A nonprofit strategic plan costs money and time. But can it pay for itself with better fundraising?

Here at Funding for Good, our answer is a resounding, yes!

At its heart, nonprofit fundraising is about showing donors how their contributions will create impact in the world. Which is exactly what a strategic plan does.

 

What’s Included in a Strategic Plan?

A nonprofit strategic plan spells out what your organization wants to accomplish over a 3-5-year period and how you intend to do it. We call it a “roadmap” for where your organization wants to be and the impact you want to achieve.

While most grant proposals cover similar content—goals, objectives, strategies, benchmarks—a strategic plan is unique in that it’s co-created by an organization’s board and staff leadership. Plus, it’s informed by diverse stakeholder input and a frank analysis of an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Read more: What is a SWOT Analysis?

The result is a grounded yet ambitious organization-wide vision for impact and sustainability.

A strategic plan is more than a written document though. A well-executed strategic planning process creates priceless buy-in from board and staff alike. Which means the final co-created vision is backed by thoughtful analysis, comprehensive planning, and authentic enthusiasm.

 

How Can a Strategic Plan Boost Fundraising?

For fundraising professionals, a written vision and strategy for impact that board and staff are committed to is a dream come true. So how do you transform that document and energy into fundraising dollars?

Here are the top five ways to make sure your strategic plan pays for itself:

 

1) Adapt your strategic plan into donor-facing content

Donors want to be inspired. They also want to know their contributions will be put to the best possible use. Luckily, a strategic plan fulfills both needs by focusing on sustainability and impact.

A great grant writer or marketing writer can quickly adapt your strategic plan into a variety of materials for donors. For example, an organizational one-pager, a series of supporter emails, a brochure or prospectus, or even a landing page on your website.

 

2) Make better asks by knowing exactly what you need and why

A strategic plan helps nonprofit leaders and development staff get clear on both immediate and long-term financial needs. Too often, we fundraise based on either what we think donors want to fund or what the most immediate pressing need internally is. For example, your communications team is overwhelmed, so you set out to raise money for a new communications position.

But a strategic plan is a rare opportunity to take your budgeting and fundraising from reactive to proactive. You’ll know exactly what you need to raise money for and why. And you’ll be able to share this with donors in a clear and compelling way. You’ll also be able to talk about how renewed support isn’t just about maintaining a status quo, but rather is part of honing and growing your organization’s impact. This successful Shark Tank pitch for a company making eco-friendly diapers is a great example of this kind of clarity in action.

Internally, because a strategic plan is organization-wide, as a leader you’ll also be better prepared to balance capacity requests from different departments. And remember, an effective planning process will have created buy-in. You can lean into that buy-in when making and communicating about spending decisions.

 

3) Simplify grant writing

Great grant writers are experts at turning program ideas into compelling narratives that speak to each donor’s interests. But just imagine what your grant writers can accomplish when you hand them a strategic plan.

A strategic plan gives grant writers the building blocks to create top-notch proposals in record time. You’ve got a polished vision and mission, long-range goals and objectives, and benchmarks to evaluate progress. All wrapped in a thoughtful, researched narrative about sustainability and impact.

Even better, because the plan has organization-wide buy-in, your development team won’t worry about who’s in charge of meeting programmatic deliverables.

 

4) Strengthen donor communications

A strategic plan is a goldmine for donor communications. In addition to sharing details about the plan itself, you can easily prepare regular impact reports.

Ideally, your board and staff leadership will be reviewing progress toward your strategic plan outcomes on a quarterly basis. Your development department can quickly turn those reports into emails to donors. And when grant reporting deadlines come around, your grants team will have plenty of content to draw from.

You can go even deeper for communications with major donors. For example, consider regularly sharing your Executive Director’s or board chair’s reflections on progress toward your strategic plan goals, lessons learned, and even strategy shifts. By doing this, you’ll be showing donors that your organization is not just committed to impact, but actively honing your strategies. The message: you’re working hard to transform their dollars into even greater impact.

 

5) Channel your board’s buy-in by putting them to work

Because your board was engaged in your strategic planning process, they’ll be even more invested in the hard work of putting it into action. Which means it’s the perfect moment to kick board fundraising up a notch.

If you don’t have an active board fundraising committee, now is the perfect time to create one. Board members can make introductions to potential individual and institutional donors in their networks. They can join you at donor meetings where they have special connections. They can help secure in-kind contributions, such as event space or consulting services. Or they can increase their annual contributions.

Read more: 10 Ways to Engage Your Board in Fundraising

 

The Verdict: Can a Strategic Plan Pay for Itself?

With so many to use a strategic plan, it’s easy to see how it can boost fundraising. And ultimately pay for itself.

But the key is putting your strategic plan to work. A document forgotten on a shelf won’t inspire donors. It won’t help your grant writing. And it won’t get your board out there raising money. But if you put in the effort, your strategic plan can pay fundraising dividends for years to come.

 

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