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Help, I’m Drowning!

When I am asked to present at conferences, it’s most often related to social media, our ambassador program, or other digital efforts. And while I love sharing knowledge and experience in this area, I consistently hear this message at the conclusion of the presentations:

“I don’t have time for this… I have a small staff… It’s only me!”

So when a call for proposals was issued by NC Tech4Good for their upcoming conference, I decided to switch gears and share how I’ve advocated for resources during my 10-year tenure at my organization. The subject?

“Help! I’m Drowning. How to Advocate for More Resources at Your Organization.”

When I asked attendees who needed help, nearly all of them raised their hands. About half kept their hands up when I asked if they’d told their boss they need help. But when I asked who had presented a comprehensive strategic plan that addresses ROI and mission-driven outcomes to their leadership, all hands went down.

The overall theme of my presentation is this: board members and leadership need to understand the investment and long-term benefits of bringing on more resources, from a new copier to a new staff member. It’s part of the fiscal responsibility of an organization to ensure that revenue is spent wisely. You are not only advocating for relief of your workload, but you are also advocating for the future of your organization.

There are two approaches that I’ve used to advocate for more resources…

Simple Plan

Using the very basic premise “if this, then that,” you can show the outcomes of adding more resources. In one column, outline what you do. In a second column, propose what you could do with more help.

This works in any kind of setting. If we get this new copier, then we will save x dollars at the copy center and our team will be more efficient. If we use this direct mail vendor, then we will raise x more money for the organization and grow our housefile by x. The main point of this kind of plan is showing basic impact.

If This, Then That Plan Example
If This, Then That Plan Example

Complex Plan

A complex plan shows strategic growth. It answers these questions: where we are today, where we want to be in the future, and how we will get there. It involves these steps:

  • Objective: Answer the question of your future vision. Do you want to increase revenue or grants? Grow your volunteer base or operations? Do you want to start new programs? Move into a new building? Your objective will guide your entire plan through the process.
  • Analyze Data: Your data will show you what strategies and goals you need to put in place to support your plan. This piece will undoubtedly take the most time but it’s vital that you are prepared to answer any questions your leadership has by relying on your data analysis. For my plans, I’ve used data in these areas:
    • Internal Data: What segments have growth potential? In examining our online giving revenue, I looked at years worth of data, segmented it into categories such as emails, campaigns, sustainers, and search engine traffic, and then looked at percentages of increases year over year and month by month.
    • National Trends: What is happening in your sector? I’ve used benchmark reports and infographics from such places as the Blackbaud Index, National Philanthropic Trust, and Network for Good. I also consulted Feeding America for trends specific to our sector.
    • Value of Staff: If you are proposing to add new staff members, how can they add value to your objective? In one surprising analysis of data for my plan, I found that a development or communications staff member is valued at between $500-700,000 in annual revenue at most organizations in our sector. (See slide #9)
  • Set Your Strategy: Your strategy will address your high level initiatives and long-term plans. You can use a SWOT analysis at this point (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Think about prioritizing 4 or 5 areas. For my plan, I developed strategies in Email, Campaign and Sustaining revenue as well as social media growth.
  • Set Your Goals: Your goals will address benchmarks and determine the who, what, when and how of your strategies. Utilize SMART goals during this phase: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
    • For example, let’s say your objective is to grow Direct Mail revenue and you’ve done your data analysis. Your strategy has shown that you have a dedicated group on donors (strength) but your file is small (weakness). You have an opportunity to grow your housefile but you could lose donors who don’t like mail (threat). Keeping this threat in mind, you develop messaging to address it. Your specific goals might be to mail 8 times to your $10-$25 donors and grow revenue by 15%. Perhaps another goal might be move your mid-level donors to major status by mailing them only six times and growing their average gift from $100 to $200.
  • Execution and Action: Your final step is to outline what it will take to make this plan happen. Will you need resources such as additional staff, a new vendor, a database, or training? Be sure to address the overall impact and ROI (return on investment). At this point, you will establish dates for the plan as well as your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and metrics. You might consider developing a scorecard that will serve as a tool for tracking your accomplishments along the way.
Strategic Plan Main Points
Strategic Plan Main Points

Final Tips

My final tips for the group were to understand that change takes time. In most cases, things will not be implemented overnight. You’ll have to build trust with leadership by staying calm, keeping focused, and being flexible. You may have new iterations of the plan based on questions or other initiatives within the organization. Remember to keep your plans mission-driven with clear, long-term impact. Think like a leader. What would you want to see if you were the ED or a board member of your agency?

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How did you make the time to do a 3-year plan?

I was asked to create a strategic plan and there was a deadline, but I still had my normal job to do. I tried to carve out a few hours each week by blocking time on my calendar to focus on it. Admittedly, I get very excited about data and would work on the plan at night and over the weekend. But if you keep in mind that this is a long-term project, then chipping away at it in small increments should not feel as taxing on your schedule. I highly recommend booking yourself offsite at a coffee shop where you can completely focus.

Once you had your plan, who did you talk to about it?

I had regular meetings with our CEO and we would periodically go over the plan as I was developing it. It was helpful to have his feedback and helped me gain a better understanding of what was important to the organization. When the plan was complete and I had a green light from him, I presented it to the Executive Management Team, the Board Development Committee, and the larger Board of Directors at budget time. I cannot stress how important it is to have your data analysis and research available for these meetings. In my case, they asked tough questions it was vital to the acceptance of the plan that I was prepared. Any stumbling could have resulted in a veto.

It’s just me raising money. How can I get a grant person?

With a small staff of one, your leadership might need some transition time to see the value of another full-time staff member. Consider finding a consultant that can help you with one or two strategic grants in the upcoming year. Start off very conservative with a strategy that you know will be successful. Clearly show the benefit to the organization with a clear ROI plan. Build that trust with your leadership in the first year. In the second, propose a few more grants. Perhaps in year three, you can suggest a part-time staff member. Remember that you are looking far into the future with this kind of strategy and patience is crucial.

Our board isn’t listening to staff. How can we change that?

You will need to think about why they are not listening and how you can talk to them on their terms. If they are too busy, then put together very brief, specific strategies. If they are getting overwhelmed with too many requests and too much information, then see if your staff can come together to prioritize what is presented to them. Find out what they care about and focus on that. If you think that they don’t know, then figure out a way to guide them. In most cases, your board should be monitoring the finances and fundraising should be a big part of what they need to focus on. Think of how you can make them do that.

I can’t get my manager to listen to me. She’s too busy.

As with the board example above, you will need to be prepared, direct, and brief in anything you talk to your busy manager about. If you have regular (or even occasional) meetings about your goals and performance, be prepared to throw in some of your ideas for future growth. You don’t want to start working on a big, time-consuming plan only to find out that her objectives to do not match yours. Mention a few things in passing to see how she might be feeling about your ideas. Be prepared to state why you think these are good ideas and how they will help the organization in the future.

We’re getting a new database and we’ll need more staff to manage it. But leadership doesn’t understand the value of staff. All they see are salary and benefits expenses.

Think of how you can tie some mission-driven objectives to your proposal. For example, in my first “if this, then that” plan, I knew it was important to the organization to provide acknowledgments to donors in a timely manner (which we were not able to do) and everyone wanted database training. Those were two areas of improvement I could identify. Talk to some of your fundraising staff and see if they will be able to raise more money with improved reporting, faster data-entry, or better motive tracking. Try to put some revenue amounts to those new initiatives. Then imagine down the road the overall impact and lay that out year over year. You might want to do some research on the value of additional employees, as I had with the Feeding America data. You might also find some interesting data analysis from some of the resources mentioned above that will help make your plan more compelling and attractive.

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Present a Solid Plan and You’ll Feel the Love From Your Leadership!