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3 Ways Integrated Planning Helped My Nonprofit

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“Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable.”

– Peter Drucker

This dramatic statement emphasizes the importance of integrating planning into daily work rather than waiting for periodic plan updates. Nonprofits often undergo planning processes every few years, but this approach is limited in a fast-changing world.

Peter Drucker advocated for continuous planning integration, viewing it as a best practice for fundraising success.

Integrated Planning

Planning is best when fully integrated into your work, whether for what you’re doing now or planning to do at a later time. When you integrate planning into your work, you’re using a fundraising “best practice.”

The best practice is to learn new approaches and apply new data to boost your annual fund, prepare for a major campaign, or prevent a stalled campaign, to name a few of the larger fundraising dilemmas.

Here are a few examples of how planning is essential to fundraising:

1. Direct Mail / Digital Marketing: One large nonprofit wanted to know if direct mail was still worth investing in or if they should rely exclusively on digital marketing. Research of the data shows that direct mail is alive and well, but that using it more strategically can reduce costs and produce a higher return for their nonprofit. Their current direct mail / digital media plan urgently needed updating to make it more impactful. Most of the changes centered on how they segmented their donor list. They needed to be more selective about who they mailed to, reserving direct mail for higher-level donors to remain cost-effective, while utilizing digital marketing for lower-level donors. The new plan will be tracked for 18 months and then reevaluated.

2. Campaign Readiness: Often called a feasibility study, assessing if you’re ready for a campaign is a planning process and can be essential. But just because others do it, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you! The nonprofit advised resides in a lucrative fundraising marketplace, has a terrific brand, is on a tight budget and needs $10 million in capital renovations. Instead of spending $30K on a feasibility study, it was suggested to start by getting to know the donors better, intensifying donor research to build a larger major gift pipeline, writing a dynamic short case for support, and starting the campaign. In 90-120 days, a report will be issued to see what has been found and possibly have secured a few major gifts to allow them to have the campaign budget they need, not to mention saving $30K that would have been spent on the planning study.

3. The Annual Calendar: Do you have your annual email and mail schedule in place for the new year? Have you updated it to apply whatever was learned from last year so that things can be done differently this year? The direct mail, email, and grants calendar for a nonprofit that serves at-risk youth was updated. It was learned last year that family foundations were an unexpected source of revenue potential, so cultivation letters will be mailed in an attempt to meet with the foundation reps more often this year. More emails were secured from donors by doing a donor survey, so the email program will be boosted to use those new emails well. The new donors with lower major gift capacity will be immediately asked to become monthly donors. If the plan had not been updated based on real learning, these opportunities would have been missed.

That’s how 2023 planning can start, and how it can continue throughout the year. Yes, do have times designated for planning, but also integrate planning processes into your daily work when that makes sense. Planning is not an episode, it’s ongoing.

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