Meaningful Planning

A lot of my work is helping organizations develop plans.  Plans for fundraising, board development, strategic plans.  Often, I am brought in to help them figure out how to implement existing plans. What amazes me too often is what passes as a plan.planning

A plan has many definitions and many meanings. The Business Dictionary defines a plan as a “Written account of intended future course of action (scheme) aimed at achieving specific goal(s) or objective(s) within a specific timeframe. It explains in detail what needs to be done, when, how, and by whom…”

It’s that last sentence that seems to elude most planners.

I see plans that tell what must occur but don’t show how to make it happen.  And I see a lot of plans that do not bother with reality.

An organization that has 235 names in a spreadsheet is not likely to increase direct mail by 445%.  In fact, with these kinds of numbers, direct mail may not be the most effective strategy to pursue.

To be of value, a plan needs to sit on a foundation of facts. For a fundraising plan, for example, beyond knowing the mission and who is served, you do need to know

  • What is the operating budget?
  • What are the sources of revenue today
    • Are these sources generating enough?
    • If not, how large is the gap?
    • Is fundraising part of the mix?
      • If so, how much is raised sustainably?
      • What are the techniques that are being utilized?
      • Are revenues from each technique growing? Shrinking?  Stagnating?
    • What new initiatives are being planned for the coming year? Two years? Five years?
    • What is the culture?
    • What resources are available for use? These include things like:
      • Donor Lists (Database)
      • Prospect Lists
      • Research Ability
      • Collateral Materials (brochures/newsletters/website)
      • Paid Fundraising Staff
      • Strong Fundraising Skill of CEO
      • Fundraising Volunteers
      • Public Relations (Awareness)
      • Fundraising Budget

The plan then needs to get down and specific about what you are doing, what it consists of, who is the target audience, how much you plan on raising, how much it will cost, when you will go it and, of course, who is responsible.  In other words, don’t just say, “Direct Mail would be a good way to raise annual funds.”  Show what, exactly and explicitly, a direct mail campaign will look like and what steps—detailed, please—you need to take to reach the goal (how much you will raise or how many new donors you will attract or whatever you state as your intention) you set.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to go from mired to inspired in their fundraising and board development.  If you have a plan that is sitting on the shelf—or don’t even have a plan—see how she can help you at or contact her at and take advantage of the free 30-minute consultation.