The best time to create a plan is now

by Sara Lundenberger, director of nonprofit consulting | Feb 04, 2021 |

Consulting, Strategy and Planning |


It’s never too late to plan. Even if know you can’t implement anything until later this year or you aren’t sure where exactly your organization is headed after the chaos of last year, it always helps to have a plan.

We have been hard-wired to believe we have to start something new in January or it will be too late. I can promise you; this isn’t the case. I’m actually a firm believer that starting things in January can be a bad idea. You and everyone else are just coming back from having the holidays off and it takes a little time to get back into your normal routine. We also seem to believe that plans can’t be changed. If 2020 taught us anything, other than how to make bread, it’s that just because you create a plan in December, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good in July. Things change, priorities change and plans can and should be amended throughout the year to reflect these changes. Here are some reasons you should consider putting together a plan for your organization.

Plan lengths can (and should) vary

There is no rule that says any plan you create (strategic, annual giving, marketing, etc.) must be for one year, two years or five years. Maybe with everything we know now, 10 months is as far out as you want to go. Or your organization may be better suited for an 18-month plan right now, based on your fiscal year. It might even be helpful to just plan out one quarter of your year. Do what you feel you are comfortable with and what makes the most sense for your organization. Don’t waste your time creating a long-term plan if you don’t know what long-term means right now.

Plans give you a better understanding of where you’re going

By starting a plan after the first of the year, you may be better able to understand your priorities, staff capacity and timeline. Towards the end of last year, we were all so unsure of what 2021 was going to bring. It was extremely difficult for all of us to navigate the end of a rough year. Holidays looked very different than usual and we all looked cautiously toward the year ahead, hoping it would be more stable. It is understandable if your normal end-of-year planning didn’t look the same in December or you put it off because of how uncertain 2021 seemed. Things may not be back to normal, but it’s a new year, things are looking up and it’s time to figure out how your organization is going to move forward. By even building a short-term plan, you will be able to give your team a sense of direction and start moving your organization forward again. You may not have all of the answers about what will happen in the months ahead, but a plan gives you goals to work toward and a sense of direction.

Plans are not written in stone    

You might be a little weary about planning after what happened last year. After all, planning does take time, effort and resources, and last year’s plan probably needed some major revisions by March. While I think we can all agree that we hope that never happens again; let’s reflect. You made it through. You changed your plans, you did things you’ve never done before (hello, Zoom happy hour!) and here you are on the other side of 2020. There is nothing wrong with changing your plan as you go. Think of it as taking a road trip. You have in your head the way you are going to go, but little did you know, the world’s largest cuckoo clock is only 30 minutes out of your way. You obviously aren’t going to miss that! So, you make a detour. We shouldn’t be held accountable for plans we made without knowing exactly what was going to happen at any specific moment. You plan, you review, you make changes and you continue to adapt along the way.

Plans should involve your board and staff members

More than likely, your board is made up of people who work for companies that are also working through planning sessions at the end of the year. By moving your planning to the beginning of the year, it allows more time for your board and staff to get on the same page. You also get the added bonus of having year-end financials to discuss as a group and to get your board members’ insight on your goals for the organization.

The best way to involve your staff in an in-depth planning session is to leave your current work environment. We are constantly being pulled in different directions and we’ve found that when we get out of the office and head to a neutral site, we are better able to focus on the task at hand. An off-site meeting can also help with brainstorming and give you new perspective, without the distractions. While this may be difficult right now, if you are able to meet safely, I highly recommend it.

The year-end planning process works for most organizations. But, if you weren’t able to do that last year, you still have time to create a well thought-out, thorough plan for your staff to follow. It really is never too late to make a plan that is achievable, measurable and will help you get where you want to go.


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