During the last year I have been working with several organizations that are very different from each other on building strategic plans. Although these organizations are very different from each other, I am noticing trends in strategic planning across the board in nonprofits. This difference is true even from just a few years ago. I wrote about this in April and made these observations then:
“They are all dealing with external changes that are causing them to take a broad look and where they are and where they are going. So what’s changing?
- · Sources of funding
- · Effective approaches to fundraising
- · Need for program design updating or re-assessment of need
- · Program expectations from people served (what they need/want versus what we provide)
- · Expectations from funders (Outcomes, collaboration)
- · Donors – Who gives, how they give, importance of building relationships”
As I have gotten further on in the year and deeper into the strategic planning with these organizations I am seeing more trends – even though the organizations are so diverse. I have had to be nimble and adjust my own leadership as a consultant. I am really happy to do so because the trends are changing in the right direction.
Here are the trends I see happening in strategic planning with nonprofits:
Timeframe for Planning
The strategic planning process has to be shorter than it used to be. I have a process I use with small organizations which calls for 2-3 closely placed meetings, then a break from meetings as committee members complete interviews and then 2 -3 closely placed meetings culminating in a whole Board retreat. This usually means that I have to allocate more intense time to a particular client at the beginning and end of the process. How long the whole process takes depends on how long the committee members need to complete interviews. Frankly, this can vary depending on the time of year it is. You can complete interviews a lot quicker during January to May than you can during June to August. A six week interval to complete interviews in the Winter/Spring easily becomes three months in the summer.
Committees Work Harder
I am seeing a stronger commitment among strategic planning committee members who are willing to work harder throughout the process and so we can shorten the timeframe without compromising the process.
My favorite strategic planning committees have members who have very different perspectives. I am finding that today committees are also likely to have someone with a particular important expertise. It is encouraging that these people often are asked to be on a strategic planning committee even if they are not on a Board. They bring expertise and sometimes objectivity that is hard to have from within.
Boards are inpatient if the committee only brings broad goals to them. They are ready to make decisions at the retreat. Make sure your goals are specific – for example: We need to raise X dollars more per year to accomplish these goals within the next three years. The board retreat is now more than the first step to thinking about making decisions. It has become the point for decision making and a springboard for a much increased pace of action. At Board retreats that I facilitate today we take all the agreed to strategies and assign them to existing or new committees. Oh and by the way, committees have chairs before we leave the room. This means that someone is taking responsibility to initiate the action.
Boards seem more ready to roll up their sleeves and get involved in fundraising if they are committed to the strategic plan and there is energy around specifc goals that everyone agrees to. The task of getting the board prepared to be better fundraisers falls to the Fundraising and Communication committees in the implementation phase.
Program and Financial Management Integration
There is an understanding that program updating – improving and streamlining – go hand in hand with financial management. In almost all cases your strategic plan can’t be just about raising more money to do what you’ve been doing – in the same way that you have been doing it. Board members are interested in having information which will allow them to make informed decisions and they are taking their responsibilities more seriously than ever.
I have to admit that I am actually surprised at the level of interest in succession planning. There is more interest in conducting formal review of executive directors and having specific plans to develop emerging leaders. I am seeing more staff participate in strategic planning and younger people being listened too eagerly. How refreshing!
By setting up action committees with specific strategies to be pursued right at the Board retreat I am seeing more active involvement by the Board. They really get it – if the plan is going to happen – they have to make it happen.
These are all positive trends in strategic planning. Does your strategic planning process reflect these trends? It should.