The following post was developed by Dani Robbins, our nonprofit expert and owner of Nonprofit Evolution. She is also the coauthor of the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives winner of the 2012 USA Book Award – Best Business Reference Book.
“Strategic planning is a process in which the board, staff, and select constituents decide the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached. Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all levels of staff and board, and defines the path for the future of the organization. It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.” Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives
All organizations should have a strategic plan. Strategic plans get everyone on same page as to where you are as an organization and where you are going. They allow the group to decide the goals moving forward; create measurements to determine if you met your goals and assign responsibility and due dates for specific goals. While we often hear that in changing times it no longer makes sense to invest time in strategic planning, we believe that it is even more important to have a plan with the expectation that it will be refined regularly based on changes internally and externally.
In the absence of a plan, there are still moving parts, but they’re not aligned. The absence of a plan sets the stage for people to do what they feel is best, sometimes without enough information, which may or may not be right for the organization. It opens the door for one person’s vision to get implemented and others to feel unheard or unengaged. The absence of a plan allows for major decisions to be made on the fly and for potentially mission driven decisions to be compromised. As we all know, movement goes in other directions than forward.
Strategic Planning is a process that results in not only a document but also a shared understanding among key stakeholders. The process – and the document – can be very long or very short. (I have a new theory that the longer strategic plan is, the less likely it is to be used.) It doesn’t have to be a huge, multi-level process that includes benchmarking and a community needs assessment, but it can be if you have the inclination and the resources. For some organizations, primarily larger ones or those just starting out, a community needs assessment may be critical. I don’t generally recommend them for established social services agencies. Most social service agencies are pretty clear on the need and there is ample documentation to support their assessment. In those cases, an environmental scan, coupled with an issue exercise and/or a SWOT analysis may be sufficient.
Regardless of if you select to do benchmarking and have a needs assessment or not, Strategic Planning should include:
- Values, Mission and Vision setting or recommitment. I always start with values as I believe they set the tone for everything that follows. What are your organizational values? What words reflect the way your organization operates, and the way your team talks to and about your clients? What words infuse and reflect your organizational culture? The mission statement answers why your organizations exist. A vision is a description of what the organization will look like at a specified time in the future. There are two minds in the field as to if a vision statements should be a utopian view such as “an end to hunger” or a more concrete view such as “to be the premier youth development organization.” I lean toward the latter; I find it challenging to set goals to get to utopia.
- History of the organization, its footprint and current services, an environmental scan and additional information, as necessary. Planning should include some discussion of critical information regarding program and operations, organizational challenges, community landscape, technology, finances, budget, both human resource and resource development capacities and systems, and the processes and development of the Board of Directors.
- Set Strategies to meet the Vision. Strategies answer what we need to do to get where we want to go – to close the gap between the current reality and our vision. Strategies are broad-based statements that define the path for the organization (rather than the ongoing work of the organization).
- Set Goals to meet Strategies. Discuss what has to happen to get you where you want to go. What do you need to add, subtract or change to get there? What has to happen to implement your strategies?
- Develop Goals into Work Plans with assignments and due dates. Create a plan to meet those goals by including who will do the work and by when.
Once the strategic plan is complete, create a reporting mechanism and discussion opportunities at future board meetings. Strategic planning is one of the five components of Board Governance. Board members should participate in the process and vote on the outcome.
The Board should also assign who will ensure the plan’s success. The options, in order of effectiveness, are the Strategic Planning Committee Chair, Board President, another board member or the Executive Director. Executive Directors are traditionally tasked with implementing and stewarding the plan (and being evaluated as such) but they can’t always do it alone; it is helpful to have a board member also ensuring the plan’s implementation.
There are as many types of plan strategies, variations on those strategies and ranges of fees, as there are consultants offering the service. You don’t have to hire a consultant, but I do recommend you have an outside objective facilitator to help you.
A strategic plan should be a living document that guides the organization and provides a point for ongoing programmatic and organizational evaluation. It should not sit on a shelf.
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photo credit: www.flickr.com Taylor Burnes