What Kind of Planning Makes Sense for Your Group

Question: I'm on the board of a nonprofit, and I was recently filling out a grant application that asked for a copy of our strategic plan. I’ve also been asked by major donors for a copy of our fundraising plan. We haven’t been doing planning, but it looks like we should think about it. What does a strategic or fundraising plan usually include, and how do we create them?

Answer: Planning is useful both for the people who are giving your organization money, and for your organization itself. It helps the funders know what direction you’re planning to go in the coming year, and it helps keep you from drifting away from what your board has decided are the best places to put your energy and time. Nonprofits create plans for many different aspects of their work, from IT to Communications to an overarching Strategic Plan. Here are some types of plans that are commonly created to help nonprofit organizations run smoothly.

Strategic Plan
Strategic planning is the process of designing a direction for an entire organization for a specific period of time. It looks at where an organization stands and where it is going over a period of (usually) 3-5 years.

 A strategic plan answers questions like:
1. "What do we want to do?"
2. "For whom will we do it?"
3. "How will we excel?"

In order to determine where it is going, the organization needs to know exactly where it stands, then determine where it wants to go and how it will get there. (It helps to think in terms of “programs” in laying out areas of work.) The resulting document is called the "strategic plan," which forms the foundation for all the other work done within the organization.

Annual Plan of Work
The Annual Plan is a matrix of task assignments and timelines for a particular year, based on strategies outlined in the strategic plan.

Fundraising Plan
For specific program areas or other projects (like the acquisition of office space, or the hiring of a new staff member), a fundraising plan brings clarity to how the organization will raise the funds to pay for what it needs. You can create a fundraising plan for an individual area of your work, or for the program work for the whole organization.

Campaign Plan
A campaign is an organized effort to influence the decision-making process within a specific group. Charitable nonprofits cannot campaign for a particular political candidate running for office, but they can run campaigns to get land protected, change laws, involve citizens in a particular issue, and so on.

Campaigning can be very complicated, with a lot of uncertain outcomes, defeats and victories. A campaign plan is an effective way of objectively gauging the lay of the land before the campaign is underway: figuring out who the key players are, who will support you, who will oppose you, and who is undecided about your issue (and who will, therefore, need to be convinced by your arguments).

The process of campaign planning can help your group get a “bird’s eye view” of an issue, so it is easier to decide how to proceed later, when you’re in the thick of things!