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What's Up with Strategic Planning?

Mission Vision Strategic Planning words in a sphere

Do you want to do a better job? Do you want to be intentional about your goals and methods?

Well, that is what good strategic planning is all about! It’s a systemic process in which your organization agrees on—and builds commitment among key stakeholders—to priorities that are essential to your mission…AND those priorities should also be responsive to the environment around your organization. Good strategic planning also helps guide how you acquire and assign resources (time, money, people) to make those priorities happen.

The process itself is strategic because it involves choosing how to respond best to different circumstances in your environment. Unfortunately, some of those circumstances can be pretty hostile…perhaps a “Debbie Downer” volunteer or a competitor who wants to see your organization fail. And to react and respond to these different circumstances—whether threats or opportunities—your organization will do a better job if you consciously recognize your choices and commit to one set of responses instead of another. It’s all about being intentional.

The other reason strategic planning is systemic is that it requires following a structured process and it is data-driven. When I work with a group prior to meeting in person, we delve into the existing data (from the broader community) as well as any in-house surveys and assessments. If the data is limited, we seek it out with targeted surveys, focus groups and/or interviews with stakeholders.

The parts to good strategic planning are: 1) Assess the industry/trends/environment 2) Complete a SWOT analysis of your organization 3) Define your mission and vision 4) Identify your top goals/priorities 5) Drill down to objectives within each of those goal areas and 6) Determine the Who, What, Where and How those goals will be met.

While planning does take time and money—something we nonprofits always have in short supply—it is essential in helping us all do a better job: doing the right thing, in the right way, to support our mission.

Strategic planning is not an end product—it is a means, not an end. And in order for us to do a better job for the people we serve, the plans we come up with must be implemented. But, having a well-developed strategic plan increases your chances of achieving your goals. Planning does this in two ways: 1) it helps the people in your organization focus on specific priorities and 2) it improves the overall process of how these people work together on those priorities.

What isn’t strategic planning? It’s NOT always a smooth, comfortable ride. In fact, good strategic planning helps us to question our assumptions and might feel a little bumpy and uncomfortable during the process. And that’s okay. This is the time and place to question the status quo.

It also is NOT a substitute for solid leadership. It doesn’t replace the need for someone to make hard decisions, but it is the tool that can help good leaders work together and make data-driven, thoughtful choices.

And finally, strategic planning is NOT a crystal ball. It can’t predict the future for you. While strategic planning involves making assumptions about a future environment, the fact remains that we must make decisions about that possible future in the here and now. So a solid plan requires constant awareness and monitoring to make sure we adapt to a changing environment.

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