Every year when the leaves begin to turn, we field a lot of requests for strategic planning. Maybe pumpkin lattes and the impending year-end fundraising crunch inspire thoughts of a fresh start.
These requests are often initiated in anticipation of a future capital campaign, so it is essential that the organization has a cogent plan in place that is deeply understood and shared by team members. One of the most common complaints we hear is, “We spent a lot of time on the last plan, but it just sat on a shelf. How will you help us to follow the plan?”Does this sound familiar? We spent a lot of time on the last plan, but it just sat on a shelf. How will you help us to follow the plan? Here are 5 essential questions to ask. #nonprofit #strategicplan Click To Tweet
Over time, we have adapted our process to ensure the greatest likelihood that the plan will be a living document that guides overall vision, mission, and objectives for our clients. As consultants, it is just as disappointing for us when a plan we worked on fails to take flight.
So why do plans die instead of fly? Here are five questions to ask yourself
Did We Rush the Process?
Great plans are not crafted by locking people in a hot room for eight hours and expecting to emerge with an inspiring strategy.
Planning is a process, not an action.
A full-day retreat, when facilitated with skill and enthusiasm, can be a great tool for unlocking shared vision. But it is unrealistic to expect the process of discovery, assessment, information gathering, prioritizing, and decision making to occur in a day.
In our experience, more time allows the plan to fully cook and produces a better result. Half or full-day sessions can, however, be a great tool for evaluating progress and updating a current plan.
Did We Leave Some Folks Behind?
People need to weigh in to buy-in. That’s why we advocate for an inclusive process that is neither insular nor confined to the board or executive level.
By far, one of the most effective ways to engage a team in owning a plan is to include them in the creation of that plan. Surveys, program-level discussions, and lunch-time brown bags can ensure the process of gathering input is thorough without becoming unwieldy.
Were We Focused Enough?
One of the first documents we generate in a strategic planning engagement is a Strategic Priorities Summary. After leading the planning team through a series of discussions and activities, we synthesize the input into key themes, which we call Strategic Priorities.
These will become the pillars of the plan and will drive direction and decision making for the duration of the plan.
By far, the most challenging thing for teams at this stage is to make calculated decisions about what they won’t include in the Strategic Priorities. There can be no true priorities if a team cannot let go of some lesser issues or initiatives.
Hanging on to too many priorities sets a team up for failure and disappointment. We encourage the team to use Strategic Priorities to compel difficult choices, thereby focusing the scope of the plan.
Did We Put the Plan into Work Boots?
A great strategic plan helps managers make decisions based on logical assumptions and a clear view of the future. But a goal or strategy is not enough.
That’s why we provide our clients with a corresponding Action Plan they can use to identify the projects or activities that are required to ensure success of each strategy.
Part of participation-based planning is engaging staff members in identifying what role they will plan in executing the plan, so we encourage managers to complete the Action Plan with their respective teams.
Does Our Culture Value Accountability?
When everyone is committed to a clear plan of action, they are better able to hold one another accountable but this means that team members must be willing to call one another on behavior or performance that isn’t up to standard or that hurts the team.
Ironically, team members will be more willing to hold one another accountable if leadership holds everyone accountable.
The most effective teams do not look to leadership to be the ultimate source of accountability: peers share this responsibility. A team that embraces accountability ensures that poor performers feel pressure to improve and potential problems are quickly identified and dealt with openly.
I am a trusted nonprofit consultant with 21 years of experience serving mission-driven institutions. At Rose City Philanthropy we specialize in strategic, people-centered fundraising solutions. We love walking teams through feasibility studies, strategic planning, and capital campaign development. We bring a data-informed approach that is rooted in best practice and honors the unique culture and values of the organizations with whom we work.