“DIY” Strategic Planning

Bage 1Students, teachers and some nonprofit executives are on a different calendar than most other folks I know. Our years end in June and nothing much of great consequence happens until it starts over in September. It’s therefore a very good time for organizations such as mine to venture into strategic planning.

If your nonprofit is fortunate, you may have the resources to hire an experienced consultant to conduct the environmental scan and facilitate the planning process with your board and staff. However, if you are in the “small to midsize” category, you may not be able to carve out the thousands of dollars it could cost. Not to say that expert guidance isn’t worth it—it is. But sometimes it simply isn’t possible.

Strategic planning is necessary for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes. It enables boards and executive leadership to examine the organization and its environment, develop strategies to address emergent issues, and create organizational goals that will lead to a positive future. Because it is such a powerful tool, it can seem overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be. Here are five pointers for effective, do it yourself strategic planning.

  1. Keep it short. Decades ago organizations planned for a 10-year time horizon. Today, you’d be ill-advised to plan for more than three years. The more uncertain your environment (meaning, the more factors affecting your business and the more dynamic change you experience), the shorter your plan should be. In 2008, my strategic plan covered one year.
  2. Focus on more than revenue. Whether for-profit or not-for-profit, businesses fail when they focus only on bringing in money. The Balanced Scorecard is one approach used to ensure a broad analysis. But any method that widens your view is fine.
  3. Take your time with research. What are the experts projecting for your segment of the nonprofit landscape? You should also survey your clients and your partners. Talk to your funders. From all of them you want to know what’s going well, what can be improved upon and what they need. All of the data will help you and your board of directors determine your goals and strategies.
  4. Involve your entire organization. As much as we may pretend otherwise, no one knows your customers and clients like the people who directly work with them. Include your direct service employees along with your management team. They are invaluable sources of information and their insights may impress you.
  5. Keep it simple. Gather your data and work with your board to use it to formulate three to five goals. Each department or division can then develop its tactical goals and action plans (also called operational goals) to bring the plan to life.

If you need more help, there are many books to facilitate your strategic planning process. Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It only needs to be thoughtful and inclusive.

Submitted by Robyn-Jay Bage


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