Sometimes, we plan on doing things. And I mean, we really plan to do the things – I really plan on cleaning out my closets and drawers. I plan on getting a pair of trousers hemmed this Spring (the same pair of trousers that has been in my trunk since about this time last year when I first planned on having them hemmed) so I can finally wear them. I plan on reading more, getting a hobby one day, being a more consistent gardener, and the list goes on.

One of the greatest planners of all time must be Martha Stewart. I love the magazine Martha Stewart Living; in every issue, Martha shares her calendar for the month. There are several levels of activities, most of which are related to the cleaning, organization and maintenance of her home and grounds; she includes all the tasks she has on her agenda broken out into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily routines that she keeps year-round.

I love to look at her calendar and plan on getting Martha Stewart Level organized one day. I also love to look at are her recipes. I usually read through them, plan on cooking one or two, and save the magazine until the time comes that I actually prepare one of the recipes.

And then? I eventually recycle the magazine. Not one recipe prepared, not one copycat calendar made.

I firmly believe I am not the only one who cycles through this same pattern constantly, whether it’s centered around Martha’s pristine lifestyle, or other more likely goals of mine. In fact, I think volunteering and charitable giving often fall into the rotating, aspirational plans that we never quite complete.

Have you ever dreamt of making an aspirational gift to a nonprofit? You come across a cause that stirs your heart and think, I really want to support that; and you really, really plan on giving.

I believe that the plans we make reflect something true and genuine about our hearts and our intentions. So why do our plans simply fall through? Maybe it’s something as simple as not having a real plan to begin with.

If you are truly serious about planning on giving, I’d like to suggest that you take the time to craft a plan. Philanthropy at its core often begins in a person’s heart, but what you do after the feeling strikes is what will take your plan into reality.

Strategic planning is one effective philanthropic tool, whether you are an individual, a business, or an organization. Most strategic plans include the following elements: a vision statement, a mission statement, goals and objectives, an action plan, and key performance indicators, or KPIs. The strategic planning process acknowledges the simple truth that just wanting to do something is rarely enough to move you from aspiration to accomplishment.

Recently, the Women’s Fund of Smith County organized a committee to review our current organizational Strategic Plan. The Women’s Fund is a collective giving circle whose mission is to make high impact grants to transform our community by enriching the lives of women and children.

Collective giving enables the Women’s Fund to leverage the philanthropic capacity of individual members and create a truly impactful fund of philanthropic dollars. Through our membership model, we empower women to make transformative gifts to the community.

It’s a simple strategy, but we might have never given over $2.8 million to 32 Smith County nonprofits if we didn’t have a real plan in place. As we reviewed our plan that had reached its five-year life span this year, we were encouraged to see that many of the major goals we set for ourselves years ago have been achieved.

I wonder if that would be the case if we’d never taken the time to map out a strategy, to be sure the strategy matched our mission, and to be sure the forecasted steps led us to the fulfilment of our vision?

Over the last few months, our committee refreshed our Strategic Plan and added details to ensure our continued growth and sustainability. The heart of our mission is our grants program, and so we created a Grants Task Force, which has been asked to review our current procedures and criteria and to explore potential new giving strategies and practices. We also created a Diversity Task Force which will focus on the other cornerstone of our giving circle – our members, who are the past, present, and future of our giving.

Perhaps the most valuable tool in the revised Strategic Plan is the Action Plan, which lists timelines for each action item. As an individual, you could create a simple plan for your own giving. Determine your own personal vision/mission for your giving – there are countless deserving causes out there, so narrowing your scope to the specific needs you want to meet is important. Look at your finances and get an honest idea of what you have to give. You could jot down what you can comfortably give now and set a goal for what you’d like to give as you grow your giving capacity. Action items might include exploring a huge variety of charitable giving tools that you can discuss with your financial advisor. You could also volunteer at a few nonprofits to dive deeper into their missions and determine the focus of your giving.

You could even take the simple step of setting up a comfortable but recurring gift to a nonprofit you love. Month by month, you’ll build your stamina and commitment to giving and enjoy the feeling of really, truly accomplishing your giving plan. Martha will be proud!

Zoe Lawhorn serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle of more than 350 women with a mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. Any woman with a giving heart is welcome to join our organization. Please visit for information about membership and outreach.