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Planning to Plan (Part 1)

With tax season in full swing, many of us are dreading the weeks ahead. The regulations, calculations and fine print can be a bear. But when it comes right down to it, one of the most arduous tasks involves information collection — rifling through stacks of paper to uncover needed documents — unless, of course, you have devised a solid plan to keep your paperwork organized throughout the year.

Such is the case with development plans. The actual writing of the plan will seem much simpler and less time consuming if you take steps to organize information on an ongoing basis. The most effective way to design your plan is to make it a tool that becomes a natural part of your thought process, something you’ve always got in the back of your mind.

How can you fit one more task into your already overloaded schedule? One tried and true method simply involves keeping a folder labeled “2004 Plan” and filling it with articles and ideas that might contribute to your research, techniques, or case statements in the upcoming year:

  • Names of new prospects,
  • Articles about past or potential funders,
  • Descriptions of innovative cultivation or stewardship strategies,
  • Stories about similar organizations’ fundraising efforts,
  • Ideas about board and volunteer development,
  • Compelling client stories from within your organization.

These and other items that will form the basis of you development plan will reduce the stress of starting from scratch. When it comes time to sit down and write, you will begin with a wealth of ideas from which to pull.

You can also ease your anxiety about the planning process by regularly tracking some key data. When you look at current year financials, ask yourself a few questions that will help you prepare to meet future goals, not to mention current needs:

  • Regularly compare funds secured year-to-date and those anticipated with organizational needs. Are you especially lacking in unrestricted funds? Is one of your programs chronically underfunded? How are giving trends changing as compared to past years? This kind of analysis can help you prioritize the kinds of requests you make in the future and help you keep an eye out for entities that might be capable of meeting your nonprofit’s needs.
  • Meet with your organization’s program managers to stay abreast of upcoming initiatives. When you have a sense of what’s to come, you’re able to insure that the most likely funder is being solicited for each program. There’s nothing like hearing a polite “no” from a grantmaker, only to learn the next week that a new and more relevant project is on the horizon — and having to wait a full year to present it!
  • Tap as many people as you can to assist in your efforts. Ask funders, colleagues, program experts, board members, and volunteers where they work and who they know. It’s a time consuming process, but in the process devising new networking opportunities, you’ll be creating a stronger bond with these important stakeholders. There’s nothing like conducting research and stewardship in one fell swoop. Enlist these stakeholders in all phases of the cultivation and solicitation process.

As year-end approaches, set aside blocks of time that devoted to writing the plan. That way, you don’t end up scrambling to put things together when you’re already weeks into the new fiscal year. In next week’s article, we will explore components of the written plan…


Susan Schaefer

About the Contributor: Susan Schaefer

Susan is a seasoned consultant, writer and speaker who is passionate about the nonprofit sector. Her practical approach to fundraising and board development has made her a frequent speaker at conferences and in classrooms. She founded Resource Partners LLC in 2001 with a mission to help nonprofits excel. Her work with executives, development staff and boards has empowered dozens of organizations to reach and exceed their financial goals. Susan brings integrity and proven results to all her work, resulting in clients who return to her again and again. She co-edited The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook: Winning Strategies from 25 Leaders in the Field, published by CharityChannel Press. Prior to founding Resource Partners, Susan helped lead the design and implementation of The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by one of the largest private grants in history. Throughout her career, she has held seats on nonprofit boards, regularly holding leadership positions. Her next adventure includes serving as adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Susan holds a master’s degree in Not-for-Profit Management and a bachelor’s degree in English, both from the University of Maryland.


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