Your nonprofit organization’s strategy determines the direction of where your organization is headed and the scope of what you’ll do. It is the thing that determines what your limited resources will accomplish for your beneficiaries, donors, and other stakeholders. A simple definition of strategy is “defining how we’re going to win in the period ahead.” In this episode, Kevin asks about how to set his goals and develop a strategy to contribute to the corporate strategy for 2022. We explore creating your goals, what to do if you don’t have an organizational strategy, and how to get your team focused on these goals.

Full Transcript:

Your organization strategy determines the direction of where your organization is headed. And the scope of what you’ll do. It is the thing that determines what your limited resources will accomplish for your beneficiaries, donors and other stakeholders. A simple definition of strategy is defining how we’re going to win in the period ahead. As a part of building your strategy, you’ll build your organization’s goals. The goals are important road markers along the way to achieving your strategy. If you don’t know how to measure where you’re going, how will you know if you get there? Most organizations set goals several years out and then break them down into annual goals on the way to your future goal. You may have heard this illustration before, how do farmers get such straight lines in their fields?

They pick a point off in the distance and as they plow, they head towards that point. This illustration can apply to your organization as you define your goals at some point in the future. And then set your plow towards that goal. In today’s question, Kevin has a problem. The stake has been set in the ground for the future, but there aren’t any goals on the way to achieve the future goals. Here’s Kevin.

Kevin: My name’s Kevin. And I’m the marketing manager at a nonprofit in Seattle. I come from a corporate marketing job and have only been in fundraising for nine months. Our organization has a strategic plan that ends in 2022. It has goals for 2022, but nothing for the years in between now and then. I’ve asked my boss for annual goals and he doesn’t have anything set in concrete. How do I set goals for my responsibilities for this year?

Thanks for the question, Kevin. This is such a common scenario at nonprofits today. There are many nonprofits who don’t even have goals set for several years out. So at least you have goals set for 2022. Unfortunately many organizations have not really gotten onto the strategy bandwagon or if they have, they don’t really understand how to define a strategy. And so they end up with something that doesn’t have the goals for the future or has goals that are unattainable. Or I think even worse, they take the time to build a strategy and then the staff don’t even know about it, know how to follow it, or even that it exists.

I’m really glad that you guys have 2022 plans or goals out that far. At least it gives you some road markers along the way of what you want to achieve. And now you can set a strategy for your fundraising team to achieve those things. And I’m going to walk you through what that looks like. We at Food for the Hungry, we used to have a plan. It was called envision 2020, which is just around the corner. But they set this plan about a decade ago. And it was a very long, very long strategic plan. But when I came on board in 2012 it wasn’t something that we were actually following. So it was a strategy, but it had no legs.

No one in leadership had embraced envision 2020 beyond the original group that had created it. And so this new group of leaders really weren’t building structures or departments in place to achieve that particular plan. A few people had read the plan. Fewer people followed it. I don’t know that very many people understood what was in it. As I mentioned it was a strategy that had no legs. For the last several years we’ve revamped our strategy development process. We’ve built up a leadership team that embraces strategy that has a good structure in place for how to build a strategy. Yet we’ve had problems along the way of figuring it out, but I think now we are probably positioned in the best place that we’ve been in a long time for developing longterm goals and longterm strategy and for understanding who we are as an organization, embracing it together. And then feeding it down within the organization so our staff both participate in the strategy development process, but also understand what’s in it.

This helps as you’re setting plans because your staff understand that some particular plan that we’re doing is built to achieve a strategic goal. And something that a suggestion might come up won’t be done because it doesn’t serve the organization’s strategy. Now strategy is an integral to what we do, who we are, who we do it. It’s an important piece and that’s really good for an organization because that strategy sets that future goal of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to achieve it. And so having that strategy in place really helps us hone down and decide what things to do. And almost more importantly, what things not to do.

So at Food for the Hungry, just like you guys have, we have a goal set out for three years from now. And then what we do though is that we break those down into annual goals of what are we going to achieve right now? What are we going to achieve that helps lead to those three year goals? And this is where I think you guys are stuck. Is that it sounds like you guys have three year goals, but you don’t have the pathway to reach those necessarily. And you as you mentioned in your question, you don’t have the annual goal for what you’re going to do this next year, the year after, the year after that in order to achieve those 2022 goals. And so I want to help you in what can you do working towards that?

So our job as senior leaders is to help our staff really soak in that strategy. To understand those goals and what we’re going to achieve and then as we build out more defined plans for what we’re going to achieve each quarter, each month, they’ll understand that the things that you’re doing really help you achieve your annual goals that then help you achieve your three year goals. Which at the end of the day is helping you achieve your strategy. And if everyone buys in that what you’re doing is a good strategy. And even if they don’t buy in and it’s a strategy that they would do, but they buy in that it’s good to have a strategy, then you’re going to be one step closer to getting buy in from your staff to really make those things happen. I think it’s really crucial especially in the fundraising area to understand that piece of it.

To understand the value of having that strategy because you have a hugely important job at your organization. And I can tell you, those 2022 goals, they’re not going to be met if the fundraising goals for your organization aren’t met. At Food for the Hungry, we use our strategy plan to really, I’ll call it to filter out what we’re doing. So this is the tool that I use to decide what projects we’re going to take on as a marketing team. What projects we’re not going to take on. And we can filter it through kind of our vision of who we are, but also filtering it through the goals of what we want to achieve, and that’s define where we’re going to invest our resources.

As we all know, we’re a nonprofit, so we have limited resources just like you guys do. But defining through the strategy where to best invest those resources helps the staff focus on these are the things that we need to do to achieve our goals. It helps define what our fundraising mix is. So we have different areas that we’re going to fundraise in. We have different ways of raising those funds. So for example, we have a government match program where money is pooled together, and then we need money to match those funds coming in. And so we have different channels that we can raise those funds from. So we can raise them in direct mail, on the phones, we can raise them in digital. There’s a number of different ways that we can raise those funds.

So the strategy helps me determine where to invest in order to raise that funding. The strategy also helps me define our staffing levels. In order to achieve a certain fundraising mix, or a certain amount of fundraising by a certain year, I need to know where to hire people in order to do that. And the strategy really informs that. So as an example, child sponsorship is a core piece of who we are at Food for the Hungry. And we need to staff appropriately both to acquire child sponsors, but also to develop those sponsors and to cultivate those relationships. One of the keys to building a successful monthly program is how do you continue to build that relationship with those monthly donors so they don’t quit?

And a big part of our strategy for meeting our three year goals is to make sure that as few people as possible quit giving to the organization and quit supporting those children in those communities that they support. In order to do that we need to have appropriate staff to make sure that we are showing gratitude to those donors. That we’re investing in that relationship. And that those donors understand that we care about them as much as we care about the people that they’re supporting in our fields. One of the first questions that you’re going to need to ask yourself is, is this strategy that the organization, is it one that they’re actively pursuing? So you have a three year goal in 2022. But you don’t have annual goals on your way to achieving it.

So the first question I’d want to know is, is this the true strategy for the organization? Is this the one that the leadership has bought into? Is this the one that I’m going to be measured against? Because if it’s not, you don’t want to follow those 2022 goals. You want to find out what the true goals are for your team. If you end up following a strategy that’s not really bought in by your senior leadership team, then you’re going to end up failing as a fundraising leader because you’re going to fundraise for goals that other people don’t have. So it’s an important question because you don’t want to base your fundraising on a strategy that’s not actively being followed. If it’s not somewhere that you’re headed as an organization, then you don’t want to start deciding staffing mix and deciding which projects to take on and which ones not to take on based on something that is not where your organization is going.

So if this isn’t the strategy for your organization, you may need to press your leadership on what they want to see achieved this year, in three years. And they may not have that. And that’s okay. What you can do is you can encourage them along the way to help build out what that looks like. And to adopt some true goals, some true annual goals and some true 2022 goals or three years out from whenever you guys decide to build a strategy. But understanding the situation of your current strategy I think is super important to answer your question of what do you do? If it is your strategy, well you’re in luck. You can set your goals to progress towards that 2022 goal.

And so we’re going to walk through both of these situations whether or not you need to work with your leadership team to build a strategy and some appropriate goals, or whether or not the 2022 goals that you have set for you at the organization are the true ones. And let’s walk through what you need to do next. So now that you have an idea of the direction that your strategy is headed, you need to set up your department to win. In order to set up your department to win, you need to know whether or not the goals that you’ve set for 2022 are the appropriate fundraising goals so that you can set your annual goals to meet those 2022 goals. So setting your annual goals to meet those 2022 goals, the way I would approach that is I would look at what the 2022 goal is and break that down into what will you need to do from a growth perspective each year between now and then to achieve that goal?

You may look at that goal and decide that that is just not attainable based on your past growth levels. As an example, the envision 2020 goals that we had at Food for the Hungry, that plan was set a decade ago and it was set based on projecting out growth levels between before I even came on board and where we would potentially be in 2020. So those goals being a decade out may not have been appropriately set not knowing growth patterns and what would happen to the economy and other things between the year it was set and the year that it is now. So what you didn’t say in your question was when those 2022 goals were set. So those may not actually be three year goals.

Those might have been set in 2012 and those might’ve been 10 year goals. And you might be looking at something now joining the organization that was set so long ago that it’s no longer based in the situation of what’s happening today. So the first step would be to take a look at your 2022 goals, back those up to what’s going on in 2019 and where you guys are at as an organization. And what will it take you to achieve those 2022 goals? And is it reasonable? And what you may find is the ups it may be true also that the 2022 goals that you guys have set were set so long ago and you’ve had such good growth between now and when they were set that they’re not even remotely feasible because you could exceed them.

In that case you may want to update your leadership team on what is more reasonable goals for 2022 so that you’re not sandbagging basically into that year and ending up with a fundraising that far exceeds your goals because that can screw up your strategy too if you over raise and you’ve not appropriately defined in your strategy what that looks like, then you guys may end up spending money on programs that you didn’t intend to. Now that you’ve set your annual goals for what you need to achieve in order to progress to your 2022 goals, you need to answer the question of what people, processes and fundraising will you need to have in place to meet those goals? With each different goal that you set, you’re going to be defining out what are the people resources, what are the processes that you may not have in place? And what are your fundraising goals that will be necessary in order to achieve those strategic goals?

You’ll need to then map out a plan for what are you going to need to do to adjust your fundraising organization so those staff that are within your team or under you in order to get to those people, processes and fundraising that you need in order to achieve your goals? So really break down, I’ve done this by I’ve defined a org chart. So we have three year goals, but I have an org chart that defines what does the marketing organization look like in the year 2026? And we have some time. We have seven years from the time of this recording between now and that 2026 org chart. But in that, as we progress through our strategic plan, I kind of took our strategic plan from three years out and used that as a basis to say, okay if this is where we’re going in three years, what does it look like for where we could potentially be going out further than that?

And as we each year define our annual plan and have job openings come up, using this org chart from the future, it helps me define which positions do I need to hire now in order to achieve our short term, our longterm and our future goals of where we could potentially be that many years out? And we’re a $150 million organization now. We could be a half a billion dollar organization by then. If we are, our marketing organization is going to look drastically different than what it looks like right now. So you’re going to need to define other pieces of what your fundraising team, your fundraising mix, what processes do you need in place? Do you have the sufficient project management tools in place? Do you have processes for thanking donors, showing them gratitude? Do you have good communication strategies and matrices in place for the different mix of donors and types of donors that you have in the organization?

What kind of innovations will there be in fundraising in the next couple of years? I don’t know what they will be, but you need to start thinking about, especially if your organization if there’s fundraising strategies out there that you’re not currently taking advantage of like peer to peer, monthly giving, mid-level donor programs, what will it look like for you to put those things in place and how much money and potential could they raise for your organization to help you achieve your goals? Defining all of these things, it takes time. It takes effort. But in doing so you’re going to set your fundraising organization up for success. You’re going to set yourself up to be able to achieve those goals and really set yourself apart from other departments if they’re not doing this by setting yourself up for no matter what strategy changes come in the next couple of years, that you’re best positioned to turn at a notice of a new strategy so that your team can meet the fundraising goals of the organization no matter where you’re headed.

Finally, focus your team on meeting your goals. Each quarter in marketing we hold a strategy meeting for our entire marketing team. And we’re setting the strategy for the next quarter of what do we want to achieve? As we define and the day is we take a whole day to do it. The first part of the day is brainstorming and dreaming of what we want to achieve in the next quarter. And then we break down that whole big, long list and say, what will we actually do? And in deciding to do that, we need to know both our goals of what we want to achieve. We also need to know our strategic plan so that we can set the filter for those projects and things, the campaigns, we can set that filter of whether or not they help us achieve our strategy and our strategic goals in the future.

So let me give you an example. Let’s say that in one of those quarterly planning sessions that somebody says, I’d really love to do, I’d like to set up a new peer to peer giving platform. The filter that we’re going to run that through is, does that help us with our strategy, which is to graduate communities and to end human suffering? So we want to graduate communities from poverty and end human suffering. And using that as a filter, peer to peer fundraising, yes that would help us do that because it would help us reach more donors, get them more involved in our work. And to raise more funds for those two things. Now that we know that, does that help us achieve our financial goals? So does it help us within our marketing team achieve the fundraising goals for the team? Does it help us achieve the number of new donors that we want to acquire in the next year?

And does it help us achieve retention numbers? Does it help us achieve those individual goals that we’ve set as a marketing team that point towards both the annual goals for the organization and also the future goals down the road for the organization? And so in this case, yes it both helps raise more income. It also helps acquire new donors. And it may help retain donors as they get new giving options for supporting the organization and the people and the cause that they love. So you can see as I walk through this that I’m defining out how that new idea that we came up with really fits into our strategy. And fits our longterm strategic goals. So let me come up here with an idea of something that may not fit.

So we’ve got friends at another organization and they do this guide and it’s for fiscally responsible or ethically responsible sourcing of goods. So looking at retailers and whether or not those retailers are ethical places to shop at. So if we were to adopt, we’ve considered that as an option here in the US for Food for the Hungry of basically buying the rights to that kind of ethically sourced tool for people to know where to shop. Does that fit into our model? And so we could look at it and say, does it help us graduate communities from extreme poverty or end human suffering?

It potentially could, if it’s more into the making sure that worker’s rights are protected, that they’re being ethically treated in countries where these products are being developed, that retailers know where these products are being sourced from and the conditions of people that are working in those. But to be honest, it’s probably a stretch of whether or not that meets our strategy. Does that help us meet our goals as a marketing team or as an organization? There’s where it helps educate people as to what they, where they should shop to support retailers that are making good decisions about sourcing their products. But it really doesn’t meet any of our goals as an organization. And so overall it’s a good idea and there’s a lot of organizations that I think it’d be a good fit for. For us it doesn’t seem like it’s a good fit for what we’re trying to achieve.

And so though it may be a good idea, to believe it is a good idea, it may not be a good idea for us. One of the downsides if you don’t have a strategy or don’t have goals is any good idea, “good idea” that you come up with as a team, as an organization, you might potentially pursue it because it’s a good idea. It’s something that you want to do. But it may not be something that actually fits your organization’s strategy or goals. Not every good idea is one that your organization should pursue. We as organizations, we have limited resources and limited time and limited ability and limited people. And limited ways to invest. So I need to really think hard about all of the things that we invest in because making good decisions isn’t just about what we’re going to do. It’s also about what we’re not going to do.

And making good decisions about what we’re not going to do as an organization. Defining these annual goals and defining your longer term goals and defining your strategy helps you then filter out which of the good ideas that you’re presented with are ones that you want to pursue so that your good ideas all come down to meeting those goals. At the end of the day, that’s the important part. You want to meet those goals that you can serve as many people as possible, raise funds, as much money as you can so that you can improve the lives of as many people as you can.

Thanks Kevin, I’ve really enjoyed answering your question today. I think it’s one that a lot of organizations need help with. It’s one that a lot of organizations aren’t up to par. And I’d put us in that class or organizations that until recently we have not had well defined annual goals, longterm goals, strategy, those things have not been well defined at Food for the Hungry. And we have achieved more I believe now because we have those things than we could have before when we didn’t. So my hope is is that more organizations take a look at what you’re doing, which is looking at your goals from several years down the road and saying, we’re not going to achieve those by just blindly building out fundraising campaigns each year. But we really need to define what does each year look like on our way to achieving those goals?

So I appreciate your time and wish you the best as you define out what your strategies are as an organization, what your longterm goals are, and what your annual goals are in order to achieve those longterm goals. Take care. Thank you for listening to this episode of the nonprofit answers podcast. Please take a moment to rate and review this podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcasting service. Your rating and review will help other nonprofit professionals find this podcast to get their nonprofit questions answered.