Successful Strategic Planning

Jun 03, 2011

I once worked with a board member who insisted strategic planning was a waste of time. I’m pretty convinced he was referring to poor strategic planning – the kind of process that leads merely to a pretty document that sits on a shelf and no one uses. Fortunately, there is also good strategic planning, which relies on—you guessed it—a well-led process by someone who understand the value of a strategic plan, the importance of the right inputs, and with an eye on long-term outputs!

I recently read a good post on Social Velocity’s blog from Nell Edgington, “The Problem with Strategic Planning.” I think she’s right on target, and wanted to highlight here her (and some of my own) ideas for making strategic planning WORK. After all, she writes, “to be truly effective at creating social change, a nonprofit organization MUST have a strategy for the future and a plan for how they will get there.”

Tips for success for successful strategic planning:

• Begin with thoroughly understanding the target audience(s), e.g. clients, grantees, funders, etc. (Never to be created in a vacuum among only board and staff!)

• Articulate the organization’s value proposition, i.e. how the organization uniquely uses community inputs to create significant social value. (Never assume that others understand and love its value as much as everyone inside the organization.)

• Work openly and with trust among staff and board members. (No pet interests or hidden agenda items are allowed, and address all of the difficult questions.)

• Ensure that programs, financing and operations are well integrated in the plan. (Never focus only on programs and assume that the money will somehow follow.)

• Think not only in terms of overarching strategies, but on realistic activities. Break broad goals down into individual steps, or tactics, that will lead to measurable results. Who will be responsible for what and by when? How will monitoring and evaluation take place? (It’s not a good plan if it doesn’t drive the day-to-day activities of the organization.)

• Keep in mind how the plan will inspire and compel potential funders and clients– does it set forth a bold vision for the future and a specific road map for getting there? (Avoid maintaining the status quo!)

Edgington’s summary makes a perfect closing statement:

It’s not enough to go through the ‘strategy’ motions. A real strategic plan is bold, compelling, tactical, well-financed, integrated and inspiring. It gets everyone (staff, board, funders, volunteers, clients) moving forward in a common direction from which real change flows.

Cara Crisler
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