Does your nonprofit have a crystal-clear direction for the next few years? Powerful initiatives supported by smart strategy? Board members and staff aligned and committed to their roles?  A compelling strategic plan that excites your stakeholders?

A significant part of my work is to facilitate strategic plan processes with nonprofit CEOs and boards. It’s engaging stuff and the outcomes are inspiring (and sometimes daunting, but always inspiring!).

However, I’ve had to tell some clients they aren’t quite ready to start a process, which can be frustrating for them. I just recently saw this great article by Jay Love of Bloomerang that spells out why you might not be ready for this important step quite yet. I’m paraphrasing it and putting my own twist on it here.

Why do you need to go through the process in the first place?

Every organization is different and the development of the strategic plan will vary. A carefully designed, pragmatic and customized approach that leverages the strengths of the organization will provide these benefits:

  • Increased alignment and commitment of leadership through a shared understanding of the current situation
  • Optimized mission impact by setting clear vision and priorities
  • Transparency and accountability through benchmark setting
  • Decision making (e.g. board recruitment) and resource allocation are based on clear goals
  • Increased innovation by exploring options for strategy that aligns with culture
  • Collaborative conversations within the organization and with community partners

Sound like a bunch of jargon and hocus pocus? Let’s break it down…

Strategic planning isn’t for sissies, so let’s be sure you’re ready and set up for success.

1. Financial stability. While you don’t have to have millions of dollars in reserve and a perfect revenue mix with lots of earned revenue, it would be risky to set out on long term initiatives if your financial house isn’t in order. If you don’t know how to support the work, don’t overextend yourself.

2. Time and Resources. A planning process requires an investment of time and money. Every now and then someone may offer their services on a pro bono basis – usually looks like a day of great discussion. However, if you aren’t spending some months engaging your stakeholder community, assessing your current operation and reviewing mission/vision/values, etc. your plan will likely fall short and miss key information necessary to make great decisions. And yes, your board needs to be fully engaged (good governance requires them to set the direction of the organization) and meet several times for a few hours.

3. Strong Board.  Are they fully engaged, representing diverse perspectives for the best odds of making good decisions? Planning is an engagement opportunity and you need enough of the right people in the right seats focused on the right things to advance your mission. Otherwise you risk serious misdirection that may be difficult to recover from.

4. CEO transition. If there’s a chance you’ll be changing leadership in the near future, hold on. There’s no sense going to all the effort of developing a plan that a new CEO had no involvement in. Wait until they are in place and had a chance to fully understand the operation before digging in. Then you’ll have alignment and commitment for the long term. This doesn’t mean you have to stand still in the meantime – keep the work moving ahead, just delay major initiatives until everyone can consider strategic opportunities.

5. Change.  That’s right – planning allows you to do something different. You might stop doing certain things or do them differently. If your board and staff aren’t ready to consider that a strong vision may require you to change things, you may struggle to be as effective as you could be. Planning allows you to be creative and embrace new ideas! Are you ready?!

None of these 5 items are permanent nonstarters.
* You can stabilize finances
* You can allocate resources
* You can develop a board
* You can manage a staff transition
* You can frame planning as an opportunity to look at things differently

So reflect a bit and let me know if you need help getting ready for a strategic plan and/or let’s outline a timeline to get started!

Here’s to your amazing future success!