Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Strategic Planning Gets Better

These continue to be exciting and challenging times for nonprofit organizations. There is increased understanding among nonprofit leaders about the importance of strategic thinking and planning. The practice of planning itself continues to evolve – and improve. Here are some of the important developments:

Accelerated Strategic Planning: Most nonprofits don’t need to be sold on the value of strategic planning and thinking. At the same time, leaders have no patience for a process that goes on too long. The key is designing a process that gives adequate attention to information gathering and analysis and identification of critical strategic issues, involvement of key stakeholders, and the formulation of strategies and action plans that effectively address identified issues – and at the same time, making the most effective use of the valuable time of the leadership. Related to the theme of accelerated planning, is the growing interest in planning tools and approaches that facilitate just-in-time strategy development on an ongoing basis – a rapid response to new developments and emerging market opportunities that can’t wait for a formal strategic planning process. See the publication that everyone is raving about (and rightly so) The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution by David La Piana.

Collaborative Approaches to Strategic Planning: Nonprofits are showing new interest in collaborative strategic planning efforts in which the focus is on a shared customer/constituent base or pressing community issue rather than development of a strategic plan for their organization alone. Examples of this approach include several youth and family serving organizations developing a collaborative strategic plan to offer new services to children with special needs in a region or neighborhood development groups of the needs board effective strategic planning focusing on affordable housing in city neighborhoods. Such a collaborative approach to strategic planning that involves multiple perspectives can lay the groundwork for new cross sector partnerships that will increase the impact of a nonprofit in the future. For many nonprofits – even those who see the importance of planning collaboratively – this will require a commitment to build capacity to engage in such a planning approach. Here’s a recent news account that describes one such collaborative approach to strategic planning involving the Healthy Communities Coalition and Lyon County Human Services near Reno Nevada.

Reviewing Program Design With Theory Of Change: Strategic planning can also be an opportunity to examine the basic approach being used by an organization to achieve mission impact. The terms "business model" and "theory of change" are terms increasingly in use. We can stimulate fresh strategic thinking by posing questions like: “What are our basic beliefs, assumptions, or paradigms about how things work in our part of the world – our service area, our region, our profession or field of endeavor “What are the root causes of the problem or issue our organization seeks to address?” “Does the organization base its work on a coherent theory of change? “What is that theory of change?” “Is it working?”. For more information about theory of change, go to: The site introduces a process for developing a theory of change, gives examples of this process, and tackles several interesting advanced topics on putting the process into practice. Be sure to take a look at Theory Of Change As A Tool For Strategic Planning and Making Sense: Reviewing Program Design with Theory of Change.

Strategic Planning as an Opportunity for Board Leadership Development: The board of directors, as one of the clearest expressions of its governance responsibility, needs to play a leadership role in strategic planning. Sometimes, executive directors, concerned that the planning process can invite micromanaging on the part of the board, will seek to limit involvement of the board in strategic planning. The concern is understandable but if the board is already operating from a clear understanding of its roles and responsiblities, this is less likely to be a problem. Terrie Temkin, a consultant to nonprofit organizations, has written a series of excellent articles highlighting the role of the board as strategic thinkers. Some of them are listed here: Recruiting Strategic Thinkers, Orienting Board Members to their Responsibilities as Strategic Thinkers and Structuring Board Meetings to Maximize Strategic Thinking Boards.