Strategic Plan can help connect that exercise with real needs and results. And when everyone – including our donors – understands those needs the same way, we can all help each other succeed. We can all help each other overcome our reluctance. Plus – at least as importantly – the fundraisers know the organizational priorities and specific projects in a different way.
Donors and Members are part of the larger consensus
An important component of the “frank assessment” piece is outreach to organizational stakeholders – explicitly including members, donors, and other funders. This is done efficiently using surveys and listening sessions, but it can really get traction with one-on-one interviews. When donors are asked for their opinions and feedback, their emotional stake in the outcome is magnified. And when we circle back later to show them the Strategic Plan they participated in creating, they are more likely in general to support it.
Values can be used as appeal letter themes
Part of the Strategic Planning process is to bring everyone’s focus back to the organization’s core values, or guiding principles. To remind us of WHY we do what we’re doing. This is a good reminder for fundraising also. People don’t buy-in to WHAT you do as much as they buy-in to WHY you do it. In short, they believe what you believe. When our letters are filled with emotional stories that show people our organizational WHY, they raise more money.
Opportunity to justify bringing resources to the task
Finally, it takes money to make money. What resources (staff, consulting, graphic design, video, and so on) will we need to bring to the fundraising effort? To raise the money we need to raise? What kinds of investments will we need to make? This organizational calculation is virtually impossible if we only look out one year at a time. Our best and most promising shot at being where we want to be financially five years from now is based on the strategic investments we make today. The Strategic Plan helps everyone see that. (And overcome their reluctance and distaste.)
When the outcome is consensus;
When everyone is involved in the process, including Board, staff, volunteers, partners, donors and funders, and other community leaders;
When we take the time to quantify what it will cost, and make a plan for getting there;
And when we share that information with the community;
Fundraising gets easier. Our donors feel better about giving larger amounts of money. Our Board members feel less like they are hitting up their friends and more like they are participating in a shared community experience.
Sure, it takes more time.
But it’s worth it.
Cheers, and have a great week.
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by Matt Bango courtesy of stocksnap.io.
Heidi HabegerPosted at 16:53h, 02 December
Regarding the vision conservation — We hired Jen Wilson to help staff and board come together and draft a revised vision statement. (After our 2017 rebranding, we realized we weren’t all on the same page when it came to our vision!) She was wonderful and we all benefited from the exercises we did that day. We use our vision statement all the time in materials. Great article, David!
David LPosted at 10:22h, 29 November
David, do you have any suggested resources on engaging people in the vision conversation? Sometimes the greatest difficulty is getting folks to have a deep conversation about vision. And you end up with a vision that could belong to any land trust — not yours. Then the rest of the planning process is of limited value because, well, there is no vision…
David AllenPosted at 11:07h, 29 November
Yes – but it’s important to understand that the vision statement in the Strategic Plan is a vision of the organization – what it looks like, how it functions, the ROLE it is playing in the community. In that sense the vision should be relatively unique for each organization. We use a facilitated exercise involving all Board members and all staff. The right brained people write a newspaper article in 2032, looking BACK on what the organization has been doing over the past ten years. The left-brained people just write bullet points about how they expect the organization to change in the next ten years. We start by answering the prompt individually. Then we create small groups to come together on a set of common themes. And then we combine the small groups and do the same thing. This is generally enough to produce the beginnings of two or three versions of a vision statement. A leadership group takes it from there.