Take a Sunday drive on the road to annual planning

November 12, 2012

Just about every business or fundraising book you pick up, workshop you attend, or professional you seek advice from, will tell you that you need a plan and show you how to build one. And so you should – no in fact – you must have a plan. You need to write it down, talk about it, share it, revisit it regularly, make it simple, keep it simple and make it achievable.

Think of your annual plan as your fundraising roadmap. Like a road trip, fundraising doesn’t just happen. It requires both a plan and a process to ensure milestones are set and achieved. It requires that you know where you’re going and how you intend to get there. These six questions are key to the planning process:

  1. Why am I taking this course of action?
  2. What am I going to achieve?
  3. How am I going to proceed?
  4. When am I going to do it?
  5. Where will it happen?
  6. Who is going to be involved?

Keep doing all these crucial things. And if you’re not doing them, then you’d best start. But remember, while having a plan is crucial, it’s just as important to have flexibility and keep an open mind to new ideas and opportunities – detours if you will – that present themselves along the way.

I was working with a client recently who had an opportunity to do something unique within his fundraising program – let’s call him Tom.

Tom was presented with a fundraising opportunity that required a shift in his plan and some reworking of the budget. When we talked about it, his first response was, “I can’t. It isn’t in the plan.” From the figurative passenger seat, I offered an alternative perspective, “While it’s not in your plan, it fits within your mandate and with your current fundraising practices. I can already see how it could fit into your budget and it’s a darned good idea that could well turn into something huge one day. Rather than just say no can you at least consider starting with maybe?” After considering the value to his organization, Tom opened up to the new idea, got to yes, and agreed to the shift in his plan. But the process was made all the more difficult because he started at no.

I see this conundrum every day in my consulting work with a broad range of fundraising professionals. There is the desire, and often the directive, to do something different or new or explore new opportunities. But when it comes to budgets and planning – where the rubber hits the road – the new stuff often gets tossed out the window in favour of the tried and true.

So how does one get to that place where there is a fundamental openness to new or different ideas, and even more importantly, to enable a culture where new ideas are encouraged and generated?

Start with the positive. When my oldest son was a wee lad, one of his favourite stories was The Little Engine That Could. We read that book every day and often multiple times a day (yes I can recite it from memory!) for what seemed like months. It’s such a simple story but a crucial life lesson.

Having a positive mindset and using positive language is an incredibly powerful tool, and yes, it’s a skill. Try on an “I think we can” for a change. Start with maybe rather than no. When you have a change in plan or a new idea, see it as an opportunity rather than a chore. Yes, it might mean more work, but oftentimes the outcome is well worth the time and energy you put in.

Ask probing questions. What if? How about? Why not? Who could?

Let’s go back to my story about Tom. If he’d started with these questions rather than the knee-jerk “It’s not in the plan” he would have gotten to yes faster and the process would have been substantially less painful. Tom had his mind made up before even considering the possibilities, so it was that much more difficult to backtrack and get him to even ask these questions.

If you to begin with maybe, ask what if?, how about?, who could?, and why not? and then make your decision, the process is much easier and the outcomes are more thought out.

Take a risk. Risk is a very personal thing. A huge risk to me might be just another decision for you. Listen to yourself and when you hear yourself using words like “I’d never do that,” stop for a moment to ask yourself why not? or what if I did?

No is perceived as risk free but it’s not. It’s way riskier to keep doing the same old thing year after year than it is to introduce new ideas into your fundraising.

Take a Sunday drive. When I was a kid, the Sunday drive was a big deal in our family. Every other day of the week came with the structure of school, work, chores, commitments and a schedule. But Sunday was slow and meandering and the highlight was always piling into the family station wagon and going wherever the wind would take us.

To this day I still like to jump in the car and just go, with no plan or destination in mind. It’s incredibly liberating to wander country roads and small towns or through city streets knowing that I don’t have to be anywhere. And personally, those times tend to settle my soul, open my mind and allow for a certain kind of creativity. It is when I take advantage of those times that I find I can step back and look at things in a whole new way.

Of course, taking a Sunday drive is a metaphor in this context – but it’s important that you take the time to get yourself to a new and different place so your mind can wander, ponder and consider. That could mean going to a conference, taking a walk, asking a colleague to join you for lunch of coffee to talk about an idea, or calling up a complete stranger you admire and ask to pick their brain.

Schedule in the time. Every fundraising professional I meet is overloaded with work. They’re too busy, they don’t have enough time, they’ve got too many meetings and so forth. I’m not going to tell you how to manage your time, but I will tell you to find some time in in your busy schedule for a Sunday drive (and I don’t mean on Sunday).

Find an hour in your week or an afternoon every month (or whatever works for you) to devote to allowing yourself or your team to look at things in a new way, talk about new ideas, sit and ponder. Schedule it into your calendar. Make it your normal.

There is a saying that goes like this, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t get there.” And it’s true. But consider this: the freedom of having no destination could inspire you to explore and find what you might not have otherwise. If you haven’t a clue where you’re going, you just might end up somewhere new.

What tips would you suggest to fundraisers who are feeling locked into their annual plan? Share them below!

This article first appeared over at Charity Village as part of our series on Deconstructing Philanthropy.

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Jose Van Herpt, CFRE

Jose Van Herpt, CFRE

Fundraiser. Artist. Nature lover. Peacemaker. Experience junkie. Traveler. Philanthropist. Book enthusiast. Mom to all.