Do we need a strategic plan to raise more money?

Focus higher-level thinking on strategy development

When was the last time a donor asked to see your strategic plan? Maybe a foundation grant application included a question about whether the organization has a plan, but honestly has anyone else asked? So why do we invest our organizational resources in these elaborate strategic planning processes? Let’s face it: your last planning process probably generated an extensive written document, with a matrix or map of goals and objectives that few board members and staff can recite, let alone recall.

It’s no wonder that most people react to the idea of starting a strategic plan with apprehension, if not outright dread. So why do we do it? We lead our organizations into structured long-term planning in part because we believe it will help lead us to better organizational outcomes and help us raise more money.

… donors want to know what you do, how you do it, and where you are going. In other words, they want to know about your strategy …

There is an adage that states, “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” This paradoxical statement was famously used by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Similarly, Winston Churchill wrote that, “Writing a book is not unlike building a house or planning a battle … The technique is different, the materials are different, but the principles are the same. The foundations have to be laid, the data assembled, and the premises must bear the weight of their conclusions… The whole when finished is only the successful presentation of a theme.” The whole when finished is your strategy.

If you want to raise more money, an organization needs a vision for the future, and an idea about how to get there that inspires a donor to invest philanthropically. In our experience, donors want to know what you do, how you do it, and where you are going. In other words, donors want to know about your strategy for the future.

If you want to raise more money, look at how you are developing your strategy. Did your last strategic planning process deliver the desired outcomes? Most organizations will gloss over the big questions, and move straight to detailed operational planning, or to an elaborate matrix of too many unrelated goals, objectives and tactics.

Nonprofit boards and leaders are better served by focusing their higher level thinking on strategy development, and secondly working to prepare a detailed plan to carry out the execution of that strategy. By focusing first on strategy development, the subsequent impact of planning may also improve by giving equal emphasis to implementation and execution of the plan. If your organization has a clearer definition of where it is going and why, the process of devising a plan of actions and tactics can be more readily developed.

How can nonprofit organizations properly form better strategy? First, know thyself. The organization, and this includes all of the governing board members, must know the purpose — what the organization does, who it serves, where it serves, how its is funded — and can describe and quantify its community impact and it’s competitive advantages. Can all your leadership and all your staff members answer these questions? The first place to start in developing or even just reviewing your strategy is to review your mission statement, and work to make sure that everyone knows it.

The next essential factor in developing great strategy is to know the world around you. What are the influencing factors in your operating environment and how have they or are they changing? How will your organization be impacted by changing economic and demographic conditions, social influences and constituency interests, or other political and funding changes? If the organization’s administration and governance already know and agree on these conditions you’re in great shape. More likely, internal decision makers will have varying perspectives and disagreements. This is where third-party research and analysis can prove valuable and help get everyone on equal footing.

The third factor of effective strategy development is to focus on your organizational strengths — a topic we’ve written about frequently. Our society seems fixated on weaknesses, but an in-depth study of organizational weaknesses can result in a futile exercise that does little to develop a forward-looking strategy. When an organization builds strategy upon its existent strengths it will generate greater results faster. Leveraging and emphasizing organizational strengths can make an organization and its people come alive.

If you want to raise more money, you should be able to succinctly describe your strategy for the future. That includes a current description of your organization, an up-to-date understanding of your operating environment, and how you will leverage your organization’s strengths and a record of organizational success to get there!

click here for pdf version:  FRM69

For more on Strategic Leadership, Advancing the organization from Planning to Reality access Goettler Series Volume 5