A Good Development Plan is Key to Capacity Building

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by Clare Jordan, CapDev Vice President

I am a planner: Type A, ENTJ. I love to make a plan.

The thing I’m still trying to learn is flexibility.

I do believe that plans don’t always work out as we intended, but it is easy to argue that the process of planning has great benefits in its intentionality regardless.

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” goes the old Army aphorism often attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I’d say there is a lot of truth here for nonprofits as they look to invest in development planning.

We get lots of calls at CapDev from organizations seeking professional counsel to craft their development plans. And in my decades of nonprofit organizational planning, I still contend that the true measure of a good plan is not the plan itself, but is in how it is enacted – it is what you do with the plan that matters.

A really good development plan with an actionable roadmap is key to capacity building and goes a long way toward ensuring any nonprofit’s long-term sustainability. So I’ve polled our CapDev team to suggest some critical components of development plans that truly function to build a nonprofit’s capacity.

Ingredients for a development plan that really makes a difference:

1. The shorter the better. Keep it succinct enough to glance through in a few pages. Don’t create lengthy narratives, but instead develop several key sections and bullet-point your actions.

Another option to shorten a more hefty development plan is to condense the results into a “placemat” version or matrix to make it more visual and to function as a tool to monitor the implementation of the plan. (See #5 below)

2. Focus. We focus all our development and campaign planning work around four key areas:

  • Case: Develop and continually refine language in your case for support that demonstrates compelling need and an attractive and relevant vision.
  • Capacity: Include the core infrastructural components essential to a solid foundation, such as staffing, policies, database, budgeting and accountable timelines.
  • Leadership: Recognize that having the right people in place to drive your plan is critical to its success and make a plan to recruit and retain influential leaders.
  • Donors: Ensure that both the art and the science of donor relations and donor analytics are in place in constructing and managing your donor base structure.

3. Make it inclusive. A truly thoughtful plan will be intentional about incorporating inclusivity, reflecting the diverse nature of the community, considering issues of access and equity throughout the plan, and fully recognizing its value.

4. Build capacity for long-term sustainability. Life moves too fast to try and project 5-10 years out; instead focus on methods to put into practice now that will have lasting impact, and build a 1-3 year plan with flexibility in its structure. This is more realistic and actionable.

5. Make it actionable. Prioritize. Create a working schedule based on your written plan. Designate who will do what and when. Keep it on the agenda of a regularly scheduled meeting for tracking. And if you do nothing else, list your top action steps for the next 60-90 days following completion of a plan and act on those with a designated committee, such as the Development Committee.

To ensure that your development plan receives the ongoing attention it warrants, you might also consider appointing both a staff member and a board member to shepherd your plan, keeping watch over it and monitoring its progress so that it is sure to be used.

Following this advice could bring a development plan to life, so craft a solid plan, get buy-in for it, and make it happen!

As Philanthropy Daily said in their recent post, A Tale of Two Nonprofits: “The main thing separating successful nonprofits from unsuccessful ones is strategy and planning.”

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