Monday, March 02, 2009

Strategic Planning in Tough Times – It’s Not Discretionary at All

In the last few months I have been working on strategic planning with several organizations that are very different from each other. What I have found is that the groups I am working with now are more serious and looking more in depth at themselves, their mission and what they are committed to than I have seen before. I believe they are getting much more out of their strategic planning than with groups I have worked with in the past. This new focus is sparking determination and self confidence. Maybe its the Obama “Yes We Can” spirit taking hold on a wider basis. I mentioned this on Twitter and other consultants are saying that they notice the same thing.

Hildy Gottlieb, a noted nonprofit consultant, author and blogger wrote this just last week: “We all have gifts, talents, and resources we can bring to bear to create a future far different from our present or our past. We can create a future that is healthy, vibrant, peaceful, compassionate. If we can envision it, we can create it.” I’ve always known that Hildy is a believer in this but now I am really seeing it in others.
Hildy Gottlieb's Blog

Rather than discretionary, it is more critical than ever to have a plan of how you will deal with this tough economy. Most nonprofits do not have a lot of fat to cut and they are taking some cost cutting steps. However, too many nonprofits think that stepping up fundraising efforts is the way to go. I don’t mean to discourage increased fundraising but the reality is that assets at foundations are off 30% or more, and grantmakers are cutting back not increasing their giving. Go ahead and increase fundraising efforts if you like, but you should also be planning for what you’ll do if your revenues go down instead of up. Here are some ideas to consider in your planning:

Review and Update Your Mission Statement, Programs and Goals
Revisit your mission statement and update it if appropriate. Then assess your programs against the mission statement and make sure you know which ones are 100% aligned with your mission. Make sure that you know what results you want and that you are achieving a reasonable cost. This is essential – to determine the programs which are your priorities and core to your mission. It is a better idea to do a few things very well than scrimping on everything you do so that you are spread too thin. Cost cutting here and there may result in doing too many things less well – not a good plan.

Build on What You’ve Got – Don’t Scrap It
If you have a formal strategic plan, you don’t have to scrap it because of the economy, rather re-visit it and decide which priorities to focus on first and which goals may need to be modified or delayed.

In October I wrote about David LaPiana’s book, The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution. The subtitle says it all - real time strategic planning in a rapid response world - really perfect for today. With David’s approach you can dust off what you have as a starting point, review and update it and then develop a strategy screen and use all this information to ask the Big Questions – maybe just one or it can be more. This approach is an excellent way to drive focus and action to what is most important to your organization and what it will take to do it well. Remember to stay flexible, try different approaches and revisit your choices – your strategic planning needs to be continuous planning.

As with any strategic planning process communications is an essential ingredient to making things happen. Keeping your board, employees and funders current and involved with your plans and planning approach is very important. Funders are making plans and adjustments to how they do business – I wrote about that last month – and they will be interested to see that you are too. Initiate communication with your funders, and find out the direction of their future plans. Boards need to be involved in this decision making and employees are anxious and will also want to know what steps the organization is taking.

It is a difficult time for individuals, business, government and nonprofits. It isn’t the time to take on the victim cloak. It is a time that requires commitment, willingness to make tough decisions, compassion, innovation, leadership, planning and a vision for the future. As Hildy Gottlieb says “Will we be victims or leaders? And then let’s begin creating the future we all want for our world. If we can envision it, we can create it!”


Anonymous said...

I've been seeing so many depressing articles about the struggles of non-profits in the current economy, and it's pleasant to see a post noting something positive. I've been noticing new trends too--a desire to come together, support one another and be innovative to work through the economic crisis. I work for a non-profit, UniversalGiving, and we're working to remain both positive and innovative to face this difficult time.

Thanks for the thoughts on determination and self-confidence, and also for that beautiful quote from Hildy Gottlieb. I too believe we all have gifts that we can put towards a better future, and she expresses the sentiment so well!

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