Earlier this month, Successful Nonprofits™ and SOJOURN hosted a lunch and learn about strategic planning in Atlanta. In this session, our Principal Consultant Dolph Goldenburg shared details about our proprietary strategic planning process and answered participants’ questions.
Realizing that you and your nonprofit may have similar questions, our Special Projects Coordinator Brianna Ohonba tracked the questions and Dolph’s answers. We’ve anonymized the questions by removing participants’ names and also deleting any reference to their organization in the question (and the answer).
Strategic Planning and Funders
Participant Question: Funders are asking for our strategic plan, and we just don’t have one in place. What should we do?
Dolph’s Answer: Strategic planning should definitely be a priority for your organization.
A Committee for Strategic Planning
Participant Question: What do you think about organizations having a committee for strategic planning?
Dolph’s Answer: I think a volunteer committee is essential for the planning process, though I prefer to call this a “work group”. Because your leadership volunteers aren’t just taking the information given to them and sharing their thoughts. They are actively doing the work of strategic planning. Your work group members should be interviewing key stakeholders; analyzing financial, fundraising and program data; evaluating the mission, vision and core values; and, of course, playing a key role in the board retreat and final draft of the plan.
Participating Question: Is the executive director supposed to be at every single work group meeting?
Dolph’s Answer: Yes, the chief executive should be at every work group meeting. Having said that, they have different home work from the volunteers. As an example, the chief executive’s homework might be to send three years of financial statements to a couple work group volunteers. Those volunteers would be responsible for the financial analysis.
Structuring the Planning Process
Participant Question: In terms of strategic planning, is a difference between a house of worship (church/synagogue/mosque) and a secular nonprofit structure?
Dolph’s Answer: I think the two are different, but every strategic planning process needs to be customized for the organization even though we’re talking about a general framework for planning today. Of course, this is not just about houses of worship and secular nonprofits. As an example, a secular nonprofit that gets 80% of its funding from government will have a very different planning process than a secular nonprofit that receives no government funding.
Participant Question: Is a strategic plan necessary, and can you have a planning process that only includes volunteers.
Dolph’s Answer: If your organization has no staff, then you can absolutely have a planning process with only volunteers. But, if you have staff, your chief executive should be part of the planning process. And in really small organizations, this person might have the title of “coordinator,” but they are the employee who reports to the board and manages the daily affairs of the organization.
Mission Statements, Vision Statements, and Big Bold Goals
Participant Question: Short mission statements can be scary for organizations looking for grants. Funders want certain words in the mission statement, and it’s like we have to cater our mission to them. What are your thoughts on this?
Dolph’s Answer: The purpose of planning is not to cater to funders. In fact, the purpose of planning is to know who we are as an organization so we can identify those funders that will cater to us.
Participant Question: Define “Big Bold Goals.”
Dolph’s Answer: A big bold goal is one that many will think is impossible to achieve but can be realized with laser-like focus and determination that may last decades. Let me tell you about a big bold goal that Rotary set back in 1985. Almost 35 years ago, they set the goal of eliminating polio from the earth. Back then, governments, international health organizations and foundations dismissed their goal as naïve back in 1985. But they developed a simple strategy for immunizing children in 122 countries where they disease crippled children and ruined lives. At that time, there were over 350,000 cases worldwide. As countries and continents started to become polio-free, existing partners increased their investment and potential partners got on board. Today, polio cases are down almost 99%, and the disease is only active in three countries. In our lifetime, polio will be wiped off the face of the planet. That’s a big bold goal.
Here are a few more examples: Lowering homelessness by 5% isn’t a big bold goal, but eliminating chronic homelessness is one. Increasing the number of children with access to healthcare by 10% isn’t a big bold goal but ensuring every child in your community has an annual physical with their primary care physician is one.
Finally – achieving the big bold goal requires the organization to think about its work in different ways. Sometimes it requires building new partnerships, testing new program designs and looking to community strengths.
Participant Question: How is our big bold goal different from your vision statement?
Dolph’s Answer: The two are tied in and sometimes are the same. The vision is end state, the world your organization will have created after fulfilling its mission. If your vision is “A community where no one experiences chronic homelessness,” then your big bold goal might be “To end chronic homelessness in our community”. On the other hand, if your vision is “A carbon-neutral world,” your big bold goal might be to “To ensure every airline passenger buys carbon credits when purchasing their ticket.”
Do you have a question about strategic planning that’s not answered above? If so, click the “contact us” button and email your question.