“Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable.”
– Peter Drucker
You may recall that I had the good fortune of being a Peter Drucker fellow. I think of his teachings often, and I have even dedicated my upcoming book to him, “Fundraising Truths to Live By,” which should be out later this year.
Drucker showed me how to integrate planning into my daily work. He taught me to not wait for a new plan to be written or an old plan to be updated. The latter is what many nonprofits do. Every three to five years, they go through “a planning process,” be it strategic, operational or long-term. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just limited, a snap-shot in time in a world that is changing fast. Be assured that Peter wrote many plans and believed in them.
In his dramatic statement, he’s driving home a point about planning that is usually missed, and as we are fresh into a new year, I’d like you to know how he thought planning should be integrated.
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 just from last week on how planning was essential to my fundraising:
1. Direct Mail / Digital Marketing: One large nonprofit with whom I work 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. We’ll track this new plan for 18-months and then reevaluate it.
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 I advised resides in a lucrative fundraising marketplace, has a terrific brand, is on a tight budget and needs $10 million in capital renovations. I suggested that instead of spending $30K on a feasibility study, we start by getting to know our 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, we’ll issue a report to see what we’ve 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? I hope so, but have you updated it to apply whatever you learned from last year so that you can do things differently this year? I updated the direct mail, email and grants calendar for a nonprofit that serves at-risk youth. We learned last year that family foundations were an unexpected source of revenue potential, so we’ll be mailing cultivation letters in an attempt to meet with the foundation reps more often this year. We also learned how to secure more emails from our donors by doing a donor survey, so we’re going to boost our email program to use those new emails well. We’re going to immediately ask the new donors with lower major gift capacity to become monthly donors. If we had not updated our plan based on real learning, we would miss these opportunities.
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.