Why an organization-wide strategic plan is important for fundraising
Does your organization have a strategic plan in place? Do you even think it’s necessary?
It’s surprisingly common for organizations not to have a strategic plan in place, or at least, not to have an up to date one that properly takes into account measurable outcomes, policies and resource requirements. This is despite the fact that some donors, foundations in particular, insist that you have one for them to feel confident about funding you.
Aside from funder requirements, there are many other reasons why having a good strategic plan is important for your fundraising. Here are just a few!
It helps you to create a vision-driven organization.
All strategic plans should be headlined with a strong vision statement, which is a simple, concise statement that describes the long term change that you want to see as a result of the work that you do. The best visions are inspirational, clear, memorable, and concise and is not to be confused with the mission statement which articulates how you intend to achieve your vision. Examples of some short and clear vision statements include “a just world without poverty” (Oxfam) and “a world where everyone has a decent place to live” (Habitat for Humanity).
Who can argue with a vision that is about people no longer being in poverty, or everyone having a home? While these goals may be aspirational, they help to create a picture in your donor’s mind of the dream state that you are constantly striving towards, and one that they, as donors, can also get behind. If you can demonstrate clearly how your work is always directed towards meeting that vision, donors can more easily understand how their funding can make a difference.
Donors know that you are forward-thinking
In line with demonstrating that you are visionary in your approach, by having in place a plan that is looking several years ahead, in terms of tangible goals and measurable objectives, donors have the opportunity to feel that they are getting involved in something that is looking to the future, and not just the next six to twelve months (even if short-term planning forms part of your strategic plan).
Donors like to get involved in projects that have a future and to know that with their support, you are looking to make some measurable, longer term, sustainable changes in a cause that they care about, rather than being content with doing the same old stuff, in the same way, without really exploring how you can increase your impact.
You can keep your promises!
A strategic plan can help to ensure that your organization has fully committed to going down a particular path with a view to achieving a certain measurable result. Without one, an organization is at risk of appearing to be rudderless. The impact of not making such a commitment to any kind of plan to your fundraising operation can be significant. If, for example, an organization decides to change direction, without your fundraising team being aware of this possibility, it could result in you damaging relationships with your donors.
One such example of this was when I was working with a donor towards their making a major investment in a program that they cared about. The chosen program was one that I was assured was a priority for the organization and one that was going to address a dire need. We built our Case for Support around it, and the donor was sufficiently convinced. As a result, he decided to make a substantial gift towards the program.
Shortly after the donor had made the decision to invest, the organization decided to cut the program, with no warning to me or the donor. Of course, the donor was confused by this change in direction, since we had spent months explaining to him how crucial it was that this program went ahead. It raised a number of questions in the donor’s mind as to our ability to know and understand the needs that we claim to address, but also our willingness to follow through on our commitments. Were we now saying that the need had gone away? Or had we been misleading him about how much of a priority this program was? Needless to say, the donor was not impressed and it took a lot of convincing for him to stay engaged.
While of course priorities can change due to unforeseen circumstances, it was clear in this situation that this was down to bad planning. By having a forward-thinking strategic plan, that had been agreed by both the Board and senior managers, there was no doubt that this situation could have been avoided.
You can demonstrate that you have what it takes to succeed
One of the reasons why organizations fail is because they do not have the systems, procedures and infrastructure in place to run the organization effectively. Donors know this and are often weary of organizations that do not have a strong backbone that can support the delivery of its programs and outcomes. They like to know that their funding will be spent wisely but just as importantly, that the organization is going to survive for the long-term.
This infrastructure and “business-like approach” includes making sure that you have a revenue generation strategy that suits your needs and obligations, but also that you have the right resources in place, from financial to human, to manage your operations effectively. Your strategy should also consider the policies and procedures you need to have to ensure that you run your organization according to your values, while succession planning and risk evaluation helps you to manage the unexpected.
Developing the right fundraising strategy
Most importantly, having a written strategic plan can help to ensure that your fundraising strategy (including your Case for Support) and your strategic development are on the same lines. As highlighted, when they are not it can lead to confusion and could potentially damage relationships with donors. It also helps make sure that you are focusing upon fundraising for the right things, in the right way, at the right time.
For example, if your organizational strategy highlights an urgent need to raise funds in the short term, a focus upon planned giving as your only option would not be advisable. If, however, you are looking to launch a major capital campaign in a few years, perhaps your fundraising strategy should focus upon building up your major gift portfolio in preparation for this. By properly understanding what you need funding for (program versus operational costs), you can also properly recognise and balance the need for restricted and unrestricted funds in the creation of your fundraising strategy.
So if you already have a strategic plan in place, figure out whether it needs to be updated. Is your vision sufficiently inspiring? Does it lead you towards an end-state that would make the world a better place? Does the plan properly articulate your goals and measurable outcomes that you need to demonstrate to move you towards the achievement of your vision? How closely aligned is your Case for Support to your strategic plan?
By answering questions like these, you can move towards better integration between fundraising and organizational direction, ultimately leading to better results.