When starting any project from the beginning, the endless opportunities can be overwhelming. The steady stream of ideas, options, and input can have you ready to stop even before you’ve implemented the first step in determining how to start a program.

As the Donor Experience Director at New Story, I’ve been charged with creating an experience so good, our donors want to tell others about us. To start, let’s start with, well, where to start.

starting a program

3 Tips to Get Any Program Started:

Whether you’re developing a customer on-boarding program, an employee engagement program or anything in-between, the methodology of these tips are transferable .

1. Start Specific

It’s tempting to have a full game plan 100% developed before you begin executing. While planning is great, you learn a lot more from actually doing. By just getting started with something, you can build your plan using evidence instead of assumption. Pick 1-2 specific items you can implement NOW while you’re organizing and planning the bigger concepts. When developing our program I started with thank you videos for the largest segments of our donors & experimented with different thank you gifts. Was it perfect? No. But we learned a lot by just testing.

Action item: Have 1-2 very specific items that you can start now and will get you closer to what you’re trying to do. Also, don’t be afraid to test different concepts! If you know you need to start with thank you’s, for example, test different ways to do it to see what resonates best.


2. Begin with the end in mind

What are you wanting to accomplish with your program? Higher retention? Increasing LTV? Brand awareness? If you can’t answer exactly what you’re wanting to do you’ll never know if you’ve done it. My goal in developing our donor experience is, “To engage donors in such a way they feel a part of the brand and can’t help but to share their experience with others.” With that goal in mind, I know that I need to measure the lifetime value of donors as well as referral rates. What is measured, is managed so my efforts should focus on increasing LTV and virility. Distractions will be plenty, so it’s important to have crystal clear goals from the start.

Action item: Determine the specific “what.” Take an hour to reflect on the project at hand. Ask yourself questions like, “What would I want my boss to say about this program in a year? When I think about someone experiencing this work, how do I want them to feel? If I could only accomplish one thing as a result of this work, what would I want that one thing to be?” Once you have those answers you can formulate a clear goal and then be ready to break it down.

3. Think big, breakdown, and execute

This is one of our values at New Story and is vital in beginning a new program. Tip 2 will help you think big about how to start a program, but from there you must formulate a plan. Start by getting everything you need outlined and then break it apart into bite-size sections. Coming up on the end of the year (an extremely “busy season” for non-profits) one of my big goals is to fund a large number of houses through our end of year efforts. To make that goal a reality I started last month and began by breaking down key needs into the three months of Q4. By breaking it down month by month (and then week by week) I know I have a solid game plan to make this big goal a reality.

Action item: Start with yourself, a piece of paper, a pen, and a room for 30 minutes. Write down your answer to 2 on the top of the page with the due date on the bottom. From there, break down your due date and break that due date into key milestones (weeks or months). Then, reverse engineer every single step needed to get to the end result. Don’t forget things like testing, approval, design, and compiling lists!  

Bonus tip: Once you have your game plan, set reminders & due dates on your calendar to hold yourself accountable!

What do you think? I know getting past how to start a program can be tough but I hope these concepts help give you a great place to start.

Learn more about the programs we’ve built from scratch, like our lean participatory design course. It’s a simple course designed to help any organization, anywhere, learn how to bring inclusive design to their work.