Some nonprofits seem to have ‘the luck of the Irish.’ They win the big grants, they attract the big money donors, and they grow and thrive in seemingly rocky soil. It looks effortless to you, from the outside, so it’s easy to believe they have a supernatural secret to success. It’s even easier to cherish that belief when your nonprofit is working hard on big problems but producing results that don’t match up. Of course, your successful peers don’t have four-leaf clovers (hard to come by), lucky rabbit’s feet (macabre) or pots ‘o’ gold (inefficient use of capital) locked away in their vaults. They do have the next best thing, though: a Strategic Plan. Your thriving peers aren’t lucky; they are thoughtful, intentional and strategic thinkers who positioned their organizations to be ready for success. Happily, this kind of luck is available to any nonprofit that develops a long-term strategic plan.
Strategy Isn’t Random
In the first century CE, Seneca the Younger wrote, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” The idea that luck randomly benefits some of us and not others is a comfortable belief. The alternative means that we all have much more agency over our success than we realize. Too many nonprofits lurch from problem to crisis to fire because working ‘smart, not hard’ is, well, hard. One aspect of this in-the-moment approach is the belief that million-dollar gifts just fall out of the sky. They could happen to anyone! The ‘lucky’ nonprofits know that they are the result of research, planning and concerted action.
Prepare to be Lucky
Preparation puts you in a position to take advantage of opportunity, and that can look easy to an outside observer. If you and your nonprofit are fighting fires, reacting to problems, and falling across the finish line each day, you have all the hard work you can handle. Yet your reward for pausing on the hamster wheel to focus on the future is an entirely new approach to your cause. If you take the time to develop a three-year Strategic Plan with all your key people, your nonprofit can replace luck with intention, reaction with strategy, and a shoestring budget with a pot of gold. How do you conduct a strategic planning process?
- Scan your environment: Do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. Build a clear picture of where are you right now, and what resources you have at your disposal.
- Clarify your mission: Get clear on who you serve, how you serve them, and what you want to offer.
- Spell out your ‘wants’: What do we need in the next three years? Be specific.
- Define and quantify your path: What steps do you need to take? How much will it cost to complete each step?
- Embed/infuse the plan throughout the nonprofit: Share the plan at every level, and ensure that every person in the organization uses it to drive their actions and intentions.
Plan to Perform
Here’s an example of how a strategic plan process can impact a nonprofit at every level. We worked with a prominent organization that had about 100 employees – but not a single HR person. Admin, technology, training and HR are all considered costs, and this nonprofit was dedicated to using as much of every dollar they received on programs and services. This was admirable, and possible, when they were smaller, but as they grew, this lack of support was hobbling their productivity and efficiency. Why? Every manager and director hired their own people, doing all the searching, hiring and on-boarding themselves. This was an inefficient use of time, money and capacity.
During a recently-launched strategic planning process, the managers decided that HR staff was on their wish list. They calculated how much that would cost, how much it would save, and they added it to the annual budget. Using the process, they made it happen, and the new HR staff improved employees’ experience, manager efficiency, and overall productivity.
Strategy Beats Luck
Strategy is the opposite of luck, and it’s an integral part of fundraising success. In the nonprofit world, being lucky means being prepared. Thirty-one percent of all nonprofits have no strategic or fundraising plan in place. Your strategic plan, a three-year living document, informs your annual budget, your annual fundraising plan and your annual goals. We ask all the clients we work with to share their Strategic Plan with us to inform and direct the fundraising support we provide. And if they don’t have one, or it’s outdated, we offer to work with them to develop one. (Click on the graphic below to download a sample Strategic Plan.) The Fordable Fundraising team can be your guide through the planning process, leading you to that real-life pot of gold at the end of the fundraising rainbow.