Planning With Precision

The very first goal in the organization’s strategic plan was that each board member would be responsible for giving at a certain level.  I’m not averse to having a board policy of giving charitably—though I’m ambivalent about setting a specific price—but I actually don’t think that is a strategic goal of the organization. Certainly, recruiting, retaining and involving board members who have the financial ability to help support the organization, and the ability and willingness to help reach out to others who can make a significant gift is strategic.  More importantly, however, would be the organization’s goal of having a purpose and procedures for board of directors that would engage the type of people you want on your board.  In other words, your strategic focus should be on what your board does (or should be doing) and how they do or will go about doing it rather than on a specific task.

Too often we mistake immediate wants for strategic goals.  We focus on an element that isn’t right, and think that our strategy should be to fix that component.  Strategy, however, should be focusing on a larger approach—on the alphabet, not an individual letter.

Once you figure out the strategy, you do need to have the methods or tactics of getting there.  That might be the fact that each member would have to give at a certain level.

Your tactics should, of course, fit within your strategies but that, I’ve noticed as I look at strategic plans, isn’t always the case.  The strategies are out there in the stratosphere while the tactics are the way we go about doing business as usual.  Nothing wrong with that, either—but that’s a work plan.

Strategic planning, it seems to me, too often is one of those boxes that organizations feel they need to tick off rather than a serious look at where they want to be in a few years.  And because it is something to get done, that translates to “Good, we have a plan, we are done.”

In fact, the planning should be only the start. In fundraising, something that should always be part of a strategic plan, as you can’t grow and change if you don’t have the financial resources, we’re often too plan-less, asking whoever is front of us for a gift of whatever they want to give.  The ideal, of course, is to (to steal an old saying) “plan your work and then work your plan.”  It’s that second half of the sentence that too often goes begging.

But important as planning is, make sure you are being mindful (a) of what is needed and (b) what is reasonable.  I see so many strategic and development plans that would take a cast of many more people than the organization has to get any part of it off the ground.  Consider carefully where you are, where you need to be, and then plan for how you will get there.

And, oh yes—then roll up your sleeves and get to work.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and to develop stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter.