(Part One of a Series: Everything you wanted to know about strategic planning but were afraid to ask)
As a consultant, I get a lot of questions about strategic planning:
- What is a strategic plan?
- Do we need a strategic plan?
- How does an organization actually write a strategic plan?
- How long will it take? If we start now can we have a strategic plan next week (next month, next year)?
- If we want a consultant to manage the process, how do we find the money to hire that person. And what does this consultant actually do?
- What components should be in a strategic plan
- How can I overcome objections to strategic planning
Last month, I answered these questions at a presentation at The Commerce Club in Atlanta. I felt it would be worthwhile to turn this into a series of blog posts. These posts might anger some nonprofit consultants because the isn’t always “go ask a consultant”
What is a strategic plan?
Before we delve into whether your organization needs a strategic plan, it would definitely be helpful to review what a strategic plan actually is. While many professionals refer to a strategic plan as a roadmap, this is only one component of a strategic plan. After all, you can have a roadmap in your car but won’t go anywhere if you don’t have a destination. And it also helps to know how you will get the money to pay for gas, food, and lodging; as well as how many hours you’ll need to drive each day to meet your timeline.
Does your organization need a strategic plan:
Here’s a controversial fact that many consultants might disagree with: not every organization needs a strategic plan.
If your organization is a soup kitchen that has for has fed 250 homeless people every Saturday for the last 30 years, you might not need a strategic plan. This is especially true if your soup kitchen has a stable board with a succession plan, doesn’t plan on any major facility improvements, doesn’t want to expand, has a secure base of volunteers, and isn’t interested in doing any advocacy.
Most organizations that don’t need strategic plan are also likely to have smaller budgets and be less complex.
But does my organization need a new strategic plan?
When trying to determine whether your organization need a new strategic plan, there are several questions the organization should ask itself.
As an example, the last time a funder requested your strategic plan, did you wince and think “I don’t really want to show them this plan because we’re not really using it anymore.” Additionally, if you don’t have a current plan to provide to funders you might need to think about engaging in a strategic planning process.
The age of your most recent strategic plan will also probably dictate whether you can refresh the current plan or need a new one. If it’s more than three years old again it might be time to think about planning because most organizations are in a rapidly changing environment.
To help determine whether your organization needs a new strategic plan, I’ve created a dynamic seven-question worksheet so you can see how your organization ranks in this area:
- Are your board and staff structure sufficient to sustain the organization over the next five years?
- When did the board and the executive staff last refer to the strategic plan when making a decision?
- How prepared is the organization for potential challenges and opportunities for next year?
Is my organization prepared to begin a strategic planning process?
While an organization might need a new strategic plan, it’s important to know if an organization is prepared to begin a strategic planning process.
As an example, organizations that are facing a crisis tend not to be prepared to engage in strategic planning. This is true whether the crisis is related to finances, human resource, the board or something else. In fact, organizations that attempt to develop a strategic plan while in crisis often just develop a crisis plan. As a result, the strategic plan becomes relatively ineffective when the organization emerges from the crisis.
Additionally, organizations need to carefully consider if they have the resources necessary to undertake strategic planning. This isn’t just the financial resources to hire a consultant or host a board retreat, it’s also the board and staff time necessary to fully engage in planning.
I’ve also developed a worksheet to help determine if your organization is prepared to begin a strategic planning process. You can download the PDF file: