This is a question I have often pondered – before a cadre of MBAs imparted the accepted wisdom that a business plan is vital, how did anything get done?  And is a detailed plan always the best way to go?

Institutions can often find themselves totally bogged down and obsessed with the process of producing a strategic plan that addresses everything that must be done.  It has to cover all areas, and if an area is not mentioned that is taken as a sign that it is not important to the organisation.  It can take years to produce, by which time most of what was originally thought of as vital has been superseded.

In large organisations that have to synthesise lots of moving parts, it obviously helps to know what is regarded as important, what should be focused on, and what shouldn’t be focused on.  Does that come from having a written series of goals?  And what about a fundraising office? Can the same always be said there?

Successful fundraising offices rely to a large extent on being entrepreneurial and flexible, with the ability to seize new opportunities as they arise.  That relies on having a strong sense of the institution you work for, and what is important to the institution.

I would say that the strategic vision and culture that is created by leadership is far more important than the written plan.  Your understanding of your institution comes from your interaction with colleagues at all levels. It comes from putting in the effort to get to know the place from all angles.  It doesn’t come from words on a page.  That is why it is so important for fundraising to have a clear place embedded in the senior team.

What should always be clear is what is expected. For fundraisers, I would suggest that should be three things: get out of the office, ask often, and concentrate on building a great pipeline.  The rest of the office should then be clear about how to support those goals.  In fundraising, the numbers matter.  You build great relationships to benefit the institution, and you do that by raising as much money as you can, in an appropriate way.  If the expectations on this are clear, you are far more likely to raise money than if you spend time producing a beautifully written Strategic Plan.

So, develop your strategic vision, and make sure your team members know where they fit and how they can make that happen.  Keep anything in writing short and to the point.

How do you instill the right culture?  Surround yourself with excellent advisors, and those who will challenge and support you.  Build a team of doers.  Be clear on your own leadership vision and expectations, and lead by example.  ‘Be the change’ is still very sound advice.

But also be clear on the KPIs.  Not spending all your time in planning blight is no excuse for not having clear targets and expectations by which people are measured.  You don’t need pages of strategy to be clear that targets for prospect pools, numbers of meetings, and eventually money raised are crucial.  That is all part of setting a clear direction.

Ultimately, fundraising is a ‘doing’ business.  How do you do it successfully?  You do it, by doing it.

-Shaun Horan, Managing Director

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