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3 Tips to Take the Pain out of Year-End Planning

Jeff Shuck
November 16, 2023

The Holidays Are Different for Nonprofit Professionals

For many, Thanksgiving signals a time of slowing down, giving thanks, and enjoying some well-deserved rest.

For nonprofit professionals, though, entering November signals the time we need to kick it into high gear.

Between preparing for Giving Tuesday, building the end-of-year campaign, analyzing this year's results, writing the annual report, and – oh yeah – "we need your projections for next year by Friday," this is the time of year we're all in a dead sprint.

Here are three quick tips to help your end-of-year planning.

# 1: Look Beyond This Year

Whether you're analyzing your performance over the past year or setting targets for next year, it is tempting to focus only on the past eleven months – or the next twelve. But most nonprofit trends, from fundraising to constituent engagement to mission impact, play out over a much longer timeline. 

For example, we're often asked to explain a revenue downtown: "Why did our philanthropy drop this year?" But when we look across five years, we'll see steady long-term growth masked by a short-term decrease.

Similarly, we regularly see budgets that are too aggressive, with cuts that are too large to maintain or goals that are too large to hit. Numbers that seem doable during November and December when support is pouring in are difficult to keep up with in April and May. 

Take a step back and look at your organization on a three or five-year time horizon. What's working? What isn't? What trends do you see?

# 2: Include the People

The sprint between Giving Tuesday and end-of-year fundraising leaves little time for collaborative strategy sessions. That means many budgets and strategies are built asynchronously via email – or worse, built by one or two people without input from anyone else.

However, slowing down now can help you speed up later. Taking a few hours to include a larger group of people in your thinking will create buy-in and alignment that can help you more effectively implement down the line.

Even a couple of hours of well-facilitated meeting time can create profound results. Rather than using the group time to present the plan, send out the materials in advance and use your planning meeting to talk through questions, reactions, potential problems, and opportunities. The goal isn't always to get perfect agreement – but to ensure everyone is heard.

Who can you include? 

  • Your team. Your staff will appreciate that you took the time to listen and learn.
  • Members of other departments. Who else in the organization is critical for your success? Get their input now. 
  • Someone from finance. Ugh, really? Yes! Why not get their input at the front end instead of being frustrated by their questions later on?
  • Your constituents. Remember to tap into your donors and the people you serve during planning! Their perspectives will often surprise you.

Strategic planning isn't the same as "doing a PowerPoint." Strategic planning involves creating alignment. No one likes seeing a fully formed plan drop into their inbox. Include people in the planning!

# 3: Celebrate Wins!

Okay, this is a Plenty thing to say, but I mean it. Every team and every organization, no matter how hard the year or how high the goals, has something to celebrate. A few minutes each day spent reflecting on what has worked and expressing thanks for your accomplishments can do wonders for your stress level and peace of mind. 

At Plenty, we love the simple ways to celebrate the most. Create a virtual gratitude jar – or, if your staff all works in one place, a real one – where team members can send or drop off small notes of what they appreciate. Then, read one to the team each day. 

Or, you can ask a team member each day to share a short reflection on the year, sharing their memory and what positive lessons they'll take away. 

These practices take very little time and cost even less money, but they help you build a culture of gratitude and ongoing learning – and serve as a welcome respite from hectic days spent trying to finish the year-end plan. 

You've Got This – And We Can Help

The end of the year isn't going to get slower or less packed with things to do. So, in the nonprofit space, we're challenged to create our own peaceful calm.

It isn't always easy! 

If we can help you end the year strong or plan to make 2024 your best year yet, we'd love to. Our coaching and consultation services start at only a few hours, and many sessions can be conducted virtually. Click here to set up a free consultation.

Here's wishing you a safe, stress-free, and abundant end-of-year!


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