What is a strategy?
The first step towards creating a fundraising strategy is to be clear about what we mean by strategy. In this case I’m defining strategy as
a set of decisions and milestones necessary to set a direction towards a clear, long term goal.
There are four things to remember when creating a strategy:
- A strategy is not a plan, so it should feel more like a direction of travel than a route map.
- Plans change, strategic direction does not.
- Start with the problem you’re trying to solve not the place you are in today.
- Work from the outside world in, not from inside your organisation out.
What can go wrong?
We dislike the discomfort that often comes with long-term uncertainty and external forces beyond our control. But these are inevitable consequences of a future facing strategy built with a healthy degree of external orientation. And yet, we still try to sooth the discomfort by quickly internalising the strategy, focusing on the first couple of years and internal measures and targets. Before we know it, our strategy has become a predictable plan that is internally focused, short term and based on financial, lagging metrics. But we feel more comfortable about it now, even though we have sacrificed a strategic, externally focused vision for a tactical list of actions and short-term, financial targets. This is how charities end up in a short term, internally driven cycle that preserves the status quo and fails to exploit opportunities or adequately mitigate risk.
Getting it right
The pitfalls to developing a good strategy are lack of external orientation, long term vision and failure to look beyond our existing paradigm for new opportunities. So, here are a few things we can do to mitigate them:
- Learn to love discomfort – become accustomed to acknowledging the external scenarios and making decisions about what to do if they play out without compromising strategic direction.
- Define the problem you are trying to solve and how you will know when you have done so? Build a balanced bank of high-level financial/non-financial measures and indicators to define long-term success.
- Use external data and long-term trends and forecasts to run scenarios, crash test the direction of travel, flexibility and suitability of success criteria and assess the integrity and sustainability of your end game.
- Work backwards from the end-game – set high level milestones from end to end. This will become the framework for the more detailed delivery plans.
- Identify which existing structures, cultures or processes will become blockers and prioritise them for review or improvement. Then identify important, enabling structures, culture and processes, protecting them or earmarking them for investment.
By setting these criteria and sticking to them you will create an agile, sustainable income generation strategy fit for the future, not the past. You will have an effective planning framework from which you can go on to develop a dashboard of meaningful metrics and a way of making sure you continue to head in the right direction to hit your long-term aspiration.