The 3 Core Organizational Plans That Are The Key To Fighting Overwhelm

I want to start today’s episode with a question: Do you feel overwhelmed leading your organization?

That’s a trick question – I was a nonprofit leader for almost a decade and a half and I work with a coach dozens of nonprofit leaders each year – so I know the answer.

Yes. The threat – or experience – of overwhelm is a common thread.

So in today’s episode, I want to give you a concrete framework that will help you turn the tide on your overwhelm from the ground up.

We’re going to talk about my Aligned Anchors Framework: The 3 foundational anchor documents that must be in alignment for your nonprofit to be sustainable and ward off overwhelm in the long run.

I’m going to illuminate some of the warning signs that may be showing up and letting you know that perhaps there’s a misalignment – like trouble fundraising, or friction on your team – and I’m going to tell you what to change to begin to fix those problems.

So let’s start at the beginning.

The basis for the framework is this: One of the wellsprings of overwhelm is confusion. When you have 15 different decisions to make and 20 balls to keep in the air, and when it isn’t immediately obvious how they are related to one another – how this next new hire will impact both your budget and your program growth, for example; or how you should be thinking about engaging new board members to help with an upcoming funding cliff – it’s exhausting.

Here are a few ways this confusion might show up – some warning signs:

Board members won’t know how to help friendraise or fundraise, which will show up as disengagement; PAUSE

It takes more effort to find and activate the right donors and fundraising will feel like a slog; It feels so hard to have investment-level conversations with the kind of funders and donors that can help you grow and stabilize- you can see how they’d make good partners but that’s not getting across and somehow you’re inching your funding towards just meeting your budget

You’ll constantly feel like you’re scratching and clawing to bring in the funding you need to sustain, much less grow, your impact.

You may be hiring the wrong people, or afraid to hire at all because you can’t quite see how everyone fits together, or you look around and you feel like you have the right people but in the wrong roles and things aren’t clicking…

Your staff is working super hard but it can feel to them like they’re spinning their wheels – they don’t see what it’s all adding up to… they keep coming to you asking about their goals… asking you to clarify the vision… tracking the wrong outcomes

You’ feel like you’re the only one really moving the vision forward – your board isn’t engaged with the programs or the mission… your staff isn’t owning the visioning or planning.

your team is burning out…

These are typical in growing organizations.

And as a leader, when each of these decisions and experiences is separate and distinct… When you can’t see far enough down a workflow, or can’t see how one set of decisions impacts another set of decisions – you can’t delegate to someone else to strategize, it takes more work to plan, and decision-fatigue is real.

So the answer is this: you need meaningful alignment between the three foundational documents that serve as strategic anchors for your growth:

The three documents are your strategic plan, the true cost budget, and the strategic finance plan.

Healthy, stable organizations have all three – a plan, a budget, and a fundraising plan. But so many organizations build and talk about them in isolation – often even at different times of the year and with different people on the team.

In reality, these three documents must talk to one another and build on one another in order for the organization to have a stable foundation on which to build its team, board, funding, and programs. If they are not aligned, decisions will be less strategic, they will lack direction and may take the organization off course.

Before I continue, if you’re already thinking:  OMG does this sound like me. Overwhelm is a real problem and I’m ready to get to the root of it, the best next step for you is my new Aligned Anchors Strategy Bundle. REDO

I’ve pulled together a curated and actionable bundle of trainings and templates to walk you, step-by-step, through how to bring your core documents into alignment. It’s highly tactical and you can use it whether you’re new to strategic budgeting and fundraising, or to audit and refine your existing plans so that they can do a better job of helping you avoid overwhelm.

The bundle will provide you with three things. Number one, you’ll get a step-by-step training in both video and audio that walks through the exact process for implementing what we’re talking about here –  creating real alignment between your strategic plan and your budget. Number 2, it’s going to give you fill-in-the-blank templates for each element of the Aligned Growth Anchors Framework, including a 1-page strategic plan the communicates your vision with the kind of clarity required for board development, hiring and fundraising, a true cost budget template that you can customize for your own organization, and a customizable strategic fundraising plan. Third, because everyone loves a good example, you’ll get a library of models and examples of strategic plans, as well as a fully mapped example of the three aligned documents.

Together, the resources in this bundle will set you and your team up to navigate year-end planning and budgeting from a perspective of strategic alignment and long term sustainability going into 2024.

You can get the bundle at

So now let me walk through how the alignment actually works, and helps fight overwhelm.

It all starts with your strategic plan. Not the 20 page document that you spend 7 months talking about and creating and no one uses.

Instead, you want a short, concise document that paints a clear picture of where your organization is going and how it will get there. I’m an advocate for the 1-page strategic plan which captures the crux of your strategic clarity.

True strategic clarity means having a clear set of priorities and goals that people know, understand, and actually use to guide decision-making. That tell you, your board, your team, and your potential donors exactly what you will and won’t invest resources in; where you will and won’t allocate money and time… what you will and won’t be accountable for achieving – and why.

This is what you’re asking people to buy into. This strategic vision is how the right donors will know that yours is the mission and impact they want to invest in.

Everything starts with this.

Next comes your true cost budget.

I call it a true cost budget because it tells the story of what it ACTUALLY COSTS to achieve what you want to achieve.  Simply put, it uses numbers to tell the same story of impact that is in your strategic plan.

Like a book with words on one page and pictures on the adjacent page — your true cost budget must be perfectly aligned with your vision for strategic growth.

Whatever your priorities and goals and plans are – the number and location and scope of programs, the staffing, the partnerships, the IT needs, the marketing and communications — there are costs associated with each element of your planned impact.

There must be alignment between your plan and your budget.

If your vision includes national expansion, that must be reflected in your budget as certain types of hires

If your 3-year priorities are around expanding the reach of your brand, that will show up in budget lines for marketing and thought leadership

It paints a clear picture of how you’re allocating resources to support your values  — how much are you spending on benefits, are you allocating money towards metro cards or gas for your program participants, are you paying to retreats for your board.

In this way, it prepares you for investment-level conversations with major donors and long term, multi-year funders who can be partners in your growth.

Too many organizations have a strategic plan, and then every year they look at their budget and ask – what did we raise last year? Lets’ add 10%.

Instead, you ensure alignment by pulling out your long term plan and mapping out the specific strategic steps you’ll take in the next year. You get clear about your strategic work plan and THEN you ask – how much will that cost?


NOT how much can we raise?

The question must be – what is the true cost of the work that we have planned.

If you don’t name it, you can’t raise it.

Which brings me to the final anchor document – your fundraising plan. Also called finance plan.

Once you know what impact looks like and the plans to get there, and you’re crystal clear about how much it costs, then you can have a meaningful conversation with your board, your staff, your funders, etc. about how to raise that money.

Just like orgs will go through a budgeting process that’s divorced from their strategic plan, so many organizations will ask me to help them craft fundraising strategies from broad cloth.

My first question is always: what are your strategic priorities and what’s your budget?

Your priorities will shape everything from the kind of donors and funders you approach to the themes of your campaigns. Your vision for impact is what your board will use to identify the people in their network to talk to and what to say to them. Your true cost budget will tell the story to major donors about what kind of investments you’re looking for. It will help you determine which strategies to lean into, and which might look good on paper but will actually have lower ROI.

Ultimately, the annual conversation between these three document – their true alignment – creates a solid, unshakeable core of clarity.

Now let’s zoom back up to daily decisions.

You have to figure out your hiring plan. You’ve done the thinking about your program growth goals, and you’ve mapped out – from a strategic perspective – who you need in order to achieve those goals.

The overwhelm caused by having to figure out hiring on the fly is reduced because your decision has a strategic foundation. You can have honest conversations with potential donors about how supporting hiring the team you need will lead to the impacts they care about. You can craft campaigns and events aimed at specific priorities because you’ve already determined how much you need to raise.

You can hand off the design and execution of a fundraising strategy to a development director or fractional development staff because the foundational reasons, purpose, and end goals of the strategy are clearly mapped out in the budget and strategic plan.

I want to be clear — Not everything is solved by having alignment between these three documents.

Reducing overwhelm is a multi-pronged and ongoing endeavor.

But here’s the thing: you’re guaranteed to be and to feel more adrift in your decisions, work planning, team management, board engagement – even partnerships, without this alignment.

On the flip side, just like a fresh clear water springs from a fresh clear well, clarity at your core will emanate and give rise to simpler, more clear, and less overwhelming decisions.


Other Resources Mentioned

Aligned Anchors Growth Bundle

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