How To: Create a Strategic Plan

Every organization needs a 5 year strategic plan. Mapping out your non-profit’s goals will give your staff, volunteers, board members, and donors a clear understanding of where your organization is, and where it wants to go.

1. Table of Contents

2. Executive Summary

  • This is a basic summary of what you will be including in the strategic plan.

3. Background and History

  • Include the what, where, why, and how of your organization’s creation.

4. Direction

  • What is the strategic direction of your organization?
  • What do you want to get accomplished in the next 5 years?

5. Mission Statement

6. Vision

  • What is your organization’s definition of success?
  • What would need to happen to make your non-profit obsolete?

7. Core Operating Values

  • What are the core operating values that influence the culture and public image of your organization?

8. Financial Support

  • What are your funding sources?

9. Use of Services 

  • Who are you serving?
  • Where are you serving them?
  • How are you serving them?

10. Critical Issues

  • What is crucial to operating your non-profit and its programs?

11. Organization’s Bylaws 

12. List of Board of Directors 

  • How are they selected?
  • What are they required to do?

13. Environmental Scan

  • A brief summary of opportunities, threats, strengths, and weaknesses of your organization

14. Goals and Objectives

  • A general summary throughout the 5 years
  • A break down per year, per program

15. Monitoring and Evaluation

  • What monitoring and evaluation framework will your organization use to effectively measure the effect of your programs?

16. Organizational Structure

  • List of staff and positions

17. Budget

  • For each year listed in plan (projected or proposed)


Good luck!

How To: Create a Post-Event Strategy

Last Wednesday I talked about planning an event. This week I would like to discuss how to create a plan to engage donors and attendees after the event ends.

Make sure everyone is properly thanked  for their support (via mail, email or phone calls) using your list of attendees and donors and their contact information. I find that a hand-written note is the most effective means of thanks, but if time and money don’t allow it, make sure that the expression of thanks is personal.

Next, make sure your list of attendees and donors is transferred to whatever database your organization uses. Uploading and keeping track of these people and their contact information may be tedious at first, but it will definitely be beneficial in the future. Your attendees and donors are obviously interested in your organization, but if they aren’t kept in the loop, support could fall by the wayside. Not because of their lack of interest, but people are busy.

Invite people who haven’t already done so to “Like” your Facebook page and to “Follow” your organization on Twitter and Instagram. The more you keep people involved, the more likely they’ll continue their support.

Events are meant to create long-lasting supporters for your organization. It’s crucial to make sure that attendees feel wanted and are important to your mission.

Get planning, and good luck!

How To: Plan an Event

There are many types of events to plan for: online auctions, galas, 5Ks, golf tournaments, etc, but there are core planning techniques that will help make your event a success.

  1. Pick a date. Knowing when your event is going to be gives you ample amount of time to plan and organize.
  2. What type of event would most benefit your organization?
  3. How long is the event going to run?
  4. What space do you need? How much will it cost?
  5. Who are you inviting? How many people are you inviting?
  6. How are you inviting people? What marketing materials will you need?
  7. Is admission going to be charged? How much profit do you want to make off of this event?
  8. Is entertainment involved? What kind?
  9. What food are you providing? Where are you getting it from?
  10. Is anyone speaking at your event? What contacts do you need?
  11. Will there be an auction? What type of items are you looking for? How are you getting these items?
  12. How will you staff the event? How many volunteers or staff members will you need?
  13. Will there be a way for attendees to donate via cash or credit card?
  14. Are there any materials you want to give attendees? (i.e. Thank you cards)

Probably the best thing to do while planning an event is to double and triple check everything and with everyone. Make sure the entertainment knows when to come and that volunteers show up and are trained. It may seem a tad neurotic, but people and services can fall through the cracks very easily if they aren’t monitored.

Get planning, and good luck!

How To: Utilize Social Media

Social media is fantastic. You can reach people who are not usually in your financial or geographic reach with little to no cost. In my opinion social media is one of the best marketing tools organizations can have.

The most important aspect about using social media is to have a constant and clear presence on all of the sites you are using. Platforms like Hoot Suite can help you stay organized and consistent. Mapping out what you want to say and when you want to post it helps outline and create the image you want to be projecting online.

Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+ allow smaller organizations to reach out across the world for new volunteers and donations, and it is also a great platform to connect with other organizations that have similar missions and goals. Networking by following and liking groups that are similar to yours can lead you to new followers and new opportunities. Engage with the people and organizations that follow or like you and who contact your organization via social media. People and groups like to feel engaged and that their comment or opinions matter.

Make sure you encourage people to share, re-blog, and retweet. It may be unlikely that your post will become viral, but a post can spread fairly far and quickly if shared through numerous circles of people.

Stay simple. A picture is worth a thousand words, so you don’t necessarily need a paragraph that goes along with it. People skim their social media, so make sure that whatever your text, picture and / or link is, that it’s appealing and catchy. Basically, think about what you click on, what catches your eye. See what other organizations are doing to maintain and expand their online presence.

It takes time to build up, but a quality social media presence is priceless. You are able to access new groups of people and learn about what your sector is doing in all parts of the world. The chance for donor expansion or collaboration is literally at your finger tips.

Happy posting, and good luck!

How To: Get New Donors and Keep Them

If we are lucky, our organizations have at least a small core group of people who financially support it. We wouldn’t be where we are without these donors, but honestly, the more we expand and diversify our donor base, the more sustainable our organizations will be.

I have found that the best way to get new donors is through storytelling, whether it be through social media or through elevator pitches.

Social media is a great way to reach potential donors that are normally outside of your geographical area. Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+ can be great resources to spread a donation campaign or generally about the work you are doing. A quality, regularly updated Facebook page or Twitter handle can show potential donors what you are doing, how you are doing it, and how a donation can impact the work of your organization. Also interacting with other organizations on these sites will give supporters of similar programs an opportunity to check out your projects.

If you are looking for bigger donations, I find that crafting an elevator pitch is the best option. Whether you are at an event, happy hour, or there is a surprise encounter, it’s crucial to have a short pitch about how much money you are asking for, why you need the money, and how it will be used. Cold calls or emails sometimes work, but people really value face to face interactions, even if it is for 30 seconds.

Along the lines of storytelling, just talk to everyone about your organization as much as possible. People are much more willing to give money when they see that the people working within the organization are passionate about the mission. For example, I may have created a new opportunity for my organization at my sister’s graduation party. You never know when people are looking to give, so it’s best to always be ready.

After getting these new donors, what is the best way to make sure our donors keep on giving? I’ve found that organization is essential; keep track of who donates, when, and how much. Make sure the donors feel appreciated, whether it be through personalized thank you notes or a shout out on your Facebook page. The more your donors know about what is happening within your organization, the easier it is for them to talk about how your organization is a great one to support to their friends, family, co-workers, etc.

Ask! The worse they can say is no. Good luck!!

How To: Develop a New Program

Developing new programs for our organizations can be very exciting as well as daunting. Excitement can cloud judgement or details can be overlooked. It is important to stay organized. The questions listed below help me map out a new or evolving program:

General Planning:

  • What are all of the elements and mechanics of your program?
  • What needs to happen before the program launch?
  • What marketing and social media is needed?
  • What needs to happen at the launch of the program?
  • What are the outcomes you are trying to achieve?
  • How will you evaluate the program after an allotted period of time?
  • Is there a way to adjust the program if outcomes aren’t completely met?


  • How are you funding this program?
  • Are the funding sources sustainable?
  • How do your funders define program success?
  • What information do you need to give to the funders throughout the funding period?
  • How frequently do you need to inform funders on progress?

Who do you need?:

The Constituents:

  • How many people are you trying to serve?
  • Who specifically are you trying to serve?
  • Why this community or group of people?
  • What do you know about this geographic location?
  • What research is still needed (historic, geographic, cultural, political, etc.)?

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Challenges:

  • What resources do you have? What do you still need?
  • What advantages does your organization have?
  • What external and international challenges may arise?
  • Do you have a plan to deal with and adapt to these challenges?

The Future of Your Program:

  • How long is your program supposed to last?
  • If it isn’t permanent, is there a plan to phase out your program?
  • Is the goal to expand this program outside of the original community or geographic area?
  • If so, how will you maintain quality after the program is expanded?


Most importantly, have fun and good luck!

How To: Acquire and Keep Volunteers

Volunteers are the backbone of nonprofits. Without volunteers willing to give their time and talent, many non-programs would come to a halt. Not only that, volunteers who have good experiences can be an organization’s ambassador in expanding your network.

How to Get Volunteers:

1. Firstly, check who is in your immediate network? Your secondary network? Who has expressed  interest in similar causes or volunteer opportunities?

2. What non-profits or companies do you partner with? Organization might share volunteers or their networks, and companies usually have a quote for volunteer hours that they need to fill.

3. Use your technological resources. Post events on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc., and make sure people share the opportunity with their friends and followers. Idealist and VolunteerMatch are great sites to post specific volunteer events to find people who are interested in groups similar to yours.

How to Keep Your Volunteers:

1. It might seem obvious, but the most important part of keeping volunteers is making sure that they have a great impactful experience. Whether its tutoring, making calls, or planting a garden, volunteers need to feel like their time is well spent and that they made a big difference.

2. Make sure the volunteers are getting some reward. I find that offering food and drinks is the best way to reward volunteers and not have them feel like they are getting ‘paid’ for their time.

3. Make sure you receive and maintain their contact information. One time volunteering events are great, but most people willing to volunteer want to have repeat experiences.

4. Keep people informed! Use that contact list and all of your other relevant contacts to make sure that they know when new opportunities arise. keeping former volunteers in the loop help them feel like they are an integral part of your organization and mission.


Volunteers are the face of our organizations, and they spread their experiences to people who are possible new constituents, donors, or volunteers. Make sure the experience is a great one. Good luck!

How To: Know When to Outsource for Talent

On Sunday I wrote about the process of finding out about myself through my non-profit. One crucial aspect of this was figuring out what talent I possessed, what I could learn and master, and what are the things that I needed to outsource to someone who had more time and talent.

I never studied law, nor do I ever want to. So when my organization needs legal advice, we seek someone outside of the organization. None of us know how to build a database, so when my girlfriend offered to create one, I jumped at the chance.

Last Wednesday I discussed how to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges of your organization. After figuring out what the weaknesses are, you have to go deeper. What can be fixed by training the staff? Who should learn what skills? What areas should be consulted on or outsourced?

If your organization is strapped for funding like mine is, its understandable that you would want to try taking on all of the problems without outside help. With no outside help, some things will turn out great, but other times you do get what you pay for. You also never know if a professional is willing to donate their time or offer you a big discount. We met our accountant at an event that was related to our field, and he has been working with us for several years for a very discounted rate.

As much as you wanted to, if you have a small organization, you can’t do everything in-house without losing out on quality and/or sanity. No one is good at everything, and there is always someone outside of your organization who has the time and talent.

Really focus on the networking opportunities that you may possess. Do you have an aunt who is a lawyer? Does she know someone who specializes in non-profits? Do you have a family friend who is tech savvy? A cousin who is in marketing? Anyone and everyone has the potential to be a resource.

There is always the potential for rejection, but finding someone to create financial statements or a social media plan is worth 10x the amount of rejections you might receive.

Good luck!

How To: Evaluate Your Organization With the S.W.O.C. Method

The S.W.O.C. technique is probably one of the most helpful skills I learned when I was in graduate school. Learning to evaluate your organization or program using the S.W.O.C. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Challenges) method allows you to pick apart what is working in your organization, what opportunities you have, the weaknesses of your organization, and the challenges you can face. This is also a great to use if you are expanding into a new area and want to form a clearer picture of what you have or need, what you need to overcome, and what is working in your favor. My favorite method of organizing the SWOC is in a chart, as seen below:


What strengths does your organization have? What do you bring to the table? This can be monetary resources, talent in your personnel, what you can bring to partnerships, or anything else that you can view as a positive within your organization.



Where in your organization do you need to improve? Are you lacking in a certain area (ie finance)? Do you not have enough constituents to make an impact? Your outreach is lacking? This section is great for pointing out areas within your organization that needs improvement.



What external factors exist that will help your organization prosper and sustain itself? Does the geographic area you are working in lend itself to your mission? Does the local and/or national government support you? Are there a lot of funding opportunities? Try to think of all of the assets available to you outside of your organization.



Are you working in a country with a corrupt government or poor infrastructure? A lack of funding for what your organization does? Is there an over saturation of non-profits with similar missions in your geographic area? Not enough non-profits working where you work? This section can help you identify new strategies to overcome obstacles that you’ll face in the field.


Make sure your organization is well prepared. Good luck!


How To: Deal With Rejection

On Sunday I talked about funding and how we define success as a sector. What about rejection? Funding through sponsors, donors, or grant makers can be very difficult to acquire; getting a person to volunteer their time and talent is also extremely difficult. You are going to hear no many more times than yes, whether you are asking for people, money, or resources. People are busy, and foundations receive a plethora of applications.

No one wants to be turned down, whether it be a partnership, sponsorship or funding opportunity. Rejection is unfortunately a huge part of non-profit life. There are many reasons why organizations and people might say no, but it is important to know to deal with and react to rejection.

Don’t take it personally.

I know this is easier said than done. When you work hard on a grant, program, or event, you want everyone to get on board and be as passionate about it as you are. When organizations or people say no, it has very little to do with you as a person. Having someone say no to a proposal does not mean they are against you, your organization, or its mission. There are many deserving groups worthy of time and talent, and not enough resources.

Try to get the reason for the rejection. If a person can’t make it to an event because of a prior engagement, make sure they stay on the list for the next one. Funders can be extremely busy, but it never hurts to ask for feedback on your grant proposal. Maybe there were just too many applicants and not enough money to go around. Maybe you forgot to include some crucial information. Maybe it’s just subjective criticism. Turn the rejection into a learning opportunity, and never burn bridges. Just because they said no today, doesn’t mean they’ll say no next month or next grant cycle.

Ask away… and good luck!