Friday, April 28, 2006

Effective Strategic Planning Practice

Strategic planning in nonprofits is most effective when the following elements are present:

First, establishment of a strategic planning committee. If the nonprofit board is serious about strategic planning (and it needs to be!), it will establish a strategic planning committee.

Second, there needs to be a thorough and shared understanding of strategic planning. The term “strategic planning” is sometimes used to describe a range of planning activities. It is important that the process is looked upon in the same way by board, staff and other participants in the strategic planning process.

There also needs to be agreement on outcomes. While it is true that the expected outcome of most strategic planning processes is a strategic plan document, it is also important to discuss and eventually agree upon other expected outcomes. For example there may be a specific critical issue that the board wants to focus on by means of strategic planning. Typically, planning outcomes will include some or all of the following:
· Board leadership and management staff will have a thorough understanding of the critical issues and choices facing the organization over the next 5 years.
· A strategic plan document including a mission statement, strategic vision statement, goals and strategies will be produced. The plan will give special attention to organizational structures that will best support the overall strategic plan.
· The strategic plan will have a day-to-day relevance on management and governance; and
· There will be enthusiasm and support for the strategic plan at all levels of the organization.

There needs to be real commitment to the process on the part of leadership. While there is no one right way to do strategic planning, whatever approach the board chooses will involve time, energy and careful thinking. People will not commit these personal and organizational resources if they are not convinced that the planning process is worth the effort. Sometimes the start of strategic planning process may need to be postponed until leadership within the board and staff have become convinced of the importance of the process.

There also needs to be involvement of many. In order to be effective, strategic planning must involve individuals representing all constituencies of the nonprofit: staff, constituents, funders and donors, as well as other key community supporters.

Finally, the strategic plan needs to be translated into concrete detailed plans of action. Involvement in an isolated strategic planning exercise or a one shot planning retreat is not sufficient. Strategic planning needs to lead to specific objectives which include clear evaluation measures, set on an annual basis by staff, the board of directors and the board’s own committees. This commitment to implementation will also help to ensure that the majority of the board’s time and energy is in alignment with the mission, vision, and goals and strategies contained in the strategic plan.