4 Reasons Why You Need Strategic Planning Before Launching a Campaign

By Jaron Bernstein, MBA, Consultant

Consultant Jaron Bernstein breaks down what you gain by investing in the strategic planning process and what dangers are in store if you don’t. All with the help of the cast of the hit TV show Schitt’s Creek.

This article is a 4.75 minute read.

Strategic planning is often seen as a utilitarian and tedious process to put to paper an organization’s activities for the next 3-5 years. It is seen this way because too often the result is a neatly organized document that sits on the proverbial shelf until it is time to make a new one.

But what if I told you that a good strategic plan is not only a tool to measure progress and course-correct when milestones aren’t achieved but also an important, foundational underpinning for both successful annual fundraising and launching a special campaign? As my colleagues Karen Rotko-Wynn and Rachel Krinsky described in their webinar last fall, a clearly articulated vision and strategic priorities are the first things you must have in place before launching a fundraising campaign.

To me, embarking on a major campaign or initiative without an organizational strategic plan is tantamount to setting offshore without a paddle; you might find yourself you know where:

Okay. So the Rose family from the hit show Schitt’s Creek would not have avoided financial ruin (it’s in the first episode, so don’t worry no spoilers) by undergoing a strategic planning process. Nor are they the perfect analogy for nonprofit administrators and fundraisers (despite Moira’s self-proclaimed proclivity for board leadership and philanthropy).

We can, however, learn something about strategy from their journey: without a plan or blueprint for your organization, when there’s a bump in the road you may find yourself on a detour to the proverbial Rosebud Motel. You’ll likely learn some difficult (yet possibly amusing) lessons in the process of finding your way out of your Schitt’s Creek, but had you done the disciplined work of creating a plan in the first place, you could have avoided the purgatorial stopover in the first place.

So, why should we take the time and effort to complete a full strategic plan before embarking on a major campaign?

#1: Strategic planning helps establish and affirm priorities with clear goals.

The absence of a plan can lead to a variety of unpredictable outcomes. While that may sound adventurous to someone like Alexis Rose, your donors will not be interested in joining you for a journey without a destination.

Does the project/campaign even rise to the top of your organization’s priorities? Are there other things that might take precedence or present competition for time, resources and attention?

Taking a comprehensive approach to analyze your organization’s present situation and future requirements through a structured strategic planning process validates the significance of your project or campaign. It is a critical affirmation to donors that your decision to undertake a bold and visionary endeavor is well thought out.

#2: It answers questions needed to form a Philanthropic Value Proposition.

One of the first questions any prospective donor will ask about a special project or campaign is, “How does this help you carry out your mission better?” In fact, as I wrote early this year, donors are becoming more and more interested in how a campaign will address organizational sustainability, in addition to achieving a compelling future vision. By working from a strategic plan framework that starts with your Mission, Vision, and Values, and then works down into specific goals, strategies and action plans, you can affirm how a special project or campaign will funnel up into your mission and vision.

Moreover, through a strategic planning process, you will detail what specific steps must be taken to achieve your project’s vision and how the organization will go about undertaking them in the context of its other mission-driven work. This level of detailed planning demonstrates a thoughtful, responsible approach to future planning and will signal to donors your ability to carefully steward their potential funds.

#3: It kickstarts constituent engagement early.

A good strategic planning process that centers equity will provide ample opportunity for all stakeholders’ voices to be heard throughout the process. Done correctly, this kind of engagement can foster buy-in and a sense of ownership for your organization’s plans, including a special project or campaign.

Another way to think about the strategic planning process is as the first step in the cultivation process for your board members, most generous supporters and other close family members. As we know, the larger the gift, the longer the cultivation process. By employing the strategic planning process in this manner, it can help “raise the sights” of potential lead donors and campaign volunteers, generating excitement at an early stage.

#4: You’ll have a North Star to guide you through uncertainty.

Inevitably, things will come up over the course of campaign planning and execution that raise additional questions, introduce new considerations or present barriers. Whether it is a new programmatic opportunity, a need in the community, or a potential restricted gift, these may call into question campaign plans or goals.

An established strategic plan is foundational for campaign work because it provides a clear roadmap and North Star to guide your organization, staff and volunteers through the currents of uncertainty that may arise towards already agreed-upon organizational goals and future vision.

A Happy Ending

Ultimately, what we all hope for with any special campaign (or Emmy Award-winning TV Series) is a happy ending. While there are many ways to write the story of our journey to get there – perhaps with comedy, drama, or heartbreak – we can avoid roadblocks and detours in our project by taking the time to curate a strategic plan.

The long-term benefits of doing so – clear strategic priorities, strong philanthropic value proposition, engaged constituents and a bright organizational north star – outweigh the short-term costs of a meticulous process. Your strategic plan is your paddle to avoid being stuck up Schitt’s Creek!

Looking for more guidance on your strategic plan? Find out more.