Yep, I get it – you hear the words strategic planning and your stomach clenches.  I get it – hang on for a minute.

I had the pleasure – and I really mean that; it was wonderful – of presenting at the Enterprising Nonprofits conference in Green Bay today. I’ve never been to Green Bay – their airport has 12 gates, they are very proud of their football team (I’ll refrain from comment, given my allegiance to the Eagles) and the people are kind, generous and interesting.

One of the topics I was addressing was strategic planning. We talked about why you need a plan in the first place, when to do one, who – in addition to your board – to engage in the process and how to get real and simplify the process.

You don’t have extra time! So let’s not get bogged down in steps that don’t serve you well.

Given the interest and almost desperation to understand these planning issues better, I decided to share a few of the questions that got answered today in hopes of supporting you and your board.

1. When is the right time to do a plan?
There are a number of reasons to plan at certain times. For instance, when you have a change in leadership; when you are considering a shift in mission; when there is a significant external change that will affect your work; when the previous plan expires; when you feel like there is a lack of strategic direction and/or your board and staff can’t agree on where to focus over the next several years.

2. Should we involve our donors in the process?
Yes! Engaging your key stakeholders is an easy and essential step in the early stage of strategic planning. Depending on what questions you want to get answers to, you may involve other folks also such as your volunteers, community leaders, members or participants, alumni, partners and collaborators, etc.   And board members – always engage your board members!  There’s no need to make it more difficult than possible – use e-surveys, phone interviews, or a focus group, etc. to get down to business.

3. Do we really have to hire an outside facilitator?
Here’s the thing – it’s nor fair to ask a board member or staff person to lead this for you. It eliminates them from participating. So you want an expert who can navigate the process efficiently and manage the various dynamics. They’re also objective because they don’t have skin in the game so it eliminates any bias. And you may be thinking – that will be expensive! Maybe. Depends on how you look at it – are you considering this to be an investment or a cost?

If you really are short on resources, consider who you or your board may know who can provide some pro bono services. Or maybe one of your corporate partners or community foundations will fund it. Or maybe a university has a PhD student who could use your plan as their project. Consider bartering with a colleague in town – what could you trade if they could provide you with the expertise you need. Do not let money be a reason to avoid strategic planning! That’s a cop out.

4. Been there, done that and the plan sat on a shelf. How can we avoid that?
Ugh. After all that investment……my best advice is to integrate the monitoring of your plan into the way you work already.  Keep in mind, it’s your board’s responsibility to set the direction and monitor progress – so encourage them to own it. For instance, use your main goals to set your board meeting agendas. Most of what you talk about will fall under those headings because your plan is what drives your work. Maybe 3 times a year you review a simple dashboard, looking at progress on the main goals and then annually you can spend a bit more time looking deeper to ensure you’re on track and discover where you might need to adapt the plan.

Bottom Line: a strategic plan (or sustainability plan or strategic framework – whatever you want to call it) is vitally important for you to get your leadership team aligned around your organizational direction. The community also wants to know that you have a roadmap and that you’re focused on clear goals, not running amuck.

If you have more questions or want to talk more about how to get started, set up a private coaching call with me here. You got this!