Relevant Goals = Relevant Results

What you do is important, and you want the results to mean something.

In nonprofit, in order to do that, you have to set goals; goals around program delivery, money management, people management, and fundraising. Each of these goals is  built upon successes and failures of the past, and often your attention and setting of future goals is only given to reflection of the results from the year or two behind you.

As an organization, how often are you asking whether the goal you are setting is relevant? How do you determine whether it is essential?

In the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, (Crown Publishing Group, 2014) the very first steps in becoming disciplined about acting on only the essentials is to explore and look (evaluate).


transitive verb: to investigate, study, or analyze look into

In setting fundraising goals, exploring comes in the form of looking at the right donor data (sources, segments, retention, lapsed, etc…) and fundraising channel data. It is important to gather both quantitative and qualitative information. It means asking the right questions of the right people; and listening to the answers they, and the data tell you.


transitive verb: to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study

Evaluation means understanding the story behind the data you’ve gathered; analyzing the real story of what the data tells you, not the story you want to see.

Sure,  fundraising revenue from a long-standing fundraising channel is revenue that is critical to the organization’s budget and ability to deliver mission. But, without asking the tough questions about that goal, the organization often finds themselves on the nonprofit treadmill; vigorously working up a sweat but going nowhere.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” – Steven Covey

  • The Main Thing – prioritize, and then stay focused, and act on the priority
  • The Essentials – do less but do it better
  • The Vital Few (Pareto Principal) – 80% of your results will come from 20% of your work

This makes all the sense in the world. So why is it so hard to do it?

There are a few causes that drag us back on to that nonprofit treadmill; the endless cycle of the trivial many that gets us nowhere.

Confirmation Bias


Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.

As such, it can be thought of as a form of selection bias in collecting evidence.

Consider that beloved fundraising event. It’s been going on for decades and the board thinks it’s awesome. Their argument? “People love it and it’s a great way to introduce new people to the organization.”

Year over year the fundraising staff, executive director and board talk about ways to increase the revenue of their beloved event. However, upon deeper exploration and evaluation (looking) at a ten year period, the data shows that participation numbers haven’t increased, revenue has been flat, and new donors to the event don’t give again. Furthermore, it’s  only 7% of the overall fundraising revenue but takes 6 of the 10 staff people months to plan, market and implement the event.

Is this event essential and relevant?

Unfortunately, more often than not, the organization will think it is and only see the data they want (funds in the bank), rather than evidence and data that tells a different story (poor ROI). When asked the tough questions, they rationalize answers to support their beliefs, belays their fears, and the event continues.

I first read about the next reason in the book Essentialism – and I have done some further research to understand why nonprofits hang on so desperately to goals, even when they’ve accepted the data says to do otherwise.

Sunk Cost Bias

From Wikipedia:

Economists and behavioral scientists use a related term, sunk-cost fallacy, to describe the justification of increased investment of money, time, lives, etc. in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment (“sunk cost”) despite new evidence suggesting that the cost, beginning immediately, of continuing the decision outweighs the expected benefit.

Take the Capital Campaign with a fundraising goal that increased over the span of eight years. The money raised had mostly been from the organization’s own reserves and the fundraising had stalled from the very beginning. Then, disaster struck; almost overnight, the project estimate grew almost 30% and the fundraising goal became clearly out of reach. On top of that, the needs the organization had been serving when they started the campaign had changed (in large part because of their work, they had nearly solved the original problem) – and to their credit, they had shifted mission delivery to meet the changing needs. But the project hadn’t changed.

The question of relevance: What is the result they are trying to achieve and what is the relevant goal to achieve it?

Relevant Goal = Relevant Result.

The Endowment Effect

I also read about this concept in the book Essentialism.

Ask yourself this; if you didn’t already have a history of this fundraising channel, and given the cost of time, energy and money to do it– would you start it?

Mr. McKeown describes the endowment effect on the Tim Ferriss podcast. They start talking about it at 14:24, but I strongly recommend listening to the whole thing.

I encourage you to practice essentialism by looking at every opportunity or request that comes to you this week and asking yourself, is this essential?

If not, try saying no and see what happens. Some great ways on how to say no are in Chapter 11 of Essentialism, but you can hear them from Mr. McKeown himself on another episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast here.

Just say no (to the trivial many),


Fundraising Plan template – easy to use!

General George S. Patton said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”

I don’t like the feels that come with the word “violently” and I know this quote has been reworded many times with nicer words than violently – but I always prefer to reference the original source, so General Patton gets the lead.

Here’s another way to say the same thing, “An imperfect plan executed with purpose today is better than a perfect plan never executed”.

You know how when you go to an online recipe site and there’s all this content before the actual recipe? I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to give you the ingredients and recipe for a SMARTplan first, and then over the next few Friday posts, I’ll provide lots of content on how to build a SMARTplan in more detail.

Here are the ingredients for a quick SMARTplan:

S   Story and Strategy (that’s double the impact for being Specific)

M   Metrics and Milestones (that’s twice as good, wouldn’cha say?)

A    Action and Assigned (Whaaaa?! that’s so much better than Attainable)

R    Roles and Responsibilities (well, now this is just getting too robust)

T    Timed and Timed (Gotcha! there’s a reason for this double timed)

Below is a link to download a simple plan template. If you don’t have a written plan in place, and you need something quickly, this will do. Please note, the R sections are removed – they require a little more explanation.

Here’s the template link – instructions are on the second tab.

Note: Template is not loading into the website right now – please email me at for a copy. I promise – this is not a pitch for business, and I will not send you emails in the future. As soon as we get this website glitch fixed, you’ll be able to download the template from here.

If the SMART ingredients and the plan template make sense to you – go for it!

Purposeful planning and execution, Go!


You Need a Fundraising Plan and You Need it Now

Fundraising for a non-profit is not easy. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many nonprofits struggling to meet their revenue budgets. The sector is filled with amazing dedicated professionals who are trying hard (and working hard) to meet the revenue expectations of their CEO, their board and their donors; all wanting the same thing, that the mission of the organization can be delivered with excellence. These dedicated fundraising warriors are often overworked and frustrated as they find themselves pushed and pulled in a million directions, expected to perform miracles, producing cash where before there hasn’t been any. Sound familiar? In my nearly 20 years of raising money for non-profits, I’ve found very few resources that provide tangible ways to put fundraising strategies and best practices into a plan that can be implemented. Or in other words – a way to actually operationalize the strategies. There are books and blogs and conferences on how to raise more money, and you’ve probably used those resources or attended those conferences to help you with strategy, or how to write better donor communications, or how to cultivate major donors. The problem is, there is so much good advice out there that it’s hard to know what to do to execute on it while you also perform your day-to-day duties! Not to mention, your executive director, development team or board might not be aligned to the strategies you’ve so thoughtfully gathered – they can’t see what you will do to make the strategies pay off. But if you have a written plan, complete with data driven goals and strategies, assignments, deadlines and milestones – it’s amazing how quickly key stakeholders will back you up. And, how quickly revenue will increase. The magic bullet to raising more money? Plan the Work and Work the Plan. Writing a plan (especially while you’re also trying to raise money at the same time) is hard. So, this blog will give you easy to use, step by step instructions to write your fundraising plan and templates to help organize the strategies. Cool beans, right? Posts on planning will happen each Friday. Each post will include instructions, advice and templates to make plan writing simple; easy to finish and easy to act on (because what’s the point of writing a plan if you don’t have a great way to execute?) Remember, the person with the plan wins! Aimee

Blog Schedule


you just have to start

Welcome to Our Fundraising Plan blog!I’ll focus on storytelling (the secret sauce for nonprofits) and will provide as much background material as I can gather. I’ll also post an ongoing series on writing plans. I’m starting with the tools to write and execute on a fundraising plan, but expect more on strategic planning, business planning and whatever other kind of planning you would like to see covered (let me know). Thank you for making the world a better place, Aimee