top of page

What to Pack for Your Organization's Journey: Strategic Plan, Development Plan - or Both?

The new year often invokes enthusiasm for a fresh start and renewed commitment to personal and professional improvement. Whether a strategic plan or development plan, there is great opportunity for your organization to plot their course for the coming year.During my decades working with organizations ranging from big universities to small grassroots organizations, I have encountered many that operate without a strategic plan and/or resource development plan. They make it up as they go.Often, these organizations feel using their scarce time or resources to plan is a luxury they cannot afford. I’ve always felt that an organization cannot afford not to invest in planning.

Think of your fiscal year like a journey. The organization with a strategic plan and development plan starts their expedition with a clear map that details the ultimate destination (strategic plan) and the specific path of how to get there (resource development plan).

It tells them where to avoid the quicksand and desert. They make efficient use of their provisions because they don’t have to waste time and resources finding the best path.On the flipside, the organization without a strategic plan or development plan sets out into the wilderness without a sense of their ultimate destination or their path. They burn resources trying different ways forward, but ultimately find themselves lost midway through the journey. They discard the grand visions in favor of surviving the year.You might be thinking “Of course in a perfect world we would have a both, but that’s not realistic all at once for my organization.”So, how do you decide where to start? Here are some of the frequently asked questions among our clients about strategic plans and/or development plans.

Strategic and Development Plans FAQs

  • Question: What’s the difference between a strategic plan and a development plan? Answer: A strategic plan defines what success means for your organization and the best ways to advance the mission. It outlines the organization’s intended impact in the community based on an assessment of operational and programmatic resources and external opportunities.   A development plan operationalizes the philanthropic resources (time, talent, and treasure) needed to accomplish the objectives in a strategic plan. Practically, it articulates measurable goals (Ex: Expand our donor base), development objectives (Ex: Cultivate 20 new major donors), and development strategies (Ex: Implement face-to-face solicitations).  

  • Question: How often should our organization undertake a strategic planning or development planning process?  Answer: A deep strategic planning process may take place every three or so years, but strategic plans are most relevant when they are refreshed at least annually to reflect the shifting internal and external environments. Development plans work best when they are aligned with the same time period as the strategic plan, with more detailed annual plans based on last year’s results and this year’s goals.

  • Question: How do strategic plans and development plans work together? Answer: It’s easiest to answer this question by thinking about the absence of one or the other. Without a strategic plan, a development plan lays out tactics without a bigger vision or understanding of whether the strategies are based in the reality of what an organization needs or can accomplish. Without a development plan, a strategic plan is the big picture for the organization without clear actions for how it can be accomplished by philanthropy.

  • Question: Who creates strategic plans and development plans?  Answer: A strategic plan works best when it’s a partnership between Board and key staff. Anyone who owns key pieces of implementing the plan should have a voice in the process. A development plan is often authored by staff, but you can build ownership of the plan by inviting feedback from Board members and volunteer committees.

  • Question: If we don’t have either, should we start with a strategic plan or a development plan?  Answer: Start with a strategic plan so you have a better idea of the scale of philanthropy you need. It will also help you to lay out a philanthropic case for support rooted in the strategic vision, which is the crux of your development plan. That being said, a development plan keeps you focused so that staff and Board commit to realistic goals and strategies for the year ahead. For sanity’s sake, don’t go too long without a development plan!

Do you have more questions about strategic or development plans? Let’s keep this conversation going. We want to hear from you! Connect with us here.


bottom of page