Strategic Planning
Your Organization’s Roadmap to Future Success!

strategic planning elementsSo why does your nonprofit organization even need a strategic plan? Here are a few good reasons:

  • To set your direction and priorities.
    A strategic plan sets the direction, establishes priorities for your organization, defines your organization’s view of success, and prioritizes your activities. In addition, it helps your board and staff know what they should be working on and what they should be working on first.
  • To get everyone on the same page.
    Once you’ve got your strategic direction defined, you can get everybody in your organization moving together to achieve your desired goals.
  • To simplify decision-making.
    Does your organization’s leadership say yes to every new idea or initiative? A strategy aligned with your mission and goals keeps the focus on your priorities, making it easier to say no to distracting projects that don’t lead to your organization’s success.
  • To drive alignment.
    Your staff and volunteers work hard, but they aren’t working on your strategic priorities. Your strategic plan should be the bus and your leadership the driver. Staff and volunteers should get on and off at the assigned stops, and the bus gets your organization to the right destination.
  • To communicate the message.
    Maybe your organization’s leadership has the vision and strategy for your organization in their head, but they don’t communicate it effectively. When you have a written strategic plan, everyone can see where you’re going and understand their role in getting there.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re getting started on your strategic plan:

  • Keep it simple. You can make the greatest, slickest-looking strategic plan. Still, if it’s too complicated, or you can’t measure the results, it will probably sit on a shelf collecting dust.
  • Keep it flexible. Your strategic plan needs to be a living, breathing guide to your organization’s success. You’ll want to review and make adjustments to it periodically. On the other hand, don’t make it so rigid that everything is carved in stone- adapt as needed.
  • Keep your stakeholders engaged. Make sure the people who will be executing your plan are involved in the process of creating it. Buy-in is essential to carrying out your plan.

Here are the essential components that will make up your strategic plan:

Vision: Vision is the acute sense of the possible.

Mission: A short, meaningful statement that summarizes the purpose that drives your organization. A good mission statement says why you do what you do.

Strategic Priorities: What do we need to focus on to achieve our vision?

Goals and Objectives: Higher-level things you want to accomplish (and by when)

Action Plan: Specific steps you’ll take to achieve your goals and objectives, including KPIs and tactics, and the period of time during which you hope to accomplish these goals (typically three to five years)

Values: What are the values your organization embodies, and how does do these values reflect your organization’s culture?

So, who should participate in the process of creating your strategic plan?

  • Your organization’s chief executive: This is a leadership task that shouldn’t be delegated.
  • Board members: Not necessarily all board members, but a representation from your board of members who will commit to participating in the strategic planning process.
  • Key staff: Select staff members who have important roles and knowledge about your organization- they’ll be instrumental in carrying out the plan once it’s created.
  • Stakeholders from the community: These stakeholders can include funders, partners from other organizations you collaborate with, and involved community members who have a stake in what your organization does, among others.
  • A facilitator: Ideally, this should be a skilled professional who can guide your organization through the process of creating your strategic plan.

Here’s an outline of the basic steps you’ll most likely go through in creating your strategic plan:

Identify your Steering Committee
Your steering committee will work with the CEO from the beginning to the end of the strategic planning process. Its function is to assure that all the I’s are dotted, and T’s are crossed to enable a positive outcome.  In addition to the CEO, the Steering Committee might include the Board Chairperson and/or Chairperson of the Board Planning Committee and another senior staff member with knowledge and experience in strategic planning.

Form Your Strategic Planning Committee (SPC)
The SPC will come together to develop organizational goals and objectives for a 3-5 year time frame through thoughtful deliberation about the intersection of the needs of the community and the vision, mission, values, and capabilities of the organization. Members of the committee should include a mix of Board Members and Senior staff, some of whom will also be on the Steering Committee. Keep the number of participants between six and 12 members to encourage fruitful and manageable discussions.

Identify Stakeholders to Participate in the Process
Stakeholders aren’t members of your committee and won’t be directly involved in developing your strategic plan. However,  they are vital to getting external feedback about your organization and how it is perceived by those who have a “stake” in the services or products you provide.  They may also have specific knowledge about opportunities or potential roadblocks that you should consider as you develop your plan. In addition to funders, donors, community partners, and volunteers, you might also consider getting feedback from clients and vendors-  even employees who are willing to share how it’s going from their staff perspective.  While no one can represent a whole class of stakeholders, we suggest selecting individuals whose perspective you value.

Interview Your Stakeholders
Interviewing your stakeholders and the Strategic Planning Committee members will provide invaluable information about how your organization is viewed by those who have a major stake in its success.  Try to get candid answers to questions like What are the things the organization does best? In what areas could it improve?  Is the organization accomplishing its mission?  These interviews should be confidential and delivered to the Planning Committee in a summary format that focuses on major themes rather than outlier opinions.  Depending on the size of your organization and how much time you’re willing to make for this process, interviewing 10 to 20 people will provide a picture of its strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities.

Perform an Environmental Scan
An environmental scan allows you to cast more broadly into areas that affect the work you do but may not spend a lot of time contemplating in the day-to-day operation of doing the work. It’s helpful to survey relevant data and identify external opportunities and threats that could significantly affect your community, your ability to provide services, and your workforce.  Elements of an environmental scan might include marketplace trends, competition analysis, emerging technology, labor market trends, changes in consumer sentiment, the economy, and the political/legislative arena.

Compile and Distribute Your Data
Before your strategic planning retreat, you’ll want to summarize the Environmental Scan and stakeholder interviews data and distribute this information to everyone participating in your planning retreat.  Keep in mind the level of detail retreat participants will be able to absorb and find useful.  If your staff commonly uses acronyms to identify funding sources, legislation/regulations, or categories of clients or staff. In that case, you’ll want to make an effort to communicate what these acronyms stand for not to overwhelm anyone who isn’t already familiar with them.

Prepare the Agenda and Activities for Your Planning Retreat
Thinking through the Agenda weeks before the retreat is essential to a successful planning retreat:

  • You will be able to discuss the agenda with your senior Board representative and get buy-in for the day’s purpose, flow, and discussion items
  • You can also discuss and get buy-in for the broader details of the meeting that will add to the particular importance of this committee and its work
  • From the agenda, you will be able to create a list of items needed for the retreat, whether internal documents or plans for lunch or office supplies, and start assembling those
  • You will be able to set aside the appropriate amount of time for each section of the meeting to assure that everything is covered and that time is neither rushed nor wasted

Make sure your agenda includes a way to accomplish the tasks that need to be completed during the retreat yet leaves enough time to consider what is presented and needs to be decided. Establish meeting rules, so everyone has input and the opportunity to be heard.  Your agenda flow should allow plenty of time for discussion with a focus on decision-making. And don’t forget breaks for food and moving around, and activities that encourage participants to become part of a cohesive group. Some of the ways you can accomplish this are:

  • An Ice breaker and meeting guidelines during the introductory session
  • Mission and Vision reaffirmation
  • Working together in both the total group and in subgroups if the size of the group permits
  • A mix of presentation, discussion, and consensus-building

Record the group’s findings, comments, and decisions so that everyone can see progress being made “before their very eyes.”

The SWOT analysis should be a critical piece of the agenda. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  This analysis can be challenging- it forces participants to analyze the organization’s current capability.  If your goals and objectives are going to be a “stretch” yet achievable, having external data, such as from an environmental scan, will help you identify opportunities and threats that might influence your future success.  It’s important to be honest about your internal strengths and weaknesses, or as a colleague used to say, your pimples and dimples. A SWOT analysis will help identify where you want to go and highlight areas you need to improve, expand, or minimize internally to get there.

After your retreat, to complete your strategic plan, you’ll need to create your Action Plan.

Action Plan
Your action plan serves as a guide for the steps you need to take to accomplish the goals you declared during your strategic planning retreat. For each goal, the action plan outlines the steps you need to do to reach each goal, who is responsible for each task, when each task/step will be completed, and how you will measure/evaluate your progress toward reach that goal. It’s also a good idea to identify milestones, or “mini-goals” for this process, which will help those involved stay motivated and engaged. In addition, it serves to help them see the progress they’re making toward achieving the goal. The action plan is typically the responsibility of the CEO and other high-level staff. Still, it can also include key board members as well. Make sure to build into your final plan procedures to monitor and modify your plan’s strategies. You should review your action plan regularly, usually every quarter. This will allow you to respond to future changes that may occur from either outside or within your organization.

And voila- you now have your strategic plan! Your final written strategic plan will summarize the results and decisions the strategic planning committee made over your strategic planning process and include the action plan.

Executive Service Corps- Florida and our team of consultants have many years of experience helping nonprofits through the process of creating their strategic plans. You can click here if you’d like to read a case study about a recent strategic planning process we helped Fellowship Recovery Community Organization complete. If you have any questions or would like a free consultation to discuss a strategic plan for your organization, please contact us.