It is a truth universally acknowledged that all thought pieces about strategic planning must include mention of a shelf and something about dust.
(Seriously! Google "strategic planning" and you'll see what I mean.)
Because let's face it: strategic plans have a bad rap, don't they? The common perception is that nonprofits invest significant resources–time! money! energy!–into developing their strategic plans only to leave them on a shelf to gather dust.
Does that happen? Absolutely.
Does it have to happen? In my experience, no.
And so, I'd like to offer five things you and your colleagues can do to keep your strategic plan alive and ensure that it is the worthwhile investment you need it to be.
1. Design an Inclusive and Engaging Strategic Planning Process
The process by which you develop your strategic plan can play a major part in whether it lives or gets forgotten. If most of your staff and board leaders feel like they had minimal or no role in crafting the organization's strategic direction, then they will have little enthusiasm for making it happen.
You can prevent this by designing an inclusive and engaging strategic planning process. Establish a strategy working group comprised of key staff and any board members who want to participate, not just officers. Build in lots of opportunities for the group to gather to ask tough questions, push boundaries, challenge the status quo, rethink your mission and vision, brainstorm creative and innovative solutions, and truly shape the future of the organization. The more ownership and buy-in your staff and board leaders have, the harder they will work to see your strategic plan through to fruition.
2. Build Your Organizational Capacity
By design, your strategic plan ought to be inspirational and ambitious. It should push your organization and its people to grow outside of your comfort zones to try new things in the spirit of serving your community.
But your strategic plan should also be achievable. Nothing will stop you dead in your tracks faster than a lack of necessary resources.
For that reason, you might consider including strengthening your organizational capacity as one of your strategic priorities. Be specific about which aspects need strengthening and ensure that they are aligned with and support your other strategic priorities. For example, one organization whose strategic planning process I facilitated knew that their strategic plan would require greater financial stability and increased staffing, so they included those in their plan.
3. Create an Implementation Plan
Through your inclusive and engaging strategic planning process, you will have identified 3-5 inspirational, ambitious, and achievable strategic priorities. Now what? Your strategic planning is not quite done!
Consider including an implementation plan so that you and your fellow org leaders feel empowered, rather than overwhelmed, in the face of the work ahead of you. The implementation plan outlines 2-3 supporting objectives for each of your strategic priorities. These objectives are not everything that you will need to do to pursue a strategy, but they're just enough to get you started on the path so your tires won't spin.
4. Track Your Progress + Course Correct
In the months and years following the completion of your strategic plan, you will want to track your team's progress toward achieving your strategic priorities. At some regular interval, say quarterly, you can highlight this progress for your board and engage them in a conversation. Are you collectively making adequate progress? Are your activities producing the desired results or change? If not, what are the barriers to success and what can you do, if anything, to remove those barriers?
And here's the really important part: you can update your strategic priorities and implementation plan, if your conversation reveals that is necessary. This ensures that your strategic plan can remain relevant and flexible even when the proverbial landscape around your organization is shifting.
5. Go Public with the Finished Product
Announce to your community, however you define it, that your strategic plan is complete! Help staff and key volunteers to understand their role in implementing the plan. Thank all of the stakeholders who offered their insight and show them how you incorporated their input into the final plan. It may even be appropriate for you to share your strategic priorities with the local media and post it to your website. There's just something about sharing your goals with everyone in your organization and the community at-large to ensure you hold yourselves accountable for working toward the future you envision.
What other techniques have you used for keeping your strategic plan alive? I'd love to hear them!