Three things lodged in my brain from a recent AFP Orange County luncheon meeting that featured 2 high profile donors telling their stories. One was Joann Leatherby’s story about breaking into someone’s house to steal a gun (to help a battered woman), the second was the statement (confirmed by both) that nonprofits should feel comfortable enough to INVOICE their donors to remind donors of payments they promised to make, and the THIRD was Joe Lins revealing that his family has a “plan” and his children have 3-ring binders with the family’s goals and objectives.
All three are hard to imagine – but the last one really intrigued me. I was the only serous planner in my family growing up and really I think I just annoyed everybody. I had to get creative and subtle with my planning, guiding others toward a quasi-plan without anyone knowing it was a plan.
I’m actually still guiding people toward planning, and still sometimes without everyone 100% on board. I see many nonprofits that get hung up on the planning process either skipping it entirely or doing a general strategic plan that doesn’t include a detailed marketing/communications plan. Or, even worse, going to all the effort to create a plan and then never properly implementing it.
It’s a Business
I definitely fall in the “nonprofits can benefit from business practices” camp and if you look at it from a business perspective, no business in their right mind would operate too long without a detailed but flexible plan. Especially in this economy where competition is tough and a plan can make a significant difference between a nonprofit just getting by or thriving. Even if you are already doing marketing without a plan, a plan can help you organize your staff time better which saves you money. Scattershot marketing can cost you more money (in staff time) than anything else. SEE: The 5 Types of Marketing Your Nonprofit Should Avoid
If you are doing a strategic plan, bring out the big guns and do the fund development and marketing plan all at once. They should all be integrated together. Since the ultimate goal is to engage people as supporters of your organization (whether as a donor, volunteer, board member, client or advocate) it makes sense to plan this out in one document – an engagement plan – rather than a separate strategic plan, fund development plan and marketing/communications plan. They naturally tie in together. We are offering Planraising retreats and classes in Orange County, CA specifically to help nonprofits create an integrated engagement plan.
The Board Matters
Everyone always hears about setting “realistic” goals, but the health of the organization, including its previous marketing experience and successes AND the strength of its board, will have a huge impact on what goals can and cannot be reached and how long it will take. An organization with a poorly developed board implementing newly developed marketing goals will take a LOT longer to achieve those goals (if at all). Board development should be front and center in your plan. I’ve seen too many nonprofits launch marketing and development campaigns with high expectations, too few resources and poorly developed boards and then blame their marketing and development team for the failures. See: How Your Nonprofit Board Impacts Your Marketing Efforts
Another thing to be realistic about is the amount of money it will take to launch a successful engagement plan. Fund development and marketing take time, money and other resources – under-commit any of these and you may not reach your goals. If you’ve never really done much marketing or fund development before (I’m thinking of all those nonprofits that rely significantly on a single source of funding that may be reduced – like government grants), then plan on a significant investment of time and money to catch up. I like to set up multi-phase plans with board development and getting basics up to speed in the first phase of the plan and then an exploratory / evaluation phase to see what works and what doesn’t and then a third phase to dive in deeper as more resources become available.
Getting the plan started and staying on track can be really challenging, especially if an organization already has its hands full with “real” work. My favorite first step for getting staff involved in marketing is to do a quick training in basic photography tips (using their cell phones or a separate camera) and then develop an internal photo contest to get the best photos for whatever marketing materials/messaging (including website) will be created as identified in the engagement plan. It takes a continuous effort from leadership to keep the plans goals front and center in everyone’s minds and it’s crucial to incorporate into the plan a way to get staff and volunteers engaged and a calendar/reminder system in place that includes a commitment to regular progress meetings. See Kivi’s Managing Your Nonprofit’s Communications Calendar.