Engage your stakeholders. In many ways, the planning process itself is at least as valuable as the results it produces. It should seek the input and participation of both the “institutional family” (board, staff, etc.) and other key stakeholders, including major donors and community leaders.
© 2006, Goettler Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Fund-Raising Matters is a registered trademark
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For any institution that wants to advance, strategic planning is indispensable. Through the planning process, you make important decisions about the mission, goals, and objectives of your organization – decisions that will help to shape your budget, organizational structure, and services in the years ahead.
Many of us have seen how an effective process can right a foundering organization, or make a healthy one even more successful. You can engage your staff, trustees, and community leaders in helping the organization set new priorities, or perhaps rediscover its historic mission. And those who have helped to set your goals and priorities will have a personal stake in achieving them!
Some professionals and volunteers have had disappointing experiences with strategic planning – finding the process to be tedious, time-consuming, and unproductive. In our experience, that may happen when you fail to:
- Establish a baseline. Any planning process must be preceded by thorough and objective research into the organization, how it’s perceived, and how it’s performing. Research into the experiences, perceptions, interests, and concerns of your stakeholders will provide the “real-world” database and determine the assumptions underlying the planning process.
Just as a corporate business plan creates confidence in a for-profit investment, a strategic plan that provides for its own implementation lends a great deal of credibility to the organization’s development objectives and case for support.
In preparation for any intensive fund-raising effort, for example, an organization must determine which projects should receive priority attention. In many cases, neither the process nor the criteria are well-defined. A strategic plan for advancement can bring some focus and objectivity to the decision-making process.
Such a plan is designed to align and synchronize several closely related functions, including fund raising and marketing. The plan must incorporate:
In the process of developing such a plan, an organization has a golden opportunity to:
- A description of the organization and the environment in which it is currently operating. This will be based on the perceptions of its key stakeholders, as well as other thoughtful and well-informed individuals who are less engaged with the organization.
- An assessment of the organization’s current performance in fulfilling its mission, in the eyes of its key stakeholders and others.
- A vision, or description, of the future as the organization and its key stakeholders would like to see it unfold.
- A strategy and action plan for realizing this shared vision – including specific goals and objectives, budget and timetable, assignment of responsibilities, and measures of success.
- Clarify the role of philanthropy in the advancement of the organization.
- Realign the goals of the development function with those of the organization.
- Empower development staff who may not have been involved, or only marginally involved, in the past.
- Energize trustees, volunteers, and other participants in the process.
One desirable outcome, in many cases, will be to elevate the development office to an integral part of the top management team – helping to shape, guide, and drive the destiny of the organization on an ongoing basis.
As you work to advance your organization, you can never assume that people understand as you do exactly what the organization is – its mission, purpose, constituency, people, programs, performance, plans, etc. In our own consulting work, we see time and again that even among well-informed community leaders, the perception of the organization can lag years behind the reality.
To present your organization properly, to prospective donors or anyone else, you must first understand how your various constituents view the organization, and what they value most about it. To learn more about how the organization is perceived, and better express what it does best, many leading nonprofits have invested in some kind of branding process.
The image of an organization, as we all know, strongly influences how people respond to it. An image can take a long time to establish, and just as long to change or erase.
In these times, however, the competitive landscape can change rapidly, dramatically, and without warning. The organization’s revenues and even its visibility may be affected. In such an environment, you don’t have years to act or react! You must move swiftly and surely to reinforce your organization’s identity – its “brand” – and shift or strengthen its position.
To accomplish that, you must find out what your customers and other stakeholders are thinking and feeling. How much do they know about your organization? What business do they think you’re in? What do they think differentiates you from your competitors? To what extent do they trust you to deliver on your promises?
The perceptions, ideas, and information you gather will provide the basis for clarifying and better expressing your organization’s mission and purpose; what value it contributes; what people expect from it; and what kind of world it aspires to create. All of these elements will affect how the organization presents itself– verbally, visually, and person to person.
Building awareness and visibility
Verbally, a brand is expressed through a powerful and memorable message (or messages) that evokes what the organization is all about. Graphically, it is expressed through a distinctive, attractive, and evocative “look” or signature that reinforces and intensifies the verbal message.
With a vigorous and sustained effort to build and promote your brand, your organization will be able to create and maintain a higher profile – especially among those you want most to attract and influence (including donors and volunteers). For that purpose, you will want to work with the media and through your own channels of communication. To support these efforts, your organization will need:
When these tools are based on a well-conceived strategic plan and a compelling case for support, you’re sure to improve the marketing, and ultimately the results, of all your development programs.
- A written marketing plan and strategy – to identify key constituencies and define specific objectives, strategies and desired outcomes for each.
- A coordinated, professionally produced, and attractive family of marketing communications.
Betsy Kelsey, CFRE
Goettler Associates, Inc.
Over the past several months as we’ve worked to develop the concepts for our newest volume of the Goettler Series, we wanted to think as objectively as possible about how our colleagues might view the development office.
To some, we must seem like a very demanding bunch. We want or need something — new software, more staff, more volunteers, or more visible office space closer to the CEO. And we’re always pushing our way onto the board agenda to present and discuss some urgent piece of business.
As development professionals, we work hard to communicate with our constituents and to position the organization in the most favorable light. How much time, I wonder, do we spend communicating with our own colleagues about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it?
The development function, for example, has the capacity to:
- Build authentic and lasting relationships with those who can advance the organization.
- Attract volunteers who can become advocates and greatly increase our productivity.
- Generate substantial revenues.
- Actively listen to the marketplace and recognize changes that affect the organization.
- Listen to those the organization serves, and witness firsthand its impact on the community.
- Find ways to get things done, while giving credit to others.
If we can help our peers to comprehend the full value of what the development office has to offer, then our CEO’s and trustees are sure to get the message. And that just might make it easier for them to provide the kind of human and financial resources that will move the organization toward the achievement of its true potential!