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Planning During Uncertain Times

By Angie Joens


So it is that time again—planning season. We are nearing the end of our fiscal year and beginning to prepare for FY ’21. The only problem is we are planning for a year ahead that has so many questions. This COVID-19 pandemic has caused chaos, fear, anxiety and so much uncertainty. We have more questions then we have answers. So then how do we plan for next year?


This has been on my mind for several months and I have been reading about how to manage through a pandemic. But the truth is that the pandemic is a new challenge for us, yet we have had many other opportunities to navigate through difficult storms. Our organizations have weathered recessions, bad publicity, leadership changes, and so much more.

Some organizations sail through these stormy waters so well and others do not. I believe that it is the organizations that are prepared for any type of weather—the ones with short and long range plans in place—that are best positioned to not only survive but thrive. The organizations that have detailed plans to fall back on are able to take quick, proactive steps to mitigate the crisis.


If you are feeling uncertain about next year – take some time to put together a plan. To help you get started, here are a few strategies I considered when writing my plan this year:


Set clear goals

As non-profits we have a clear mission and purpose but how we accomplish these goals can be different - especially during a crisis. So discuss your goals with your teams and how each person can and will contribute to achieving them. Ask tough questions and get your employees input and buy-in. For example, what will a successful fundraising visit look like in FY ’21? What type of virtual platforms will work best for events? How many underwater funds will we have to manage?


Stay Informed

To be able to adapt to changing circumstances, you need to keep your finger on the pulse of our industry. Staying updated on news and developments will allow you to minimize your blind spots. In addition, knowing how current events are affecting your donors should inform your decisions. What are donors struggling with or worrying about? What are their relevant preferences or habits? What solutions are they looking for, and how can you help?


Use Data to Drive Decisions

Do not make decisions without doing your research. Study your data and look for trends that can inform your plans. If you have an assumption test it with a group of people. For example, I do not believe our donors will be comfortable coming to an event in-person for most of next year. That assumption is a good one but I tested it by surveying our Foundation trustees last week at our first every virtual board meeting. They confirmed my hunch and said they do not feel ready to attend events in person for at least 6-9 months and even then they want the events to be small. So that helps me plan for how we will manage outreach and engagement events in FY ’21.


Make the Most of Your Resources

Budgets and resource planning is also critical. It is important to have a plan for how you will spend your resources. It is also important to know which projects are critical to your organization’s success. Because when budget reductions happen, you need to be prepared to redistribute your budget. What must stay and what could go? And maybe one more consideration—what could we do better? Remember your leadership will look to you for the best way to utilize your budget—so be prepared with what you want and need to do. If you have been wanting to move something to a digital platform now is the time to do it. Look at the Donor Relations Guru’s newest idea for on demand digital endowment reports (ODDER) – it was borne out of this pandemic and Lynne’s idea that there has to be a more cost-effective and efficient way to deliver endowment reports.


Be Prepared to Pivot

Your plan should always be considered a living document—one that can be updated with new information as it becomes available. Life happens so fast and that means that your plan needs to remain fluid and should be revisited often. I like to look at plans each quarter and evaluate if it is still relevant. If yes, I keep moving forward. If not, I modify it to make the necessary changes. I go back to all parties involved and let them know we are making changes and why and get buy-in.


I know it is difficult right now. It is for all of us. We are being challenged in new ways but I am so proud of how we are coming together to help each other out. My hope is that these tips shared here help you create a working plan for the coming fiscal year. But remember—the plan is going to shift. There is no normal these days and we are going to be asked to find new ways to do our work. If you take some time now to sketch out a plan you will be well positioned to shift when you are called to do that.


And never forget that we at the Donor Relations Guru Group are here to help. We can help you plan or shift your plans. We are adding samples of how our colleagues around the world are managing donor communications on the Donor Relations Guru website. Lynne is doing weekly Facebook Live chats to be there to listen and brainstorm with you—so tune in. We are offering new content and products that we hope inspires your or helps you during this difficult time. We are in this together!

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