Before you finalize the work plan for the year, let’s look at your lessons learned of the past year. How can you make sure you use your lessons learned to do better?

Let’s start with your annual work plan

Look at your work plan. Which elements are the same or very similar to things you did last year? Which elements build on things you did last year? In which activities will you work with the same or similar partners? Etc. Etc. Identify similarities and list elements that build on results and activities of the past year.

Activities that are similar to past work

Look at the list of similarities you created. Do you have monitoring data for these activities? Have you done an assessment or evaluation? If so, get the team that worked on these activities together and look at these data. What can be learned that can feed into planning and implementation of similar activities this year?

What if you do not have data?

If you do not have data – let’s create some! Get the team together who worked on the activities and look back. You can find some questions here. Key is to unearth information, not to get stuck on blaming people or making people uncomfortable in case you identify what you see as mistakes. Focus on what you can learn from that – and describe that clearly.

Different perspectives

Look at your past experiences from different perspectives. For instance, look at the internal communication or at the external communication and outreach. Look at the financial side of things. Or put on your security hat. Look at what happened with the team. What are HR lessons learned? Etc.

Be clear

Formulate your lessons learned as do’s or tips as specifically as possible: what is the action that is needed in what situation? For example:

  • If we organize a three-day training for the community, we need to invest at least two times one hour in briefing the external trainer, so that they are aware of sensitivities and needs of our community.
  • To prepare optimally for writing a report for a donor, we need to create activity reports right after each activity. We need to reserve around half a day for that, including a look-back. The coordinator of the activity is responsible for this to happen.
  • Outreach on social media requires one to two hours per day, including responding to comments and engaging with posts of others. We need to include this in our planning and in our budgets.

These are just a few examples.

Different aspects

Make sure you look at different aspects of past experiences:

  • Planning versus implementation.
  • Goals versus achievements.
  • Effectiveness of how you worked.
  • Relevance of your achievements.

Activities that build on past work

If you are planning activities for this year that build on the outputs, results and impact of past work, you must check that these are all in fact present. Get your team together to inventory outputs, results and impacts created in the past year. Check that these are sufficient for you to build your follow up on. If not, add some bridging activities to your work plan for the new year.

Be honest!

It is important to be honest with yourselves. If the past year work has not really generated the impact, results and outputs you need in your new activity, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary challenges and possibly failure.

My key tips

  • Create a learning environment, that focuses on progress rather than looking for mistakes and people to blame. (Yes, this is just about the hardest part of managing any organization!)
  • Set aside time, weekly or monthly, to reflect on what has been done, produced and achieved, with special attention to what can be learned and what can feed into design, planning and implementation of upcoming activities and projects.


Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into my nonprofit support community and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free nonprofit support community

You can join my free nonprofit support community on the Heartbeat platform here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.

You can visit the community via a browser or via an app. Here is the link to download the Heartbeat chat app in the Google Play store.

How I can help you

Here is how I can help you design better projects, including better budgets, to achieve real impact for the community or cause you serve:

  • If you would like a structured approach with easy steps and guidance by me to go from a great idea to an effective project design, that has community support and a workable budget, you can join my Course Project Design for nonprofits here: