So you’ve got a strategic plan. Now what?

So you’ve got a strategic plan. Now what?

By Lexie Linger

by Ro

So you’ve got a strategic plan. Now what?

By Lexie Linger

by Ro

by Ro

Your Board just voted on, and approved, your new strategic plan! Congratulations! Woohoo! You did it! 

Now what?

The day after the big vote, your Board members go back to their jobs, and you walk into the office ready for a full day — but everything still feels the same! You have the same number of emails needing a response, fires to fight, and problems to resolve. 

After months of meetings, emails, research, and difficult conversations, you and the Board have agreed on some big goals and bold strategies to achieve those goals. But suddenly, where’s the bridge to cross the chasm from the planning phase to the implementation phase? Even with a strong written tactical plan, the best leaders and organizations sometimes still feel paralyzed and uncertain where to start. 

So, we’ve begun sharing these 5 steps with clients to help launch their plan implementation process without as much wandering, wondering, and woe:

1. Share your plan internally

While interns and volunteers certainly need to know about your new strategic plan, it’s staff that really need to know it, understand it, and grasp their role in accomplishing it. Your Executive Director and Board Chair should determine what part(s) of the plan to share with staff and how to share it. Here are a few questions to consider as you determine your communication strategy:

          • How will the plan affect the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual weekly work of your staff team members?
          • What goals and metrics do staff need to know to do their jobs effectively?
          • Are there any serious changes to staffing or programming that need to be approached diplomatically and with sensitivity?
  1. 2. Disseminate your plan far and wide

As every organization and plan is different, there is no one absolute “right way” to share your plan externally. But here are a few things to think through as you create your communication plan:

a) Make a list of who you will share your plan with. Think about folks like clients; community partners; community, civic, and elected leaders; donors/funders who funded your planning process; other current major donors and funders; and the media.

b) Determine which part(s) of the plan you will share with these audiences. Our strategic plans at Successful Nonprofits® can be 30+ pages. And most members of these audiences won’t read even five pages. So, create an abbreviated version to share publicly. In fact, several of our clients have found success with hiring a marketing consultant to develop a public-facing strategic plan slide deck or PDF.

Make sure you think about any sensitive topics in your plan that need to remain confidential or be communicated diplomatically. As examples, most audiences don’t need to know your staffing plan and you wouldn’t want your clients to find out about a major program change impacting them from anyone else but you.

c) Once you’ve decided what to share and with who, it’s time to figure out the how. This can really differ depending on your audience and what you are trying to communicate. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

              1. Schedule a press release (seriously – a strategic plan should be bold, and bold plans are press release worthy)
              2. Create an infographic to…
                    • Share on social media
                    • Post on your website
                    • Create flyers to share with clients
                    • Post on the walls of common areas at your nonprofit (break room, mail room, waiting room, restroom, etc)
              3. Share your abbreviated, public version… 
                    • On your website
                    • Via pinned links on social media
                    • Through internal staff and Board online portals
              4. Mail or email your abbreviated, public version to major donors and funders. But don’t stop there — include a note that you will follow-up and schedule a time to walk them through the plan.
              5. Send a thank-you email with the abbreviated, public version attached to stakeholders who participated in your environmental scan and planning process
              6. Organize a focus group to discuss delicate changes with clients


3. Create an accountability tool

Your strategic plan has many layers of strategic goals, annual objectives, quarterly tactics, and ongoing metrics to remember. So, the organizations most successful at strategic plan implementation create and use a tool to help them track their progress. Some of our clients have used Excel spreadsheets, created tables in Word, and even tracked everything in PowerPoint (which makes it easy to share at Board meetings!). We’ve seen complicated note systems to simple red, yellow, green status reports. Regardless of how you chose to track your progress, your tool should include any identified metrics or KPIs as well as tasks that should be accomplished for the year broken down by quarter. This way you can easily track your progress and pivot as needed.

4. Meet with your consultant regularly for the first year

We believe ongoing communication with your consultant is an essential step in successfully implementing your plan. Not only does it provide external accountability (no Executive Director or Board Chair wants to show up to a meeting and say, “Aw, shucks. We didn’t do anything this quarter.”), but it’s also an opportunity to talk through challenges and brainstorm ways to overcome them. Strategic plans are living documents and should be updated based on challenges (looking at you 0% unemployment among development directors) or current events (I would bet my savings account no one followed their strategic plan in 2020). And your consultant likely has experience with the challenges you are facing and can help you think through the pivots necessary to get back on track.  

While we include quarterly check-in meetings in every strategic planning engagement, not all consultants do. So, make sure you have a conversation with your consultant about including or adding them to your contract.

5. Set your staff up for success

Now that you’ve created an accountability tool for yourself and made sure you have ongoing support, it’s time to do the same for your staff. Help your leadership team create a tracking tool for their departments or divisions. This ensures that progress is easily tracked and that everyone is clear on roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Also, consider scheduling regular check-in meetings with your direct reports (and asking them to do the same with their direct reports) to discuss progress, challenges, and solutions.

6. Regularly take your strategic plan off the shelf

Don’t let your plan get dusty. You should use it and refer to it often. Here are some ways you can continue using your plan:

          • Share your full plan when onboarding new Board members or senior leadership staff
          • Share your abbreviated version when onboarding new staff, volunteers, or interns
          • Copy and paste portions of your plan into grant proposals
          • Share progress updates with those donors and funders who helped fund your planning process
          • Use your plan to identify fundraising goals and strategies
          • Use your plan to update your marketing strategy
          • Use your plan to draft your annual budget
          • Refer to your plan when you are making big or difficult decisions
          • Use your plan to update your tracking tool (and use your tracking tool to make regular updates to your Board!)


Why I’m Writing About This

Drafting a strategic plan is a commonly accepted best practice in the nonprofit sector. But far too often, completed plans sit unused on a shelf gathering dust. One way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to have a plan for transitioning from the planning phase to implementation.

If you’re thinking about starting a strategic planning process, make sure you check out our own strategic planning services or our webinar page to find out when we’re hosting our next strategic planning webinar, Everything You Wanted to Know About Strategic Planning (but were afraid to ask).

Feel free to share your thoughts!

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