Ok, I’ll just say it: I’m a nerd. Or maybe I’m a geek. Either way, I spend more of my personal time than I like to admit keeping up to date on all things peer-to-peer, social media, technology, marketing, fundraising, and serial commas.

Many times, all of the resources and information out there start to sound a bit like an echo chamber, with the same topics (millennials) and news (Facebook’s donation strategy du jour) repeating itself over and over on every corner of the internet. Far less often, opposing opinions emerge (is Dan Pallotta a genius or totally insane?) and I enjoy trying to figure out which side of the debate I land on.

Recently, two of my favorite P2P blogs featured articles on how to approach planning for 2016, but their methodologies differed a bit.

One emphasized changing everything. “If you are truly looking for 15% growth on a program that is flat (or declining), in an economy that doesn’t seem to realize it has turned around, in a charity space that is more competitive than ever, you’ve got to be ready to turn over every single stone in a sustained, coordinated effort.”

The other challenged us to enhance one thing. “Do fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects. I see this all the time with P2P, trying to change too much at one time that our events and even our staff become a ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’”

Not surprisingly, I’m not the only geek who read both posts. One of my colleagues asked me which philosophy she should follow as she looked ahead to 2016.

The question itself signified one of our biggest struggles in the nonprofit sector. We tend to ask the wrong questions and focus on the wrong things. Our inclination isn’t intentional. It’s often the result of pressure we feel from our boss, demands made by our board, or the desire to make our own mark on the program.

We ask what social media platforms we should concentrate on next, how we can convince millennials to join our cause, and how many emails we should send to our constituents every month. We spend a lot of time and effort worrying about tactics, and very little time concentrating on strategy. Changing one thing or changing everything is a question of tactics, and fails to recognize the strategy behind either choice.

When was the last time you drove to an unfamiliar place without using your favorite navigation app? Say you’re meeting your best friend at the new trendy restaurant a few cities over from you. You know the name of the restaurant and what time you need to be there. So you get into your car and decide to take a bunch of rights and lefts because you assume you’ll get there eventually.

Sound absurd? This is exactly what we do when it comes to our fundraising programs. We know our goal (raise money to fund our missions) and yet we spend most of our time obsessing about tactics (Snapchat, millennials, email frequency), without truly taking the time to assess how those tactics fit into our strategy–if we have a strategy at all.

As I pondered whether an organization should change everything in 2016 or focus on a small number of things, I came to a vague but powerful answer: it depends. Changing everything could be unrealistic for some cash and resource strapped organizations, while focusing only on one thing would not move the needle for others.

Much like navigating to a new-to-you restaurant, start to define your P2P strategic road map by asking some important questions:

Where are you now?

What story is your data telling you? Analyze fundraising, marketing, and audience data. See how you’re event has been trending over the past several years. Benchmark yourself against other like organizations. Use that data to construct a narrative about the state of your campaign.

As difficult as this might be, make sure the people telling the data story don’t have a motivation to interpret the data in a way that will benefit them. If you’re in charge of the program and have a vested interest in making sure it appears you’re doing a good job, you might not be the best person to create the narrative.

Where do you want to go?

How much do we need to raise to make our programmatic goals a reality? It’s easy to inherit a 10% increase from the larger organizational budget. It’s much harder to think about how realistic a goal is and what resources are available to get you there. Don’t overlook that you could have what it takes to outperform that 10% increase and do even more good in your corner of the world.

How do you get there?

Use your data narrative and net revenue goal to create a strategic vision for your event. What other metrics will influence your bottom line? What tactics will you use to increase those metrics? Do you have the time, staff, and budget necessary to deploy these tactics? If not, one of your first tactics will be to make a case to ensure you have them. You may find you need to revisit your goals if the means to achieve them aren’t available.

When resources allow, you could use your strategic focus to impact every aspect of your campaign. If time, staffing, and/or budget fall short, you may focus your energy on increasing a smaller number of metrics and seek to affect as many areas of your campaign as possible.

Whichever path you choose in 2016, each time a new tactic crosses your desk, or your mind, consider if it fits with your strategic direction or if you’re simply driving aimlessly through the streets hoping that a restaurant will appear.

Looking for more learning opportunities?

Geek out with me at the Peer-to-Peer Forum’s annual conference in February! Prior to the conference, join me and some of my favorite peer-to-peer fundraising experts for a TeamRaiser Success Workshop. Sign up the workshop (don’t worry there’s no additional cost)! If you haven’t registered for the conference register online; use the Blackbaud discount code to get $100 off the registration fee (code: Black100).

Team Raiser Success Workshop


Shana Masterson has been a fundraiser since 2001. In 2014, she joined Blackbaud as a senior consultant. Her unique skill set as both a peer to peer fundraiser and a technologist allows her to focus on maximizing peer to peer campaign revenue through success planning, road mapping, communication calendaring, configuration recommendations and more.

Prior to joining Blackbaud, Shana led the American Diabetes Association’s online fundraising and communication strategy for the national special events team. She also worked for the National Brain Tumor Society, the American Cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Connect with Shana on Twitter or Linkedin.

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