If you are going to embark on a strategic planning process make sure that the plan will be meaningful and be a call to action. Many of the trends lead in the right direction to having this happen. When you are designing your process – either self-led or with a consultant make sure you are considering these issues.
Here’s a summary of the trends I have seen in the last year:
The strategic planning process has to be shorter than it used to be. I have a process I use with small organizations which calls for 2- 3 closely placed meetings, then a break from meetings as committee members complete interviews, and then 2 -3 closely placed meetings culminating in a whole Board Retreat. How long the whole process takes depends on how long it takes for committee members to complete interviews. When it gets right down to it, this can depend on the time of year it is. Completing interviews is more difficult in November-December and June-July-August. The best time to have interviews conducted is January through May.
Committees Work Harder
I am seeing a stronger commitment among strategic planning committee members who are willing to work harder throughout the process so we can shorten the timeframe without compromising the process.
My favorite committees have always been ones with people who have very different perspectives. I am finding that today’s committees also have someone with a particular important expertise. It is encouraging that these people have often been asked to be on a strategic planning committee even if they are not on a Board. They bring expertise and sometimes objectivity that is hard to have from within.
Boards are impatient if the committee only brings broad goals to them. They are ready to make decisions at the retreat. Make sure your goals are specific – for example, We need to raise X dollars more per year to accomplish these goals within the next three years. The Board Retreat is now more than the first step to thinking about making decisions. It has become the point for decision-making and a springboard for a much-increased pace of action. At Board Retreats that I facilitate today, we take all the agreed strategies and assign them to existing or new committees. The committees have chairs before we leave the room so someone is taking responsibility to initiate the action.
Boards seem more ready to roll up their sleeves and get involved in fundraising if they are committed to the strategic plan and there is energy around specific goals that everyone agrees to. The hard part comes in the implementation phase. That is – equipping board members with the tools to be good fundraisers.
Program and Financial Management Integration
There is a good understanding that program updating – improving and streamlining – go hand in hand with financial management. In almost all cases your strategic plan can’t be just about raising more money to do what you’ve been doing – in the same way that you have been doing it. Board members are interested in having information that will allow them to make informed decisions and they are taking their responsibilities more seriously than ever.
I have to admit that I am actually surprised at the level of interest in succession planning. There is more interest in conducting formal reviews of executive directors and having specific plans to develop emerging leaders. I am seeing more staff participate in strategic planning and younger people being listened to eagerly. How refreshing!
By setting up action committees with specific strategies to be pursued right at the Board retreat I am seeing more active involvement by the Board. It’s like they really get it – if the plan is going to happen – they have to make it happen.
So If you are going to embark on a strategic planning process make sure that the plan will be meaningful and be a call to action. These new trends have tips on how to make that happen.
For more resources, see our Library topic Nonprofit Capacity Building.