As you start your mission-driven efforts for the new year, here are some things to consider doing. We've worked with dozens of organizations in the past year and seen a lot of common problems as well as a few best practices.

1. Create your development plan

This is hopefully the obvious one. Identify financial goals and break them down into pieces--the sources of funding, the number of funders in each source, and what you aim to get from each source. E.g. $250,000 from 15 individual major donors. This will help you prioritize your outreach efforts as well as your time spent cultivating and maintaining existing relationships. You may want to map out your 12-month plan from there in terms of specific times of the year when you might put some concerted work into specific things (some things probably have to be done year-round, but others, like grant writing, you might want to knock out in a one-month blitz). One question to make sure you answer: where will your new donors be coming from? A simple ad campaign or mailer isn't enough--you need to have a clear sense of where you'll be looking for people, how you'll be finding them, and how you'll be cultivating them. If you don't know that at the outset, everything the rest of the year is a pipe dream and you'll end the year with mostly the same donors you started with (if you're lucky).

2. Create your communications plan

With the above in mind, what kinds of stories do you want to tell this year? What things are important for your key target audience(s) to hear? Identify the focal points, then break them down into monthly routines. Based on that monthly routine, create a 12-month overlay of the narrative arc you want to build. If someone follows you throughout the year, how are you building on previous material so that people get to know you better and better, and get drawn in further and further?

3. Identify work areas and take care of your people

Given the priorities above, what are the priorities in terms of work time? What are the "busy work" things that will distract you from them? Prioritize and delegate so that you are spending at 60-80% of your time on the most important things for your core job description, and so is everyone else. The storytelling staff should be spending the majority of their time creating great content, and less time marketing it. The development staff should be spending the majority of their time on relationships, and less time drowning in unanswered Big Questions or thank-you notes that need signing. While you're working on all this, ask yourself the big questions about your staff: how will they stay sane, happy, and motivated? If they are constantly drowning, or don't see results, or feel like they are seen as cheap labor, you probably won't achieve your goals and eventually you'll lose your people. Helping staff stick to their core competencies is a big step toward happy employees, but it's not the only step.

4. Evaluate unusual projects

Is there anything that might happen this year that's not normal? Publishing a book or a big report, throwing a gala, creating some new piece to your development puzzle--there are many possible projects that can come out of nowhere and eat up the time of people who ought to be doing other things. For example, for a small organization, a major gala dinner always consumes 80-90% of the development director's time for 6-8 months. That's a lot of time spent not working on his/her core job. If there is any pressure to do these kinds of projects, think about the time and money you'll spend doing them, and the money you won't be raising while you're doing it, and whether those things really match up to the end value. If they won't, consider skipping the projects. If they will, figure out who will work on these projects (you may need extra help) in such a way that they won't hurt your staff or budget.

5. Problem-solve the busy work

Lower-level staff, volunteers, outsourced labor can all help you get the "busy work" done, but so can getting a company like Narrator to help you think through better infrastructure. Often there are tech tools, operational practices, and combinations of smart work that allow you to not come in and go home each day feeling like there's always more to do than can possibly be done. To put it frankly: most upper-level staff we've seen (in nonprofits with budgets under $5 million) waste at least 50% of their time on things that don't move the ball forward--time that could be recaptured with a better-designed operational system utilizing modern tools and techniques those folks usually don't know exist. One simple thing to do: make sure as you create all these plans above that you're using a tool (e.g. free or cheap project management software) to track your progress, so you can know at a glance whether you're doing what you said you'd do.

6. Revisit everything regularly

In June, you should know (without looking) exactly where you stand on your goals, your plans, and your workload. You might need to tweak some of them. But much of the time, moving forward is an issue of continuously revisiting how you're spending your time--put 30 minutes on your calendar once a month.

Best of luck as you seek to achieve your missions in 2016, and let us know how we can help.