4 Essential Ingredients in Strategic Planning
It was my first capital campaign from the start. With the help of counsel, we were doing things right. Soon we had the momentum to raise more money than the original goal. But we had no idea what the school’s next priorities would be, and we had passionate donors wanting to make a difference.
So we began a strategic planning process, engaging many constituents to determine our future direction. As a part of this, we were able to discern capital and program priorities to add to the campaign. Armed with this future vision, we increased our success dramatically.
A strategic plan is essential for your organization to determine its future, provide focus and align resources. Through a planning process, you identify the great things about your organization to protect and what priorities need improvement.
With an effective strategic plan, you are required to make decisions (including deferring opportunities) that align with strategies.
After decades of facilitating planning processes, here are Lighthouse Counsel’s ingredients for successful strategic planning.
1. Make planning a process
Smart strategic planning takes time; it can’t be accomplished effectively in a daylong retreat (most volunteers and staff cringe at giving up an entire day). Ideas germinate over time, and to make sound decisions, you must have the right leadership (board, planning committee and staff) at the table and a skillful, unbiased facilitator.
You need the right people involved in the process to achieve buy-in and obtain the best insight about what your key constituencies believe about your organization and need. It’s also essential to do research (through interviews, focus groups and surveys) to uncover perceptions and insight that you can balance with facts, such as trends in your industry.
When you embark on a planning process, you can place parameters on what elements are up for review, such as your organization’s vision or mission statement. We believe you should look at both every cycle.
However, you can’t have an agenda. One past client’s goal for the planning process was to reduce the size of the board. This was not an outcome. We also have seen a new CEO come on board and rewrite the plan — while the board watched. Needless to say, the board did not have buy-in. Planning isn’t about one person or an agenda, but about making the best decisions for the health and success of your organization.
2. Keep the planning process strategic
In our model, a carefully selected planning committee (sometimes the board as a whole) provides leadership for the process. It is best to keep the planning process strategic in focus (this is another reason why using an outside facilitator is beneficial). This is also good training and reinforcement for the board to remain strategic. Once the board approves the framework of the plan, it is delegated to staff to put actionable legs to it.
3. Failing to execute makes it a wasted effort
By involving many in the planning process, you build accountability. As you implement the plan, you must have a staff leader accountable for the tracking and execution. You can involve staff and even board teams as appropriate.
Schedule regular updates at board and staff meetings. Carve out time for an annual, in-depth review of the plan and retool as needed, with board approval.
4. Communicate the plan
You’ve invested a lot of resources into developing a vibrant plan that will take your organization to new heights. Communicate this vision!
Select a plan name that summarizes where you’re headed. The plan name can serve as a rallying cry for the organization and perhaps for a resulting campaign.
Share details about the plan with those who participated in the process. Make visits to key investors and partners to share your vision (a great excuse to get together), and solicit their insight (remember, a good plan is continually updated).
Develop methods to communicate your strategic plan throughout your organization (such as staff meetings, donor gatherings and volunteer groups) as well as through newsletters, your website and other forms of communication. As you make your plans public, you increase accountability for achieving your goals.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.