4 Tips for Stress-Free Strategic Planning for Your Nonprofit
As a nonprofit leader, you have a lot to manage. Your job is a delicate balancing act between serving your constituents, managing the board, leading your team, organizing events, catching up on email and so on. It can be stressful.
The day-to-day work often takes precedence to significant projects, such as strategic planning. Additionally, you’ve likely experienced some common complaints from past strategic planning processes — it takes too long, costs too much and leads to overly complex plans that don’t deliver on their intended results.
For all of these reasons, strategic planning often drops down on the priority list for nonprofits, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are four practical tips that will make your planning less stressful while also strengthening your leadership, exciting your board and building your organization’s capacity.
1. Approach Strategic Planning as a Process, Not an Event
There’s no such thing as the perfect plan.
Repeat that to yourself again: There’s no such thing as the perfect plan.
And yet many executive directors and their boards spend way too much time and effort trying to create perfection. Talk about a waste of time, energy and effort.
Instead, approach strategic planning as an ongoing dynamic process of creating, revising and measuring your plan. With that mindset, you’ll be able to refine your plan over time while building your team’s muscle of executing it.
The process I use is a four-step method called the CAPE Cycle. CAPE is an acronym that means:
- Champion the process.
- Assess your organization and the environment in which you operate.
- Plan your future by creating a simple, two-part strategic plan.
- Execute your plan.
2. Engage Your Team
There’s a saying that I use: “People support that which they help create.” With that in mind, there are many ways to include your entire team in the strategic planning process, both in its creation and execution.
First, you’ll learn more about the organization by engaging your entire team during an assessment, a recommended phase of strategic planning that allows all team members and key stakeholders to provide input.
I also recommend you have one, but ideally two, co-champions for your plan. Their job is to simply ensure that your organization’s strategic planning process is executed and integrated into regular operations.
During the creation of the plan, provide the team with the main focus areas (e.g., fund development, staffing, operations, programs, etc.) you see as the categories in which most of your strategic priorities encompass. Then invite team members to draft goals for themselves and for others within the focus area that applies to their work. Discuss the draft goals as a team to identify priorities to allow everyone to be on the same page about strategic priorities, visions and workloads.
At a minimum, the plan’s champions should meet monthly to review the overall plan and process. I recommend the entire team get together quarterly for a strategic planning meeting to review the plan and measure progress. These meetings are essential; a best practice is to calendar all of them out at the beginning of the year.
Don’t forget to update the team on milestones or changes to the plan.
Additionally, celebrate the successes. This is tremendously important work and taking the time to pause, reflect and celebrate how far your team and nonprofit has come will improve engagement.
3. Leverage Software
You likely use multiple software programs that help you improve communication, make processes more efficient and increase your effectiveness. Using strategic planning software can do the same by decreasing the stress of having to document and track your plan.
One of the best ways to ensure strategic planning success is to regularly measure your results. Planning software makes it easier to build your team’s measurement muscle and reduces reluctance within your team. Sync your plan with your calendar to ensure that you’re meeting deadlines and measuring results.
Planning software can also boost communication within your team and encourage accountability by sending automated reminders to review and measure the plan and any upcoming due dates. Reporting features make it easy to share your plan and any updates with key stakeholders, board members and funders.
Similar to our approach to strategic planning, software platforms don’t have to be stressful. The software you choose should be simple to implement and use.
4. Get a Facilitator or Consultant to Help
Nonprofits typically have board members with many passionate, yet disparate voices. If the thought of leading this group through a strategic planning process is daunting, then a facilitator or consultant can significantly decrease your stress.
A good facilitator or consultant will help you make better decisions faster, teach you some best practices for crafting your strategic planning process and keep everything (and everyone) well-organized and on track.
No two strategic planning processes are the same, and no strategic planning process is perfect. Continue to strengthen your planning process and don’t be afraid to reach out to get some expert help.
These are just a few tips that may help you and your organization create a less stressful strategic planning process. In the process, you’ll be a more effective leader, your board will be happy, and your nonprofit will be able to work more effectively.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Related story: 10 Steps for Truly Effective Nonprofit Strategic Planning
Eric Ryan has dedicated 25 years of his professional life to service. He is the co-founder of Mission Met, a company devoted to making strategic planning easier and more effective for nonprofit and organizational leaders around the world. Although he has focused on serving small nonprofits, Eric has also consulted with numerous corporations and government entities.
In addition to his consulting work, he has started one nonprofit, been an executive director, and served on several boards as both treasurer and board chair. He led the creation of nonprofit strategic planning software, Causey, and is the author of "Mission Met: Proven Strategic Planning Guidance to Help You Build a Financially Secure and Impactful Nonprofit."