If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it hundreds of times . . . non-profit board volunteers and staff hate strategic planning. Why? The reasons are all over the place, but some of the more popular reasons given are:
- there is no time to go through such a time intensive process
- the world around us is too chaotic and constantly changing to invest time in planning
- it will just go on the shelf and collect dust
When I hear things like this, I can’t help but hear my third grade niece in the back of my head saying, “Really? Seriously?”
It boggles the imagination to think that very smart people cannot figure out why their strategic planning efforts typically end up on the shelf collecting dust. Usually, when I ask people to speculate about why this happens, they often can’t come up with a good reason and just chalk it up to their belief that planning doesn’t work.
Well, here is a hint:
Take a good, hard look in the mirror and you’ll find your answer.
Too many of us treat the planning process as an end, but in reality it should be treated as the beginning.
The following is a list of mistakes that contribute to ineffective strategic planning efforts:
- not aligning your agency budget with your strategic plan
- not creating committee work plans (or committee charters) with the plan
- not linking the executive director’s annual performance plan with the strategic plan
- neglecting to develop tools such as dashboards and scorecards to monitor implementation
- not aligning your other organizational plans with the strategic plan (e.g. board development plan, resource development plan, marketing plan, program plan, etc)
- not including discussions about parts of your strategic plan on the board meeting agenda
- neglecting to engage key donors in a conversation about implementation of your plan
So, what is the solution? Quite simply . . . start aligning your strategic plan with everything you can (e.g. budget, performance plans, committee work plans, agendas, etc).
If you are looking for a few external resources on this subject, you may want to check out the following:
- The Bridgespan Group: “Living Into Your Strategic Plan: A Guide To Implementation That Gets Results“
- Dennis Miller, author: “The Power of Strategic Alignment: A Guide to Energizing Leadership & Maximizing Potential in Today’s Non-Profit Organizations“
- LinkedIn group: “Strategic Planning for Nonprofits“
What has been your experience with strategic planning? Is there anything you’ve done that helped your agency maximize its implementation efforts? Please share your thoughts and experiences using the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on Amazon.com.
Governance: The Work of the Board, part 5
Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan
By Dani Robbins
Welcome to the final post in our five-part series on Governance. We have already discussed the Board’s role in Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive, Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, Setting Policy, and Raising Money. Today, let’s discuss the Board’s role in setting the mission, vision and strategic plan.
As previously mentioned, Boards are made up of appointed community leaders, who are collectively responsible for governing an organization. As outlined in my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership and summarized in The Role of the Board, the Fiduciary Mode is where governance begins for all boards and ends for too many. I encourage you to also explore the Strategic and Generative Modes of Governance, which will greatly improve your board’s engagement, and also their enjoyment.
At a minimum, governance includes:
- Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan,
- Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director,
- Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent,
- Raising Money, and
- Setting Policy.
One of my goals for this blog is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling non-profit executives and boards how things should be done without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.
What “Board members being responsible for setting the mission, vision and strategic plan” means is:
The Board sets –meaning discusses and votes to adopt or revise — the mission statement, which answers why your organizations exist.
The Board also sets the vision of the organization. A vision statement is a description of what the organization will look like at a specified time, usually 3-5 years, in the future. There are two minds in the field as to if a vision statements should be a Utopian view such as “an end to hunger” or a more concrete view such as “to be the premier youth development organization.” I lean toward the latter; I find it challenging to set goals to get to Utopia.
The Board votes upon the strategic plan, after participating in a strategic planning process “in which the board, staff, and select constituents decide the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached. Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all levels of staff and board, and defines the path for the future of the organization. It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.” (Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives)
The process — and the document — can be very long or very short. In fact, I have a new theory that the longer strategic plan is, the less likely it is to be used. For my clients, I recommend a 4-5 meeting process: We start with setting or revising values, vision and mission and end with assignments, measurements and due dates.
Please do not accept a plan that does not include assignments, measurements and due dates. If you cannot answer the question “How will we know when we get there?” you will not get there. A plan without measurements, assignments and due dates is just a list of goals that are unlikely to be accomplished.
For information on what should be included in the process, please click here.
A strategic plan should be a living document that guides the organization and provides a point for ongoing programmatic and organizational evaluation. It should not sit on a shelf.
All organizations should have a strategic plan.
Strategic plans get everyone on same page as to where you are as an organization and where you are going. They allow the group to decide the goals moving forward; create measurements to determine if you met your goals and assign responsibility and due dates for specific goals.
Strategic planning is a process that results in not only a document but also a shared understanding among key stakeholders.
In the absence of that shared understanding and agreement, there are still moving parts, but they’re not aligned. The absence of a plan sets the stage for people to do what they feel is best, sometimes without enough information, which may or may not be right for the organization. It opens the door for one person’s vision to get implemented and others to feel unheard or unengaged. The absence of a plan allows for major decisions to be made on the fly and for potentially mission driven decisions to be compromised. As we all know, movement goes in other directions than forward.
When it comes to strategic planning, many of my non-profit executive director friends tell me that it is not one their favorite things to do. In fact, many of them told me they would rather have a root canal performed without novocaine than go through a strategic planning process.
I can sympathize with this mindset. Very few people like to wake up in the morning and take a good hard took at themselves in the mirror. Most planning models start with an assessment / evaluation phase, which sometimes feels very harsh and judgmental. If assessment isn’t the objection, then the consensus building process can feel tedious for some people and in some cases it can even become contentious if a few strong-willed individuals hijack the process.
Unfortunately, these objections to planning can erode organizational stability because planning gets put off sometimes forever. Without an organizational blueprint, everything becomes an organic process and decisions get made based upon the loudest voice in the boardroom.
This is not the best way to run a non-profit organization.
When talking to friends who are obviously anti-planning, I usually steer the conversation toward different planning models in an effort to find something that might work better for their circumstances. After all, one size doesn’t fit all . . . right?
Recently, I decided to expand the number of planning models in my consultant toolbox. So, I purchased the following two planning books and started reading:
To be honest, I was a skeptic before I started reading. Now, I am much less so.
If you are looking for a shortcut that results in a comprehensive strategic plan that addresses a variety of strategic issues all condensed down into a one page document, then you will be disappointed. This strategic planning model is interesting, but it cannot perform miracles.
However, if you have one (possibly two) things that need some attention, then this model will work for you. It will help focus your agency those issues into goals, measurable objectives and accountable actionable.
Perhaps, the most important thing to keep in mind is that regardless of the planning model your organization chooses for strategic planning, it still involves engaging a variety of different stakeholders and building consensus around the who-what-where-when-why-how. Most importantly, all planning models must get participants to focus on one key question:
“Which parts of this plan am I so excited about that I’m willing to take responsibility for making it happen.”
After all, planning is not an event . . . planning is not about the resulting document . . . planning is an engagement activity.
No strategic planning model will ever change this basic idea.
On a side note, fundraising professionals should look at this planning model because I suspect it would be great to use with a special event fundraising committee or your annual campaign team.
Have you ever employed the 60 minute, one page planning model to anything at your agency? If so, how well did it work for you? What do you attribute to your success or lack of success?
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC