Does the thought of doing a strategic plan for your organization make you grab the magic markers and newsprint or send you running to the hills for cover? If your answer was the later, you are not alone. But strategic planning need not be painful, require too many meetings or result in an unnecessary document that collects dust. It truly can be the opposite of all of the above. There is never a better time to plan than the present. As everything around us seems to be changing so quickly, such as the economy and technology, planning can help you stay flexible and focused to help you work toward accomplishing your organization’s mission.
Still Not a Believer?
Here are just a few of the benefits that an up-todate Strategic Plan will provide.
Getting Focused: A plan will determine the priorities for the organization and how to divvy up your organization’s most valuable resources, time and money.
Orienting new staff, volunteers, board members, and funders: A well-written strategic plan will contain the most essential information to tell others who you are, what you do and how you do it—helping others identify how they “fit-in.”
Raising financial resources: A strategic plan shows potential funders that you have clear goals, and a way to assess your progress and be accountable to donors and funders.
Boosting morale, momentum, and peace of mind: Everyone likes to be included, and a strategic planning process helps to engage volunteers, the board and staff in improving an organization.
Getting the work done: A plan provides a framework to accomplish goals and stay focused.
Finally, research shows that organizations that make a commitment to planning generally outperform those that do not.
Putting a Strategic Plan Together
One of the first things to decide is whether to hire an outside facilitator or to coordinate internally. An outside facilitator can provide objectivity, help adhere to a schedule so that the plan is completed in a timely manner, and challenge a group to think strategically. Some of the other key elements to consider when developing a strategic plan:
Timeline: Decide your timeline, three-years and five-years are commonly chosen for planning.
Include key stakeholders: Determine who will implement the plan and establish a subset of the “implementers” to lead the process, set a schedule, and hold the organization to it. Anyone who will make or break the implementation needs to be involved in the planning in some way.
Gather Data: Being strategic requires understanding the external environment, internal environment, and interests of your stakeholders (e.g., funders, people in the community, government, media, and groups who are not yet allies). A common exercise is to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in those three areas.
Visioning: Create a shared vision for where the organization is heading.
Reassess the direction: Using the data collected, ask the following four questions:
What do we preserve?
What do we improve?
What do we abandon?
What do we create?
Put it on Paper: Now you take all the data and your strategic thinking and put it into clear goals and objectives. Ok—this will take some effort, but it is worth it.
Keep it Alive: Remember to use your plan— don’t be afraid to take it out, modify it on an annual basis, develop your work plans from it, and use it to fundraise.
Have we convinced you that strategic planning is worth your time? Want some help getting started? Give us a call and we’ll help you take those next steps to develop a plan (and tell you where to get the best smelly markers too!).
(Sources Strategic Planning in Western Grassroots Conservation Groups: Lessons from the Field, by Training Resources for the Environmental Community and Nancy Adess, Editor in Chief and The Michigan Nonprofit Management Manual, 4th edition)