Strategic Planning Series Part 4: The Work Group : Successful Nonprofits

Strategic Planning Series Part 4: The Work Group

by goldenburggroup

Strategic Planning Series Part 4: The Work Group

by goldenburggroup

by goldenburggroup

We’ve covered a great deal so far in this blog post series on strategic planning, including:

  • Determining whether you even need a strategic plan
  • Assessing whether your organization is ready to begin a planning process
  • Conducting an environmental scan for your organization; and
  • Designing high-impact statements for your mission, vision, and core values

At this point in the series, it’s quite clear that the environmental scan of the strategic plan is a lot of work! Now it’s time to answer the age-old question:

Who does all this work?

In the participatory strategic planning model that I use, we typically have a work group that is composed of four to five board members, a couple of community leaders, the executive director, and maybe one other staff member. Of course, in this model, a consultant helps facilitate that group.

Work Group members are responsible for doing the “heavy lifting” of the strategic planning process. Specifically, they interview key stakeholders, write summaries and briefs, analyze high-level information, review documents developed by others and stay in touch with the group between meetings. Once the environmental scan is complete, the Work Group then presents this environmental scan to the board at a full board retreat and get the board’s feedback. Then they will return back to the Work Group and really work on incorporating that feedback into the final plan. Then they take that final plan to the board for approval.

How many work group members do you need?

The best work groups have seven to ten members. Why is this the ideal number? A group of this size is large enough to ensure that no member becomes overburdened with work but small enough to still make core decisions easily. So let’s unpack the responsibilities of these seven to ten work group members and discuss the best way to recruit them.

What is the time commitment of work group members?

To keep the process moving forward, the Work Group will typically meet biweekly – sometimes in person and sometimes by phone or Skype. And they meet for at least 45 minutes or as long as 90 minutes.

I’m sometimes asked, “How do you know whether it’s right for the Work Group to meet in person or by phone? How do you know whether a 45-minute meeting or a 90-minute meeting is best suited for a Work Group?

It really depends on two things. The first is your organization’s culture. Some organizations really do a great job at having engaged and active phone or Skype meetings while others function best when they meet in person. In my experience, the phone meetings and the Skype meetings can be a little bit shorter, often 45 or 60 minutes, but the in-person meetings typically take an extra 15 or 30 minutes (so, then you’re looking at about 90 minutes).

Who do you recruit to serve on the work group?

In recruiting your work group members, it is important to identify people who have knowledge in your specific programs and communities that are served. And these people also have to bring something else to the table – like understanding interview techniques, fundraising data and accounting.

In recruiting work group members, it is important to identify people:

  • With knowledge in your specific programs, communities served, interviewing techniques, fundraising, data and accounting.
  • Who can devote one to three hours a week for homework between meetings
  • With the ability to use Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and web-based programs
  • Who are passionate about the organization and its mission

How do you recruit the work group?

Since 60% to 75% of the Work Group will be current board members, there are two approaches to recruiting your board members for the Work Group. The first approach is to explain the work group commitment broadly ask the board “Who wants to volunteer for the Work Group?”

Sometimes, this results in a great work group, but frequently creates a work group with people who are not fully effective in the planning process. And for this reason, I typically recommend an alternate approach of brainstorming the board members who would make good work group participants and asking them individually. Typically, that brainstorm is done with the executive director and the executive committee or the executive director and the co-chairs or chair of the board.

To identify the community leaders who can serve on the Work Group, look for people who can be productive and effective members. Keep in mind that this is a great way to test out a prospective board member. If you might think someone would make a great board member next year, get them involved in the strategic planning process now, and when you’re ready to approach them about board service, they will feel a much deeper investment in the direction the organization is going.

When you’re looking at community leaders though, be certain to avoid those who may have a conflict of interest in serving. If, for example, your landlord has skills that you need and is passionate about your organization, she should still not help shape your strategic direction because she may have a vested interest in you staying as a tenant. If there is a leader of another nonprofit that maybe your organization often partners with and sometimes competes for funding, there might be a conflict of interest there, too. You might not want that other community organization leader to serve on the Work Group either.

I’m also often asked if staff other than the executive director should serve on the Work Group, and I always tell my clients that this is the executive director’s decision. The director can always ask a staff member to work on specific projects or make a presentation for the Work Group, but the executive director should also always be the one who determines the work and the tasks that are assigned to staff. Nevertheless, I do caution against having more than two staff members on the work group, including the executive director.

When approaching your prospective work group members, I always suggest providing a one-page summary of the responsibilities. A sample summary you can use is linked below: Work Group Member Job Description

Now that we have outlined the duties and recruitment of your work group, the next blog post will refocus on the planning process. Specifically, it will review how to  create the initial strategy and recommendations for board consideration.

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