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Creating the right plans for your nonprofit

  • by Shala Graham
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Communications, strategy, and business, oh my! Running a nonprofit organization requires a lot of planning on behalf of the leadership and a common struggle that comes up is which plans and in what order. We often see organizations put the cart before the horse when it comes to these major types of plans. And worse yet, we’ve seen organizations spend so much time on one plan that they never get around to the next necessary plan (or never finish the first plan).

Why spend all this time on plans anyway? Well, it should be because it will help you operate better and drive you closer to achieving your mission. One note that I would like to make is when you hire consultants for these various plans, they should be there to walk you through a process. They should not be there to tell you what to do. You are the only one who knows what you do and what your culture is. With that in mind, let’s dive into the different types of plans and when you should do them!

First: Strategic Planning

Your strategic plan lays the foundation for where you are trying to take your organization. It’s your opportunity to confirm your mission, vision, and values, and then develop your priorities for the coming years. Keep your strategic plan realistic and digestible. You should be able to distill your overall plan in a single view as opposed to pouring over a never-ending plan that no one will read once it is done. I’m a big fan of a one-page strategic plan!

Set your priorities for the next 3-5 years, as opposed to 5-10 years. We all know how quickly the sector (and funding) changes, so be flexible and come prepared to answer the question, “Should we still exist or is it time to go home?” This is a fair question. There is no point in laying down a strategy if either you’ve solved the problem already and are no longer needed, or if there is another organization that is doing what you do better, with more reach and more funding. You’re a nonprofit after all, not a regular business. You exist to meet a need so if you’re not the best org to do that, it’s okay to move on or merge.

Second: Business Plan

The business plan is an annual plan that is all about tactics, resources, and attracting new people to your organization, and it is sometimes crafted at the same time as the strategic plan. The business plan should focus on implementing your strategic plan with priorities and resource allocations that will move you in the right direction. When I’m doing my own business planning based on my strategic goals, I like to dissect by quarters so I can see what builds upon what. And then as I approach each quarter in real time, I break out my monthly goals with big sticky notes and put them on my wall. There is something gratifying about taking a marker and crossing things off as I achieve them!

Third: Communications Plan

Now that you know where you are going and the tactics and resources that you have to work with, you can now tackle your communications plan. Your communications plan will lay out your communication objectives, positioning, target audiences, and desired actions. It’s also a great tool for developing your content strategy. Which platforms are you using? What kind of article topics or message themes will you have? What are the key organization dates to build excitement around? What kind of fundraising or advocacy campaigns will you launch? And don’t forget to include your metrics for success. Where are you starting from and where do you want to end up? Be sure to include intermediary goals to see if you are on target for achieving the end goal.

Finally, branding is a part of communications. Be careful not to make the mistake many organizations do of constantly “rebranding” and redesigning their website. Your brand is not your logo and it is not your website. Your brand is your reputation…it’s how people see you. Your reputation has to be managed wisely and has to be authentic. If you knew someone who was constantly reinventing their reputation (or trying to), you would think they were fake or unstable. So don’t do that to your organization. You want to carefully build a brand that will stand the test of time.

If you need help thinking critically about the plans you have in place, or what you should be doing when, I’d love to talk with you about your specific needs. Take a look at my calendar online and schedule a free 30 minute consultation now for some immediate clarity!