Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 October 2007

Big Heart, No Plan

This is nonprofit variant to the Texas idiom: “big hat, no cattle.” I’ve worked intimately with a lot of great nonprofits over the last year. A common denominator is a huge heart and passion for making the lives of children better than anyone can reasonably hope. This is not only a big plus for the kids, but a big lift for our communities and even our planet.

But there’s a big problem with some of them. They’ve got no plan. They just grab onto the latest concept or donor or volunteer or foundation and HOPE that will solve solve their problems. They call that their strategy.

Hope is not a strategy.

The most recurrent problem is under funding. Sometimes the “strategy” is to work harder for a home run; or wish for the Hail Mary pass for the touchdown; or just pray more fervently.

Don’t get me wrong. Prayer is a very good thing. A necessary thing. But get off the railroad tracks before you start praying for the train to stop. Take that first step (to the side for your safety) then the next step forward. In other words, get a plan. Like my dad always said, “plan your work, and work your plan.”

In Brian Hurd‘s excellent paper, “Growing Ministries the Right Way,” he makes the point that successful, sustainable fund raising is not just scheduling a series of events and making a bunch of asks. It’s about putting a system in place. Planning a process and sticking with it.

This is not rocket science, but it does take time and persistence. It also means taking the first step. If you think you’ve run out of time to plan because the bills are due, you’re wrong. The bills will always be due. A good way to insure you never catch up is to never plan and never put a system in place to run your organization like a healthy business.

Where do you start?

Peter Drucker, the legendary business consultant, gave us five must answer questions in order to run an effective nonprofit. Do you even know the questions?? Hint: they’re about mission, customer, value, results, and plan.

There’s that word again. Plan.

If you expect to get funding from big donors, whether sophisticated foundations or individuals, make sure you’ve got answers to all those questions. The big donors are big because they live in a world that works to the answers from those questions.

Where do you think they got all those funds to donate? From well run, for profit organizations with good answers.

If you’re a brand new or very small nonprofit without a 990 or audited financial results, you at least need a good business plan until you get bigger. People want to give to people, especially people who are helping children. It’s the easiest of all fund raising.

But savvy individual donors and virtually all foundations want to insure their funds will go to good stewards no matter how good their cause. They will be asking to see the results and understand your plan before they contribute to your great organization.

So take all those strengths that helped you develop a great heart and develop a great plan in order to have a great organization to help those in need. And don’t let the ego from the big heart get in the way of what’s best for the kids.

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