Vision 2020: Planning Strategy for the New Year

By Sharon Tiknis, Executive Vice President & East Division Manager and Lieve Buzard, Client Service Associate

It’s the beginning of a new year, and across the country Boards of Directors and staff members are gathering for annual retreats – a time to renew and refresh vision for the many challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.

You might be wondering, what scenarios could unfold in the course of planning for 2020 and beyond? We have a few examples to share. Someone on your organization’s Board of Directors may have a big hairy audacious goal for future growth and impact. Or you may be facing a cash flow crisis that requires tough trade-offs and strategic pivots. You may find strategic discussion running in circles from a lack of cohesion between staff and board leadership and your organization’s roles in the community.

Without a clear vision or strategic objective, it will be difficult to generate volunteer enthusiasm and energy for the work necessary to make 2020 a success.

Hear what Bradley Hurlburt, President & CEO of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, has to say about the impact of Strategic Planning.


When reflecting on the past, we are prone to dwell disproportionately on what went wrong and missed opportunities. This cognitive effect is called the negativity bias. The negativity bias skews our focus to direct more attention on past mistakes than past successes.

How can your organization overcome the negativity bias? The simplest way is to take time to celebrate what went well. Dedicate discussion to recognizing how much was accomplished in 2019. This exercise boosts morale among staff and board members – and we bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised with just how much your hard work accomplished in the past year.

Learn from the Past

With the start of 2020 comes the start of a new decade. If your organization has been around for a while, the new year is the perfect time to reflect on where you’ve been.

Try this exercise with your Board of Directors: first create a list of milestone accomplishments from the last three years; then create a list of lessons learned from the last three years. It’s important to ground strategic planning in your organization’s  history as a leader in your community.

“Maybe history wouldn’t have to repeat itself if we listened once in awhile.”

― Wynne McLaughlin

If you have longstanding board members, now is the time to thank the people whose hard work, dedication and perseverance have led to the flourishing of your organization and everyone you serve.

Envision the future

Without a long-term vision for the horizon of your organization’s future, planning annual strategy is a murky process. There is immense potential in harnessing the power of a shared organizational vision to grow and strengthen your organization’s impact.

Creating a long-term vision galvanizes volunteers and staff alike to work together towards a common purpose, improving engagement and productivity. According to the Harvard Business Review, “7% of employees today fully understand their company’s business strategies and what’s expected of them in order to help achieve company goals.”

What’s the optimal time-frame for creating your organization’s vision? Most nonprofits are responding to social and technological innovations that influence how they operate and who they serve. To balance flexibility with long-term visioning, The Alford Group usually recommends a three-year strategic plan. A three-year vision sets a steady course for most organizations while providing the flexibility needed to adapt to a rapidly changing operating environment.

Use Your Strategic Plan and Progress Indicators

Here at The Alford Group, we strongly believe in the value of planning ahead. Strategic planning is an invaluable exercise for articulating your vision and mission, identifying opportunities and challenges for growth, and developing the goals, strategies and action steps necessary to take your organization to the next level.

If you have a strategic plan, it should function as a comprehensive road-map for your organization’s objectives – ranked in order of importance. Like a scorecard, it’s important to use your strategic plan to evaluate successes and failures from prior years and identify opportunities and threats for 2020 and beyond.

If your organization does not have a strategic plan, you can still apply principles that underlie the strategic planning process in order to make effective decisions for 2020.

Access The Alford Group’s Key Principles in Effective Not-for-Profit Strategic Planning.

A strategic plan is a living, breathing document that shows the progress being made on your organization’s over-arching objectives at any point in time and the necessary steps for continued success. Your strategic plan should act like a compass for effective decision-making to realize your strategic objectives.

The strategic planning process is most meaningful when it involves input from key stakeholders and generative thinking. Putting a strategic plan in place helps to solidify the coming year’s initiatives because there has been previous buy-in from staff and volunteer leaders into the shared vision for your organization’s success.

Year-to-year progress indicators form the backbone of a solid strategic plan. Tracking progress should help you to determine which objectives need attention and allow you to strategically pivot tactics and priorities as necessary. If your strategic plan does not have clear progress indicators, now is the time to create test goals. Test goals for your strategic objectives will equip you with measurements to see how you have moved the needle or where you need additional support. Such measurements provide the foundation for objective reporting back to your Board of Directors.


Are you preparing for the Strategic Planning process?

Access The Alford Group’s list of Best Practices for Strategic Planning.


Evaluate Strategic Priorities

Whether or not your organization has a strategic plan in place, the new year provides an opportunity to create consensus and clarity around your organization’s goals for the future. Set the stage for crucial conversations by creating a safe space in which every member of your development group can express their opinion and listen respectfully. Different staff and volunteer roles bring varied perspectives to strategic decision-making, ensuring that group conversations are focused, productive and thorough.

Here are a few ways to prepare best for new year planning, depending on your role and responsibilities:

For all staff and Board members:

As a staff or board member, you play a vital role in shaping the future of your organization. Work together with your peers and colleagues to find consensus and common ground around your shared vision for the future.

When evaluating new priorities for the year ahead, ask yourself…

  • Do we have a business plan for this expansion or idea for growth?
  • Which donors do we believe would be willing to increase their giving or start giving to us for this distinct project?
  • How does this new initiative align with our longer-term strategic direction?
  • Does this project advance our mission? Is this mission-critical or mission-optional?

For the Chief Development Officer/Director of Development:

As the leader of your Development program, your role is to work closely with colleagues in program areas and finance in order to better understand the need, urgency, staffing and business plan for emerging organizational priorities in the new year.

When evaluating new priorities, ask yourself…

  • What would be different in the community if this program were not launched or expanded?
  • How can you best communicate why your organization is uniquely qualified to do this work?
  • What about this project resonates with donors? What enthuses your donors to give and get involved?
  • What confused your donors with the launch of prior initiatives? What cultivation or engagement efforts did and did not gain traction?

For the Chair of the Board of Directors:

As the Board Chair, your role is to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of your organization. When the CEO or Executive Director presents initiatives for the upcoming year, you should evaluate how these new initiatives fit into the organization’s long-term direction and vision for impact.

When evaluating new priorities for the year ahead, ask yourself…

  • How is your organization uniquely qualified to execute the proposed strategic work?
  • How will the organization sustain and evaluate the success of a new initiative?
  • Is there a strong, captivating mission and vision underlying the proposed strategic work? How does it fulfill the organization’s mission?

For the President, Executive Director or CEO:

As the head of your organization, staff and volunteer leadership look to you to cast the collective vision for your organization’s mission and future role in the community.

When evaluating new priorities for the year ahead, ask yourself…

  • What worked in the past year? What did not work as well as you had planned?
  • What resources do you need to improve efficiency and impact in the year ahead?
  • Did your organization achieve its progress indicators? If there are understandable reasons why you fell short on some progress indicators, consider how to re-frame or realign your plan with more realistic progress indicators for 2020 and beyond.
  • Is there a clear priority for the year ahead? The power of choosing a singularly important priority is that it builds consensus and directs vision to generate momentum and clarity on the path ahead. The more strategic priorities you have, the more muddled your organization’s direction. If there’s overlap in your priorities, ask the planning group to force rank potential objectives and strategies. This exercise creates alignment around about resource allocation and focuses the energies of your team.

On behalf of The Alford Group, we wish you success as you plan for the year ahead and a productive, impactful new year. Thank you for all that you do to serve your community and shape the collective impact of the nonprofit sector!

Sharon and Lieve

See Sharon’s and Lieve’s Bio and Contact information.


Here are more interesting resources:


Your Strategic Plan: The Biggest Story You Can Tell in Major Gifts Fundraising

Key Principles in Effective Not-for-Profit Strategic Planning

Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties Case Study

Best Practices for Strategic Planning

7 phases for strategic planning from The NonProfit Times


Reference: 1. Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, “The Strategy-Focused Organization,” Harvard Business School Press, 2001.

Gratitude Beyond the Thank You Letter

By Molly Hansen, Vice President

During this time of year, gratitude is front and center as the holiday spirit begins to take shape in our communities. However, we know that for nonprofit leaders like you, gratitude is not just felt during this time of year but infused in our work all year long.

In fundraising, we know that sending thank you letters within a few days of receiving contributions is an essential pillar of a basic development program. Additionally, there are countless articles on the internet with excellent suggestions for going further in expressing gratitude to your donors and I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you as you come up with new ways to further engage your most valued supporters:

  • Send a welcome packet to new donors with information about the impact of their giving
  • Set up board members to make thank you calls to a few donors each month
  • Engage donors as volunteers, especially with direct contact with your organization’s participants and programs

The idea is to bring people closer to your organization. These small gestures can have a positive and lasting impact on your donor retention – keeping your donors year over year and increasing the level of their contributions.

Real People and Real Stories

I wonder how often we really think about our donors as real, individual people. They have their personal stories, passions, dreams – just like you and me. Sometimes the most authentic way to deepen your relationships with your supporters is to simply treat them the way you would treat a close friend. When you have an opportunity to ask them to meet for coffee, consider the following tips and you might be surprised by what you learn.

  • Ask donors for their advice
  • Learn about what makes them tick
  • Find out what brought them to your organization
  • Learn why they give and what other causes they support
  • Listen and observe what really lights them up

Of course, you have stories to share too. Stories of gratitude honoring the people who have been greatly impacted – the many participants in your organization’s programs, or one very special person or family.

The mother who, with her two children ages 2 and 4, escaped her abuser and feels safe for the first time in her young adult life. Together, with the help of this transitional program, this resilient mother was able to rebuild essential parts of her life and move her two children into permanent housing. This family of three amazing souls are thriving now.

This is just one example of the many stories of transformation that are out there because of your donors’ contributions. Share as many details as is appropriate. It’s all about impact and gratitude, gratitude and impact!

Basic major gift stuff, right? I bet you share powerful stories like this, have coffees, and ask advice from your major donors all the time. If you want to take this work to the next level, consider enlisting key supporters to create a meaningful stewardship plan.

I suggest that you, as a –  fundraiser, board member, volunteer or staff – can also bring along some “non-major donors” on this ride of gratitude. Start with a few of your most consistent and long term donors. I bet they have some wonderful stories about your organization. Something keeps bringing them back with a contribution, right? All those years of steadfast support will surely bring you new insight!

You may not see changes overnight, but you will see and feel the changes in your fundraising success. Track your efforts and understand your organizations retention—and be patient.

Gratitude in Practice

At the beginning of this blog I mentioned a gratitude practice. I’ve had a formal and informal gratitude practice for a long time. Sometimes I am very specific and very intentional and mostly, along with the specifics and intentions, I am grateful throughout my day. These days I’m shaking it up a bit – in the morning and evening in my quiet time, being specific and intentional about people and events and ideas directly connected to my profession. Some examples of my own personal gratitude include:

  • Knowing a program officer who lovingly shepherded a client’s proposal for a new mammography machine through the foundation’s board process resulting in a truly life-saving grant.
  • Learning from a colleague how to highlight and un-highlight in PowerPoint – seriously so grateful!

What if you began and ended your day being grateful for all of your donors? For a specific donor? A board member who may be ruffling your feathers lately? For the great idea that came to you for your next appeal?

How might you do it? Sit quietly at your desk for just 60 seconds and bring what you are grateful for into your mind and your heart. Close your eyes and do nothing else for 60 seconds. Do it every day for a month and let me know what’s changed for you.

I am grateful for you, dear reader. I hope to hear from you!


See Molly’s Bio and Contact information here.


Here are more interesting resources:


Making the Most of Volunteers

Comprehensive Annual Giving Roadmap 

Engaging Your Board in Major Gifts 


Highway to Your Fundraising Metrics

By Jennifer Shin, MBA, Consultant and Mariah Fosnight, MBA, MID, Client Service Associate

Congratulations! As you near year end, you can momentarily rest in cruise control knowing that the craze of event season is an image in your rearview mirror. Imagine you’re in a position where both the total number of attendees and the number of new attendees spiked at the variety of friend-raising events you’ve held throughout the year. Exhale a sigh of relief, crank up the volume to your favorite song and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Now the dust is settling and it’s time to take back control of the car. You run your annual metrics and expect to see strong retention numbers with the added donor engagement you’ve invested in over the last two years. To your surprise, you see that retention rates for the last fiscal year actually decreased for the first time in several years. Yikes! Before you accelerate off the next exit, let’s take a deeper dive. Along the way, we’ll provide helpful strategies to get ahead of these downward trends. Continue reading “Highway to Your Fundraising Metrics”

Comprehensive Annual Giving – Roadmap to Creating Your Plan

By Amy Hines, Senior Vice President

Annual giving programs typically serve as fundamental revenue engines for nonprofit organizations and yet are notoriously knotty plans to put on paper. We need our institutional leaders, boards and staff to understand our plans. Making them understandable, measurable, achievable, and yet strategic and ambitious is part of the job of the chief development officer.  How best to do that?

What to include in annual giving?

By definition, an annual giving program encompasses solicitations that recur each year, and that should produce incrementally greater results over time, increasing the number of donors and dollars raised. The program should generate predictable cash income at targeted times in the year, based on when solicitation activities are scheduled to occur. Annual giving income addresses an organization’s need for current funds, largely, but not exclusively unrestricted. Continue reading “Comprehensive Annual Giving – Roadmap to Creating Your Plan”

As Good as It Gives: America’s Philanthropy Today (Giving USA 2019 By the Numbers)

By Alexis Cooke, Consultant

The Alford Group celebrated 40 years of impact with Giving USA events across the country, including in Chicago, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, WA.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for  presentations sharing the recently released Giving USA 2019 Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018. There is a lot to consider in reviewing Giving USA 2019’s report, so let’s dive in and discuss some key takeaways.

Continue reading “As Good as It Gives: America’s Philanthropy Today (Giving USA 2019 By the Numbers)”

Maximize Donations with These 5 Nonprofit Technology Tips

Guest blog by Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President, DonorSearch

Are you frustrated that your fundraising efforts don’t have your desired result? That’s okay! It’s good to be frustrated at your fundraising campaigns because that means you have not only identified a problem, but you are willing and ready to make some changes to fix it. (You should be worried if your team seems unconcerned that your organization isn’t yielding as much revenue as it could!)

You should be doing everything in your power to ensure your nonprofit’s fundraising campaigns are bringing in as much support as possible. After all, the more funds you raise, the more you will be able to do to further your cause¹.

Continue reading “Maximize Donations with These 5 Nonprofit Technology Tips”

Industry Best Practices Are Put to the Test

By Wendy Hatch, CFRE, Vice President and Jennifer Shin, MBA, Consultant

The Alford Group Texas AFP surveyOver 3,000 development professionals from across the country attended AFP ICON in San Antonio, Texas last month. The Alford Group took advantage of this assembled fundraising brain-trust to conduct a highly scientific (wink!) survey around a few hotly debated fundraising topics.

Participants weighed in on three important “questions of the day” at The Alford Group booth by placing colored ping pong balls into giant glass vases to cast their votes. Fundraisers from across the country representing diverse sectors and roles brought their expertise to challenge some misconceptions and tried-and-true best practices. So, we asked the following three questions:

  • Do you primarily tell stories or provide statistics in your fundraising appeals?
  • Do you favor direct mail or email fundraising?
  • Do you focus primarily on garnering restricted or unrestricted gifts?

And the fundraisers have spoken.

Continue reading “Industry Best Practices Are Put to the Test”

Quality Contacts: Getting a Plan into Place

By Jamie Phillippe, CFRE, Vice President, with Lieve Buzard, Client Service Associate

One time I started a casual, collegial conversation at an organization’s annual luncheon. It was a formal affair, with gracious table settings and lovely flower arrangements. As one honored donor was getting up to leave her place, I noticed a napkin was caught on her belt.

“Excuse me,” I coughed, “may I take that napkin from you?”

She guffawed and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness!” as we shared a loud, hearty laugh.  Recovered from our side stitches, she sat back down and said, “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you something about how my gift works.”

We discussed her giving for a good five to ten minutes. The conversation ranged from what she enjoys giving to, her motivation for philanthropic gifts, and how she would like to continue giving in memory of her late husband’s life. It was one of the most authentic, honest and engaging conversations that the two of us ever had. What started as a comical faux pas became the entry way to a purposeful conversation.

The napkin incident alone would not have been a quality contact, but the following conversation was a quality contact. Continue reading “Quality Contacts: Getting a Plan into Place”