Strategic Plan Section 2: Who We Want to Become

The first post in this series discusses setting the foundation of the strategic plan with the right people at the table and the elements that describe who you are as an organization. Read Strategic Plans Section 1: Who We Are first, and come back here for part two.

With vision, mission, values and SWOT determined, it is time for your committee to put all of that information to good use setting goals to achieve by the timeline you set.

Strategic Goals

What does your organization want to accomplish in the next three to five years? You have already set a vision statement, thought about what you are good at, and brainstormed opportunities to capitalize on. What are the gaps between that vision and reality? What programs, buildings, and relationships need to exist to bring that vision to life? Use all of this information to set around five goals using the SMART goal framework. SMART goals are:


Instead of goals like “increase summer campers or create an adult retreat program,” a SMART goal would be “increase summer camp registrations by 20% every year for the next 5 years” or “develop a biannual adult retreat program with at least 40 participants in the next five years.”

Just like you have set a vision that describes exactly what success looks like, your goals should also define success. At the end of your strategic planning timeline, it should be clear whether your goals were achieved or not. This is where people start to get nervous. Try not to dwell on fear of failure here! Work to set reasonable goals, but if some of your goals aren’t reached, allow it to provide some important reflection points for the next planning period.

When you have chosen your goals, rate the organization’s current level of success at each goal. Keep in mind that the things you want to focus on may be extensions of projects you are already doing; successful plans don’t necessarily have all goals that start from scratch. Looking at your ratings will be helpful in the next section of evaluating how your current activities align to your goals and which activities or programs may need to be added to achieve success.

Current and Future Strategic Programs

Look at all the current programs your camp does and evaluate those against your goals. Beside each program, mark down which goals that program aligns to. This way, you can easily see which goals you are working toward and which goals will require new programming to achieve. What programs do you need to add or tweak, so you are actively working on toward all your goals? Brainstorm a list of programs that would move the needle on the goals that most need to be worked on.

When you’ve done the brainstorming, it’s time to narrow down by selecting which goals each program aligns to AND adding a timeline to each activity.When do you intend to accomplish this? Which things can you feasibly add this year, next year and so on? Sometimes we get excited about the possibilities on the list and have a tendency to want to start on all of them immediately. Don’t do this. You will overwhelm yourself; spread things out. Mark which year you want to start on each goal, so you have accountability and something to review later.

With SMART goals set, programs evaluated for alignment and new opportunities on the schedule for the next few years, you know exactly who you want to become as an organization. Now that we have a plan, in the next section we will figure out how to accomplish all of these new things. What resources will we need, and how will we procure them? Stay tuned!

Bringing all parties together to go through the steps of a strategic plan is hard to do, especially if you are inside the organization. The best strategic plans allow the stakeholders to be stakeholders without also being facilitators. If your organization is ready to pursue a strategic plan, allow Cabin 9 Consulting to serve your organization by facilitating conversations, asking the right questions and putting together all your hopes for your vision into something we can accomplish together. Contact us! We would be honored to work with you.

Strategic Plan Section 1: Who We Are

A strategic plan is a guiding document of an organization that determines its goals and values, aligns programming to vision, and informs decisions on a regular basis.

A comprehensive plan has several detailed parts and can seem like an overwhelming task to create. However, all those parts make up three main sections: who we are, where we are going and how we will get there. This post will cover an in-depth guide to developing the first section. For an overview of the three parts, read Strategic Plans and Why You Need One.

Before Getting Started

The first step to designing a strategic plan is to get the right people in the room. Your planning committee will be the key to creating a thoughtful and attainable plan. It’s important to get enough voices in the room to be representative, but keep it small enough that you will be able to accomplish the work in a timely manner. Choose key permanent staff people, one person from each committee that serves on your board (or a few board members with different skills and perspectives if you do not operate by committee), and a few more representatives such as a summer staff member, a dedicated volunteer, etc.

With the right people in mind, determine the timeline of this plan. Will this vision guide your organization for three years? Five years? A clear timeline from the beginning will help ensure realistic goalsetting.

Organizational History

The strategic plan serves as a one-stop shop for the basic, governing information about your organization. An organizational history statement allows your committee and other stakeholders to build on the foundation of where you began. How, when and by whom did this place start? What are the characteristics, traditions, bits of culture that have been passed down since the beginning? What are some milestones in your camp’s history that you are proud of? Write it down, and make it page one of the plan. This piece can be done in advance and can be approved by the committee.

Vision Statement

A vision statement answers the question “why does this organization exist?” It is aspirational and future-oriented. In one or two sentences, it illustrates the picture of success for your organization. Some, like the examples below, are just a few words about what they want the world to look like because of their work.

Feeding America | A hunger-free America

Habitat for Humanity | A world where everyone has a decent place to live

Mission Statement

Your mission statement should reflect the day-to-day work your organization does that moves the world closer to the picture your vision statement describes. It is simple, inspiring, specific and relevant long-term, and it communicates the purpose and value the organization adds to the world.

Feeding America | To feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. 

Habitat for Humanity International | Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.

The vision and mission statements are foundational to every part of this plan moving forward. Spend time with your team workshopping these statements. Everything you do from here will align to these statements.

Core Values or Statements

Core values are the pillars of your organization. They help inform your organizational culture. What are you about? What are your identifying characteristics? What qualities do you expect of your service, your staff and your campers?Well-known values establish where to invest resources of time, money, staff, equipment.

Brainstorm a list of around ten that come easily to you and your team. Choose three to five that align to your mission and vision statements, so that these can be something you and your staff can easily name.

How are you going to incorporate these in staff training, board orientation, and marketing materials? Every piece of this plan is meant for you to sit down with your organization and put on paper who you are, so it can inform where you’re going.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis identifies an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. When brainstorming for future programs that will help your organization reach your goals, capitalize on the strengths and opportunities. As a committee, brainstorm solutions to weaknesses and threats. How might they be minimized? Could a weakness become a strength if you had more training or the right equipment? Could a threat become an opportunity if you marketed your camp differently, added transportation, or changed the registration process? You may not have any effect on the external threat itself but businesses (and non-profits) are successful because they are able to navigate the pitfalls of the market.

With these parts firmly in place, you have put down on paper exactly who you are. This foundation will enable you to begin confidently envisioning the future of your organization, determining what needs to be built or created to move one step closer to the aspirational vision you and your team set.

What is a Strategic Plan and Why You Need One

Do you spend a lot of time being reactive instead of proactive? Does your board or leadership have trouble communicating the goals of your organization? Do well-meaning supporters suggest programming that doesn’t fit, but rejecting their idea puts you in a sticky spot?

You need a strategic plan.

A strategic plan is the guiding document of an organization that communicates who you are, who you want to become, and how to get there. It determines the goals and values of your organization, aligns your programming to your vision, and informs your decisions on a regular basis.

A strategic plan is a decision making and resource allocation tool. The planning process will focus all key stakeholders on a unified vision. Without charting the course together, either hard-working board members will develop their own vision that may not fit with the mission, or they will become disengaged and complacent.

A vision for the future changes the way we think about allocating resources. As camps and retreat ministries, we all face limited time and money, and we make the best decisions we can with what we have. A strategic plan enables us make those decisions more strategically, keeping the goals and vision in mind.

Thinking about creating a strategic plan may sound daunting, but this work is meant to be done over time with the help of a board committee. I like to break the work into these three more manageable sections.

Who We Are

A strategic plan starts with a one-page organizational history statement or timeline, followed by vision statement, mission statement, core values, and a SWOT analysis.

A great vision statement is aspirational and future-oriented. In one or two sentences, it illustrates your organization’s picture of success. A mission statement reflects the day-to-day work your organization does that moves the world closer to achieving the vision. Once these two statements are written, determine three to five core values that serve as culture pillars for the organization and represent the characteristics needed to fulfill the vision and mission.

A SWOT analysis evaluates the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of an organization. A great organization capitalizes on its strengths and opportunities and actively works to minimize weaknesses and threats.

Who We Want to Become

The second part uses this foundational work to set SMART goals, evaluate current programs, brainstorm future programs to consider, and create an organizational chart and succession plan.

Work together to set three to five SMART goals for the next five years. Which programs move your organization closer to achieving which goals? You may find that some activities do not align at all, and you may discover goals which no current programming supports. This exercise may present a need to retire programs no longer useful to the vision. For goals lacking program support, brainstorm additions or tweaks to existing activities that will move the organization closer to success. For each addition, determine the year you will begin work on that project. Agreeing on a timeline will increase the likelihood of achieving success.

With goals and potential program additions in mind, prepare an organizational chart and succession plan for leadership, so the vision can move forward even with unforeseen personnel changes. Think about any additional personnel needed to be successful.

How We Will Get There

A strategic plan often requires additional funding, updates to facilities, new equipment, and perhaps additional staff.

Conduct a facilities and equipment evaluation to determine major funding needs for the next five years. Estimate the cost of these needs, their priority, and the year the board will address them.

By the end of this planning process, your organization will have snapshots of the new programs, facility needs, equipment upgrades, and personnel changes for each of the next five years. This snapshot will show the approximate annual cost of bringing this vision to life that will enable a discussion on how to fund this plan.

The final part of the document is an evaluation plan. In order to ensure this work regularly informs decisions, this section determines who is responsible for progress updates and the frequency with which the board will revisit the strategic plan.

Putting it All Together

After doing the work to make the decisions lined out in these sections, it is time to present the strategic plan as one cohesive document to the board for approval!

Still overwhelmed?

Don’t worry! A new series that will break down these three sections in more detail is coming soon to the blog.

Facilitating a discussion about the future and leading the vision while participating in the process is complicated to do by yourself. If strategic planning is the next step to moving your organization forward, feel free to email me to chat about I can help bring your vision to life.

The 5W’s of Direct Mail Series: Who to Mail?

Once you have decided to move forward with direct mail, the first step is deciding who should receive the outstanding letter you will write. If you’re not convinced yet, go read the first post in this series Why Mail?, and meet us back here.

Mail everyone who has a connection with your organization. If you are new to fundraising, you may not have a huge donor base yet. That’s okay! What other constituencies have shown an interest in your mission? Families who utilize your services? Alumni to your program? Volunteers? Former and current board members? People you met at an event?

Mail all of these people. They aren’t strangers; they are familiar with your organization and your mission, and they will help you build your donor list. An important thing to note here is that mailing these groups assumes you have kept contact information for all of these people. If you haven’t, let’s start there. Download the donor database freebie to use as a basic template for keeping contact information and notes about your groups.

In fundraising, there are two types of lists: the housefile and the prospect list. Current donors are part of the housefile. Everyone else is on the prospect list. According to Data Targeting Solutions, the response rate for a mailing to a housefile is 9%, and the prospect list return was 4.9%. These statistics are the highest rates since 2003. If you are new to direct mail, those numbers may seem like a lot of work for such a low return rate, but direct mail still has the highest return rate of any other medium—five to nine times higher than email and social media alone.

Since you will likely be mailing more prospects than current donors, the ROI will be much lower for the prospect list. This is normal. The goal here is to break even on the prospect mailing. You are telling your story, building awareness of your mission, and communicating the need. Prospects need to hear a consistent message several times before taking action.

The prospects who give in response to your mailing are now on your donor list, growing the housefile. It can cost up to 10 times more to acquire a new donor than to keep an existing one, so once they convert to donors, let’s work hard to keep them coming back to your organization.

Preventing donor attrition is easier said than done. Donor retention rates across the non-profit sector are consistently below 50%. In 2017, the donor retention rate was 45.5%, meaning only 45.5% donors made a repeat gift to an organization. As you mail your lists, keep an eye on who is returning and who isn’t making a repeat gift.

We will talk more about what to mail donors and prospects and how to improve retention rates in the next post.

Need some extra help? Schedule a free 20 minute coaching call to assess your organization’s needs for direct mail.

Further Reading:

Donor Retention vs. New Donors: Donor Retention Always Wins
2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report

5W’s of Direct Mail Series: Why Mail?



If your organization is new to fundraising, direct mail may sound overwhelming. There are so many steps to doing it effectively, not to mention the cost of printing and mailing. This blog series will break down the large topic of direct mail over five posts and give you the information you need to make a case for direct mail within your organization as well as the action steps for a successful appeal.

Why spend the money on direct mail in an increasingly digital age?

Direct mail is a tangible way to connect with donors and share the work and need of your organization. Emails, social media ads, and unanswered text messages get lost in the bombardment of messages we receive every day. Marketing firm Yankelovich, Inc. estimates that the average person sees 5,000 messages a day. While digital marketing should be part of an overall strategy, it is easier to scroll mindlessly past messages than ignore mail you physically touch, at least the distance from the mailbox to the trash can. Even these people spend four times longer with your content than scrolling past a post.

You may be wondering how it is more effective to design a campaign, write a fundraising letter, create the mailing list, pay for postage, and send an ask to people’s mailboxes than schedule a free post on social media. In a 2018 study, We Are Social found that organic reach on Facebook is 6.4% of page likes. Meaning, for every 1,000 people who like your page, only 64 see that free post.

One way to increase your engagement and extend the reach of that organic post is through paid Facebook ads. These are a helpful part of a cohesive, multi-channel fundraising campaign. Studies show that the average cost per click (CPC) on Facebook ads is $1.72, and users spend about 2.5 seconds on what you created. The paid ads will increase your viewers, but how does $1.72 compare to direct mail?

The cost for the printing and postage of a four piece mailing—letter, insert card, remit envelope and outer envelope, all in full color is $0.84. Even the people who spend ten seconds walking your beautifully designed appeal directly from the mailbox to the trash can engage with your piece enough to get an impression of your organization. Most people will spend about 30 seconds looking at your appeal, especially taking in the photos, captions, bold print and quotes.

Minimum four to twelve times more engagement for less than half the price? Sounds like a no brainer to me.

Studies show that the average return on investment (ROI) of a direct mail solicitation is between 29-37% and can be increased to up to 67% if combined with multiple channels, including email and social media. Remember the statistic that people see about 5,000 messages a day? One side effect of this deluge of messaging is that donors need to hear the same message between 7 and 21 times before taking action. Spreading the ask over multiple channels where you are already engaging with donors will significantly increase the success of your campaign.

The short answer for the why here is it takes money to make money. Investing in a direct mail campaign will increase the return on your campaign more than a stand-alone organic or paid social media ad.

Fundraising, especially direct mail, is a science. Make sure to follow best practices for fundraising strategy to get the best bang for your buck. Remember, just because there is a science to this does not mean it’s impersonal. You are sharing your story and the need with people who care about your organization. Sharing it effectively with the best chance for a high ROI means you are stewarding the donor’s dollar and your time the best way you can. Donors like that. A high ROI means more time and money spent on the actual mission and less on overhead. Donors LOVE that.

Now that we have built a case for why you need direct mail, stay tuned for the rest of the series to learn how to launch a successful direct mail campaign.

Need some extra help? Schedule a free 20 minute coaching call to assess your organization’s needs for direct mail.

Subscribe to Cabin 9 Consulting to receive tools to take the anxiety out of fundraising and get you focused on your mission.

Read more on direct mail:

Social Media Statistics
Internet Growth Accelerates But Facebook Ad Engagement Tumbles
The Fundraising Authority
Online Giving Statistics
How Often Should You Mail Nonprofit Donors?
Fundraising Letter Audiences