PMA Consulting, LLC

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Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse…Strategic Planning is a Must!

“We don’t have time to do strategic planning…we need to raise money for these programs and for general operations and we need to do it now…and you need to make it happen.” Is this statement representative of your nonprofit’s fundraising expedition?  Are you expected to be a “rainmaker” with little capacity and direction?  Clearly, they don’t understand the role of strategic planning in fundraising.

Contrary to popular belief, this expedition must go backward before it can go forward.  Strategic planning is not a luxury, as all successful fundraising emerges from a clearer sense of where the organization is, where it’s going, how it’s going to get there, and how it will know if it got there or not.

Not all strategic planning processes are alike and might take one of the following approaches:

  • Goal-based – nonprofits focus on their mission (and perhaps vision and values), and derive goals, strategies and action planning to support that mission
  • Issues-based – nonprofits focus on issues facing the organization and the strategies to address those issues and action plans
  • Organic – nonprofits focus on articulating the organization’s vision and values, and then action plans to achieve the vision while adhering to their values

Regardless of the approach, it’s safe to say that fundraising does not begin with recognizing a need for money and it certainly doesn’t come at the very end of lengthy strategic planning process.  Instead, it falls somewhere in the middle of the planning process, after the organization has had the chance to uncover direction, understand the opportunities and challenges inherent in that direction and, more specifically, begin to enhance its capacity to cultivate, solicit and steward funders more effectively:

  • by assessing the environment in which your fundraising staff and volunteers must work
  • by determining and prioritizing your funders
  • by assessing funders’ needs and responding to them through appropriately designed engagement strategies
  • by estimating the cost of those strategies and any reliable sources of revenue over a term of years

This initial discovery will begin to yield fundraising goals and strategies that can only be strengthened by continuing the strategic planning process:

  • refining your core message and/or case for support
  • re-examining the recruitment of board, staff, and volunteers
  • assigning the implementation of fundraising activities to specific individuals
  • creating a continuous evaluation system to monitor the fit between fundraising strategies and the funders’ needs

PMA salutes those nonprofits that have taken the time and care to conduct strategic planning as a means to achieving sustainability.  The North Carolina Dental Health Fund (NCDHF) works to reduce barriers to oral health care for North Carolina’s under-served populations and partnered with PMA in 2011 and 2012.  While the engagement was initially designed to provide near-term fundraising assessment and planning, PMA’s initial outreach to internal and external stakeholders quickly uncovered a need and a potential capacity to expand the scope of the organization’s mission, vision and goals.  The nonprofit engaged in a process that ultimately produced a development infrastructure with the means to achieve both short- and long-range fundraising success.  The key for NCDHF was taking control of its vision; the kind of control that can only stem from strategic planning, which integrates every aspect of their organization into a master blueprint whose objectives are all synchronized providing the capacity to fundraise.