Strategic & Development Planning: Love and Marriage

Sections of this topic

    Strategic Planning

    Every nonprofit must periodically assess its success in pursuing its mission and must evaluate its progress toward achieving its long-term goals and objectives.

    Those assessments and evaluations can only proceed if an organization has clearly established (and periodically) confirms its reason for being and has established benchmarks by which it can judge its success and achievements.

    On an annual basis, part of the strategic and development planning process is the analysis of income and expenses for the year ending, and the creation of a budget for the coming year. Budget creation must be based on “real” numbers, numbers that are based on need, and the likelihood of income being at levels that will satisfy the need.

    It directly follows that a budget cannot (should not) be adopted unless there will be sufficient income to fund all planned/desired activities.

    Strategic Planning, therefore, cannot proceed without a parallel process of Development Planning that indicates/reveals what an organization’s (realistic) fundraising potential is for the coming year.

    Development Planning

    So many (immature) nonprofits set their fundraising goals based on what they’d like to raise, as opposed to what they can raise.

    Goal setting is not the arbitrary choice of a dollar target. Goal Setting must be based on an organization’s knowledge of their past fundraising achievements and what they know, from that experience and their fundraising expertise, that they will be able to raise for the coming year.

    An NPO cannot risk setting a fundraising goal that they don’t reach. Failure to reach a fundraising goal sends the wrong messages to the community, to the constituency, and to (potential) donors. It says that the NPO doesn’t plan well, isn’t broadly supported by the community, and doesn’t have the dollar support they need for the activities in their budget.

    So, when an organization is doing its Strategic Planning, it must take the results of the Development Planning process into consideration when setting short- and long-term goals and objectives. You can’t include activities/expenses in the Strategic Plan that projected income won’t support, and income projections must be based on reality, not wishful thinking.

    The Development Plan is the large dose of reality that places limits on the Strategic Plan, and the Strategic Plan is the “justification” for setting fundraising goals. It’s like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other !!


    Have a comment or a question about starting, evaluating, or expanding your fundraising program? Contact me at With over 30 years of counseling in major gifts, capital campaigns, bequest programs, and the planning studies to precede these three, I’ll be pleased to answer your questions.