Annual planning for nonprofits: How to set your organization up for success

The new year is upon us, and it’s time to start closing out this year and planning for the next. Annual planning is one of the most important things your nonprofit can do in preparation for the new year. It allows you to take a step back, review all you’ve accomplished and how you did, and find areas of improvement for the next year.

Here are some ideas for how to kickstart your annual plan for your nonprofit organization.

Review yearly performance

Start by taking the time to review your current year’s performance. Make a note of what you did well and what may not have gone well. Ask yourself the following key questions:

  • Did you meet the fundraising goals you set? Will you set a larger or smaller goal for the upcoming year?
  • Did you meet other strategic plan goals for the year, like board growth or expansion plans?
  • Will you need additional resources next year?
  • What does your financial position look like going into the new year?

The entire foundation of your strategy for next year is going to be based on the current year’s performance. Use our end-of-year checklist to make sure you aren’t missing anything as you start the strategic planning process for the new year.

Building a Great Annual Strategy

Examine your Mission and Vision

Who your organization is at your core and what your mission is should always be front and center of everything you do.

Go back to your mission and vision statements and study them carefully. Is everything you’re doing connecting back to them?

Your mission and vision should speak to:

  • Who are we?
  • Why do we exist?
  • How will we achieve our mission?
  • Where are we going?

Plan your Fundraising and Programs

Now that you are clear on who you are and why you exist, think about what programs and/or events you’d like to run in the upcoming year. You’ll also want to consider if there are any fundraising activities that you could add to your calendar. If you don’t already have one, you might want to consider starting up a fundraiser committee to help with this process.

When planning a program or activity, always ask yourself, does it further the mission? Does it support our vision? Is it something we can offer people outside of our organization? Are there other organizations doing similar work that we can partner with?

Create your Goals and SMART objectives

Goal setting is an important step in your annual planning process. It helps you to become clear on what you want to achieve by the end of the year.

Your nonprofit’s goal should be based on what you achieved in the current year and plans for the next year. Oftentimes, nonprofit goals have already been established through a strategic planning process. If so, review those goals and make sure they are still relevant to your upcoming plans.

Once you have goals, create your objectives to help you stay on track and ensure you are meeting the overall goals of the organization. When you are setting these objectives, you want to make sure they are SMART:

Specific: This will ensure your objective is defined. It is the who, what, when, and where of what you are trying to accomplish.

Example: Increase our donations received by 10% this year.

Measurable: This is so you can track the progress of your goal in a quantifiable way.

Example: We will be able to measure our success based on the number of donors we secured for each quarter.

Attainable: Making sure you aren’t overshooting your goals is key. Set goals that are realistic, given current resources and skills.

Examples: We’re going to send out thank you letters to each donor within one month of receiving their donation.

Relevant: Ensuring the goals you set are always relevant to your organization’s mission and values.

Examples: We recruit more volunteers to make our fundraising event run smoothly so we can raise more donations.

Time-based: Set a deadline for your goal and when results should be achieved.

Examples: By the end of the 2nd quarter, we will have received half of our goal in donations.

While you are creating goals and objectives, think about the data and information you will need to collect to assess the achievement of the goals.

Plan your Annual Budget

Once you have your annual goals and objectives, fundraising, and programs planned out, it’s time to start outlining what resources will be necessary to accomplish your plan. This is where you’ll put together your annual budget.

You can begin your budget planning process by examining the following key areas:

Financial resources: How much money do you need in order to accomplish your strategic goals for the year? Do you need additional funding to support your program? Do you have enough money for salaries, office supplies, equipment, and other expenses?

These questions will help you determine how you’ll need to structure your budget and if any changes need to be made year-over-year.

Human Resources: How many people do you need to add to operate your organization effectively? Do you need more volunteers this year? Do you need more staff members? Is your board adequately filled?

Answering these questions will help you identify where you may need to fill in the gaps.

Physical Resources: Look at the physical resources you used throughout the year and determine if you have enough of what you need or if you need to stock up on certain things. Did you use any physical print advertising this year? Does your organization have ample office space or a place to operate? Do you need more equipment to be able to operate successfully?

These questions will help you determine where money may need to be allocated in the budget this year.

Implementation strategy

After you’ve determined your financial, staffing, and physical needs, you can now start thinking about implementation strategies.

Implementation strategy refers to the steps you take to make sure your plans actually happen. For example, did you set aside enough time to implement your new programs? Did you use effective communication techniques to share your vision with everyone involved?

It’s important to communicate your broader vision to all stakeholders. Make sure they understand what you’re trying to achieve and why. Also, let them know when you expect to see results from their involvement. Share short-term goals and how they’ll help contribute to your long-term goals.

Staffing is another key component of implementing your plans. Are you going to hire new employees? Will you need to reallocate existing staff? What training will you need to provide?

Now that you’ve created your annual plan, you should also think about how you’re going to fund your activities. You may decide to increase your current fundraising efforts or look into new avenues of fundraising.

Encouraging recurring monthly donations is a great way to increase your total donations. Rather than asking donors to give a large amount all at once, offer a way to set auto-donations monthly. Prospective donors will be able to add it to their budget, set up auto-withdrawal, and won’t have to worry about remembering to send a check each month.

Marketing strategy

Once you’ve developed your annual plan, you’ll want to create a marketing plan. A nonprofit marketing plan includes everything you do to promote your organization, from creating promotional materials to publicizing events to using social media.

  • Determine your goals. Why do you want to market your organization? What do you hope to get out of doing so? Think about your specific annual goals and build your marketing plan according.
  • Think about your audience. Who are you targeting? How old are they? Where do they live? What kind of information do they seek? Knowing your target audience and who you want to reach will allow you to tailor your marketing plans to reach the right people.
  • Identify your target markets. Think about your ideal customer. What are his/her interests? What problems does he/she face? What would motivate him/her to become a member of your organization?
  • Identify your channels for reaching your audiences. Channels include traditional methods (such as print ads) and nontraditional ones (like social media).

Annual Planning Checklist

Here are some things to keep in mind while developing your strategic plan:

  • Make sure your plan aligns with your mission and values. If not, you may need to change your plan.
  • Be clear on who you’re serving and what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Think about the future. What does it look like five years from now? Ten years from now? Twenty years from now?
  • Include a timeline. This helps you track progress over time.
  • Don’t forget to include a section on evaluation. After you complete your plan, ask yourself whether it was successful. Was it worth the effort?


When it comes to developing an effective strategy for the new year, there’s no one size fits all approach. The best way to develop a successful annual plan is to start small and work your way up.

Are you in need of more support for your new year planning? Schedule a consultation with our team today to see how we can help!

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