Raising money through strategic planning

November 11, 2011

Filed under: Fundraising,Strategic Planning — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 11:12 am

Strategic planning can require significant resources — both time and money.

Fortunately, going through the process can also be a means of raising additional resources.

In my mind, there are three key tactics you should think about using to raise money from your strategic planning process.

The most obvious, and the one most people think about, is using the finished plan to sell donors on funding whatever is “new” in the plan.   Usually this involves creating a short 1-2 page summary of the plan and using it with selected major donors and foundations.   If, for example, the plan calls for hiring a full-time communications director and upgrading a website, those items could be pulled into a mini-budget and presented to funders as a reason to step up their level of giving.

But there are two other tactical steps organizations should also consider to turn a planning process into a revenue generator.

For starters, you should look for funders who will underwrite the planning process itself.   Many foundations fund capacity building either in general or for those organizations with which they have a long-term funding relationship.   Occasionally, an individual major donor (perhaps a board member) who values planning will step up with an extra donation to cover a significant portion of the planning process costs.  Start thinking about this the year prior to a planning process, so you have ample time to make the case to funders.

Second, you should think about using the process to cultivate your relationship with your supporters.  Many strategic planning processes involve some sort of interview process for stakeholders and you should think consciously about whether some major donors should be added into the process as a means of cultivating their support for the organization.   This may slightly increease the cost of your process (more interviews), but with a big potential pay-off afterwards.

Cultivation shouldn’t stop with major donors.  If your organization has a membership or base constituency that it can reach via email, do an online member survey.  Ask some questions to ascertain what your supporters want you to prioritize, while lao learning things about them that could be useful for future fundraising.   Beyond what you learn, just the process of asking for their input will help cement their support for your organization’s work.

On Evaluating Advocacy

June 8, 2011

Filed under: Strategic Planning — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 4:32 am

A great article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: The Elusive Craft of Evaluating Advocacy.

Very much worth a read for those who want to understand the real-world of advocacy.

From strategic plan to work plan

May 24, 2011

Filed under: Strategic Planning — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 8:10 pm

I’m often struck when talking to people how often individual work plans are wholly disconnected from strategic plans.  Or even more by how some organizations never develop work plans.

A good strategic plan should set the structure for work plans.  Every member of staff should have a work plan, as should board members.

The strategic plan should list out some combination of goals, strategies, tactics, and objectives.  These should cover both your programmatic mission-driven goals, as well as your institutional goals.

Individual work plans should flow from the strategic plan.  It should identify each tactic you’re working on, what strategy and goal that tactic is connected to, what you’re doing in more detail and by when each major step should be completed.  Don’t just say:  We’ll issue the Legislative Scorecard in September.  You should break that down into its major pieces;  Initiate selecting votes and do research in July, Select votes and do writing/design in August, Release in September, etc.

Each individual should have a work plan.  It should clearly identify for each of these goals/strategies/tactics what you’re doing, who’s doing it, and by when.  Excel can be one way to make this visually flow.  But you can do it effectively in Word if you haven’t mastered the wonders of Excel formatting.

If you find yourself putting something in your work plan that can’t be clearly linked to one of your programmatic or institutional goals, it probably means you shouldn’t be doing it.

Board members also need work plans.  They’re more likely to be narrowly focused on a few institution-building goals (fundraising, accountability, financial management).

You can draft these plans either bottom up or top down.  Bottom up: You can ask each individual to go through the strategic plan and draft their work plan and then somebody has the task of making sure everything’s covered and, if not, assigning tasks by editing work plans as appropriate.  Top down: the Executive Director can start with the strategic plan and draft these for each individual.

Drafting these plans should be done in a way that makes sure that all the individual plans add up to accomplishing the strategic plan, or at least the piece of the strategic plan that you aim to accomplish in the next year.

You then need to hold yourself accountable to the work plans.  If you create your work plan for individual staff and then never look back at it over the course of the year, it’s probably not an effective work planning process.   Even the best staff needs a supervisor who meets with them monthly and going over the work plan is something that should happen at the meeting.  Evaluation of staff (and board) performance should focus first and foremost on whether the work plan was implemented and how effectively the work was done.

So build time for this accountability into the work plans themselves!

Planning half heartedly

April 25, 2011

Filed under: Strategic Planning — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 7:13 pm

I was recently talking to an organizational Executive Director who’s thinking about a strategic planning process.

He wants the planning process to get his board more engaged.

But he doesn’t think the board will take time to participate in a real planning retreat.

This becomes a bit of a chicken and egg problem — if they won’t participate fully in a robust process, how do you get an outcome that increases their engagement?

I wish I had a simple answer.

One technique is to “trick” them into greater engagement by engaging them one on one with a consultant.  And then have the consultant fold them into additional conversations culminating in a short, but productive retreat.

In the end, though, no trick can replace leadership — either from the Executive Director, a board chair, or some other board champion who can rally board members to participate in a planning process.

Short of that, I worry about organizations that go through the motions of planning, without a real investment, and then expect a transformation in the organization.

More realistically, a strategic planning process that lacks serious board engagement can still be valuable as a tool for an Executive Director to get some real planning done, with buy-in from the board.  But buy-in and engagement are not the same.

When strategy is left out of strategic planning

February 23, 2011

Filed under: Strategic Planning — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 4:38 pm

I’ve recently had a chance to read some strategic plans that seem to be missing a critical piece: strategy.

They have mission statements, vision, goals, and tactics.  But what’s missing is anything in writing making the case that the tactics or programs they’re projecting to do will lead to accomplishing the goals (or outcomes) they hope to achieve .

To be sure, my guess is that if you queried these organizations, staff and board members could probably make explicit the implicit assumptions in their plans.

But I say “write it down.”  Make it explicit and put it into the plan, if only for the benefit of future board members and staff members who were not part of the “retreat” where decisions were made.

Aside from the benefit to future organizational leaders, my experience is that in some cases, many of the disagreements organizations face during planning retreats stem from underlying disagreements about these strategic assumptions that lay behind the thinking of individual retreat participants.

Without making these assumptions explicit, it’s easier for people to talk past each other.   You wind up getting stuck and resorting to dots on a butcher block paper or some other exercise (many of which are useful in some contexts) to get people to vote, but without achieve a true consensus about what you’re going to do and, perhaps as importantly, why you’re going to do it.

If you don’t achieve consensus on the “why” part, you’re much more likely to have disagreements down the road when things don’t go as planned and your staff and board must adjust their work plans.

What goes in the lay of the land?

January 31, 2011

Filed under: Strategic Planning — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 4:43 pm

I’ve spent some time today thinking about the “lay of the land” and what goes into it in an effective strategic planning process.

The “lay of the land” is a term of art used by some to describe a series of statements about the world that forms the context for the strategic plan.   I actually personally prefer the language “strategic assumptions” to describe these statements.

They may be statements of fact, predictors of the future, or statements that constitute a theory of change about why the activities you pursue lead to the goals or outcomes you desire.

An example of a fact would be: the population of Oregon is 3,825,657 as of July 2009.  Or: The U.S. Senate currently is controlled by a Democratic majority and the House by a Republican majority.

An example of a predictor would be:  The proportion of the population older than 65 is slated to rise from X% to Y% over the next 10 years.  Or: The U.S. Congress will remain highly polarized along partisan lines over the next 5 years.

An example of a theory of change statement would be:  Members of Congress are more likely to vote as an organization desires if they feel it can help them win their next reelection or if they fear it may target them for defeat.  Or: Lobbyists with long-time relationships with members of the state legislature are better positioned to get legislators to cast tough votes.

I have seen strategic plans that boil down this section to a couple of paragraphs.  And I’ve seen a strategic plan that contained 6 pages of very dense demographic information.

As is often the case, I’m not a fan of either extreme.

The importance of including strategic assumptions is that making assumptions explicit almost always help people get on the same page.  I often find that when two people are arguing “past each other,” it’s usually because they have different underlying assumptions and don’t realize it.

Making your assumptions explicit also provides a very useful tool to determine when, if ever, you should revisit your plan.  The answer — when one of your key assumptions proves to not be true.

If folks have examples of lay of the land sections from their strategic plan they’d be willing to share with me, I’m interested in seeing more.

And if you have thoughts about what has or has not worked in your own strategic planning processes, please share them.

Content © Copyright 2010-2013 • Jonathan Poisner Strategic Consulting LLC. All rights reserved.