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5 Strategic Planning Practices for Nonprofit Organization to bring in the New Year!

It is a New Year and for many of us in the social sector a New Year signals not only a new start for our calendar, but also our fiscal year. This clean slate brings us an opportunity as nonprofit leaders to set the stage and layout our plan for 2019 and beyond. Strategic Planning is the backbone of any nonprofit for organizational effectiveness. Actually, the same could be said of any well-run organization in either the public or private sector. “When we plan our work we can work our plan” to achieve greater fundraising success and mission impact. Below is a checklist of the Top 5 Strategic Planning Practices that you, your Board and your teams should be thinking about to set the stage for a successful New Year.

  1. Complete and Distribute an Annual Report

Since the last fiscal year is now closed, it is time to celebrate the accomplishments of your donors and volunteers who have supported your agency in fulfilling its mission. This is the time to share stories highlighting individuals who have been served, as well as donors, volunteers and staff. Illustrate your success with statistics, info graphics, quotes and pictures. Celebrate your wins and don’t shy away from using this piece as a chance to educate your supporters on the struggles your organization faces. An Annual Report should serve not only as your organization’s annual report card to stakeholders, but also an educational and marketing piece to the community. If you just fill out your 990, donors and potential donors may only get part of your organization’s financial story, not in proper context. Be the author of your own story.

  1. Hold both a Board and a Staff Retreat

Annual retreats should be held off site for several hours and used to accomplish three main objectives: 1) setting organizational priorities including defining roles, responsibilities and timelines, 2) providing additional training to equip our leaders with the most current skills and tools in our field needed to fulfill their positions, and finally 3) individual and group brainstorming sessions that result in big picture, long-term goals or strategies. It goes without saying that a Board of Directors and a Staff retreat should be held separately, but key staff should be present for part of the Board retreat where their expertise and insights for setting annual goals may be needed for informational purposes. It is also strongly suggested your organization bring in an outside facilitator for these meetings as they can help break down perceived power dynamics and guide difficult conversations while keeping everyone on track with desired agenda outcomes.

  1. Dust off the Strategic Plan

Dr. David Renz, Chair of the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership at UMKC, delivered one of my new favorite quotes, “You should never be more than three years into a five year strategic plan.” I couldn’t agree with him more! A Strategic Plan is the road map for any organization and the road often come to a fork. It should be a living, breathing document that is reviewed quarterly or at a minimum bi-annually. This document should be in every employee and board member handbook, as well as available to funders and donors. A Strategic Plan is a tool used to guide our nonprofits to greater impact through focus and targeted outreach. It is a plan to be referred to when making decisions that affect the organization’s constituents and to measure positive impact and social change.

  1. Review Development Plan and Fundraising Calendar

Along with your Strategic Plan, the Development Director in concert with key contributors from the fundraising team should create a document outlining all key development activities. This report does not need to be heavy in prose but rather an outline of goals, tactics, timelines, benchmarks and responsibilities for the upcoming year. Each fundraising campaign should be carefully thought out with benchmarks at key measurement points throughout the year. Campaigns should be tracked against both this year’s annual goals and last year’s final numbers. It is easier to pivot and course correct along the way than make up a large deficit in fundraising at the end of the year. There are many templates available or feel free to create one that better works for you and your organization. (For a template please email me at [email protected]) Always have your Strategic Plan with you and review it at every development team meeting. Especially in fundraising, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

  1. Take a Deep Dive into Organizational Financials

As you close out one fiscal year and we get into audit and 990 seasons, it is important to spend a fair amount of time reviewing the new budget at least by categories, if not line by line. It is an understatement to say that most nonprofit professionals, board members and volunteers are not as well versed in NGO finance as we could or should be. After all, most of us have a banker or an accountant on boards that assist with these matters. However, as a stakeholder of the organization it is everyone’s responsibility to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the process and to be able to answer questions from the public. Bring in an auditor or have your Finance Committee Chair review all budget items, policies and procedures. Make sure all of your questions are answered on all levels even if it means going “back to basics.” I speak from experience, not everyone is a finance aficionado, but all of us can understand basic organizational finance concepts when given the opportunity to learn.

When thinking strategically, remember the “best way to work your plan is to plan the work.” After that, the rest of the year can be spent in critical thinking, problem solving, altering course, outreach, and community impact; making sure your focus in all areas involve your team, your constituents, your volunteers and your donors.


About the Author:

Written by our friends Katie Lord over at Byrne Pelofsky  + Associates! They are experts in nonprofit fundraising! Their goal is to advance philanthropy in our community through purposefully connecting stakeholders to nonprofits mission. Katie has been in the nonprofit sector her entire career and is currently Vice President of Byrne Pelofsky + Associates. Katie brings to Byrne Pelofsky a strong background in development planning and training, marketing, corporate and major gifts, fundraising and board development. She has worked closely with major donors, corporations, small businesses, civic organizations and volunteer groups throughout her career. Katie is also a BoardSource Certified Consultant in board governance. Find out more about Katie!