Saturday, March 21, 2015

Strategic Planning: The Process

Strategic planning is incredibly important for nonprofit organizations. It is good, proactive work that establishes a framework for organizational continuity. Strategic plans link decision making with the environment and in doing so, they make an organization more effective. They also allow for: coordination, communication, progress and evaluation in ways that cannot compare to doing so without a strategic plan. 

1. When an organization starts the strategic planning process, it is important that they focus first on their mission. What is the reason for it's existence? Since a mission defines what makes an organization unique, time should be spent finding the right words and phrasing. The right mission will serve as a constant reference point for the organization (Renz, 2010), thus, it should be prioritized.
  • A few good methods for exploring mission include, brainstorming, nominal group technique and the implication wheel. All of these tools allow an organization to work through establishing the mission while including a variety of voices and opinions.
2. The next step is to perform internal and external analyses. Internal analyses examine staff capacity, the volunteer base, financial capital and organizational structure. External analyses evaluate the social and political environments and other outside factors that influence the organization. A focus on ideas and decisions that include what's going on in the external environment and not just within internal communications (Renz, 2010) will elevate the organization and link members to making an impact. Both of these must be explored in depth during the strategic planning process. 

3. Articulating a vision is also an important step in the process and since superior strategic planning prioritizes including all stakeholders, identifying a long-term vision with a larger audience can be a powerful experience. Diverse stakeholders not only bring more talent, more interest and more value to the organization, but they also provide cohesion and commitment (Kotter, 2006) in the long term. A nonprofit might start with one dedicated person, but with the right dialogue and engagement of stakeholders in the long-term planning process, that one will become 15 or 50--who together, are able to make a big impact. 

4. After the base of the plan has been examined, and the mission, external and internal assessments and vision have been defined, a nonprofit should focus on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOTs). Exploring SWOTs as a group will give problems the appropriate weight and context. SWOTs also allow an organization to recognize conflicting values and overlapping trends. Many nonprofits find that identifying SWOTs allows them to pinpoint weaknesses they thought they had shelved: problems articulated within a different paradigm or ignored all together. 

5. Good strategic planning processes also include--believe it or not--good strategy. Good strategy and well-thought out plans are essential for future success. When the team focuses on questions that are strategic, like: "what unique position are we in" or, "what will our cumulative effect be over time," they will move forward faster and further than if they planned with questions about steps or how-to's. Strategy allows nonprofits to take problems at the right time and in the right sequence. Then, plans conceptualize a way out. Plans provide a timeline with detailed benchmarks for implementation.

6. Lastly, if you start a plan with a clear vision of the expected outcome, you are more likely to succeed (United Way, n.d.). This is because backwards planning has direction, and in turn, takes a more efficient path. Planning evaluation measures from the start is no different. And evaluation is the last important step in the strategic planning process. Setting evaluations measures up front will keep expectations high. Some nonprofits tend to evaluate programs based on the context instead of on the vision, but articulating what the outcome should be in the first place will keep programs honest. Doing so will also make easy work of: forming benchmarks, rooting out misconceptions, and breaking down the abstract into manageable pieces. 

In sum, interacting with the strategic process moves organizations forward. It also shines light thru the darkest of holes. There’s no doubt that time spent upfront with planning is gained back in spades, and gained back for all stakeholders involved. Plus what's so cool about strategic planning is that it achieves the mundane in the process, like; helping individuals understand their colleagues' needs, working styles and personalities; improving methods and modes of communicating deadlines and; clarifying roles, which supports working norms, commitments and assignments for the staff, board and the community. For all of these reasons and many others, strategic planning is an absolute must for any nonprofit organization. 

  • Kotter, J. (2006). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review. 
  • Renz, David O. and Associates (2010).  Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • “Strategic Planning Process.”  United Way of Dane County.  n.d. Retrieved from

Friday, March 20, 2015

When Teamwork Goes Awry

When Teamwork Goes Awry

As a child, we are taught that teamwork allows us to achieve our goals faster and better than working alone. It is true, when two eight year olds get together to work on their math homework it usually gets done faster and better.  However when complex agencies try to collaborate to achieve goals, teamwork does not always produce efficiency and effectiveness.

 As the saying goes: one plus one does not always equal three.

Collaboration occurs between all sectors of society including non-profit, for-profit, and government agencies. It can appear to be an enticing and positive solution to collaborate with another agency to solve mutual goals. As we saw in the three cases presented last week, however, collaboration requires a good deal of planning and foresight in order to be effective. There were several common themes or issues in the cases presented in class that highlight the potential opportunities and challenges involved in collaborating across these sectors.

Before I explain, however, I would like to outline which sectors each case represents so that we are all on the same page.

-Non-profit-Government: La Alianza and Massachusetts Department of Social Services
-Non-profit-For-profit: Community Involvement and Timberland
-Non-profit-Non-profit: Seattle Art Museum and First Things First

Now that everyone is speaking the same language, I want to show how the issues presented in these cases provide an interesting backdrop to discuss the pros and cons of collaboration between sectors.


1. Funding:

            -Non-profit-Government: In this case, there was no specific policy in place in the event that demand for CPS services exceeded the supply of funding (Sharma, 1998).  An opportunity of creating a non-profit-government collaboration is increasing the scope of services that are provided to a community. Many times, however, the government creates social mandates that agencies are required to carry out, but provide little or no funding for these new provisions.  In this way, collaboration could increase the rules non-profits are required to follow without necessarily increasing the funding to meet these new regulations.

            -Non-profit-For-profit: When Timberland began to face financial hardships it scaled back it’s funding to City Year and the collaboration began to dwindle. For-profit and non-profit organizations face different bottom lines. For-profits are ultimately focused on profitability while non-profits are concerned about social justice missions (Herman, 2010). When for-profits are profitable, the collaboration can flourish, however when these companies face financial hardships the collaboration may bottom out.

            -Non-Profit-Non-Profit: In this collaboration, the Seattle Art Museum provided most of the funding while First Things First provided the manpower to get out the vote. Funding can be a cakewalk if one non-profit organization has the funds to support another financially in a collaboration. If two small non-profits decide to collaborate, however, there it may become more difficult to discern how to raise funds (Sharma, 1998)
Lack of Shared Vision

2. Lack of a Shared Vision

            -Non-profit-Government: Government agencies represent taxpayer interests while non-profit organizations represent the community’s needs.  Collaboration could increase the efficacy of services to both populations. In this case, however, a divide between preventative and punitive abuse services resulted in a merger that would not be sustainable (Sharma, 1998)

            -Non-profit-For-profit: In this case, mission drift occurred for both organizations because there was not a clear vision for the collaboration. Timberland failed to put the shared mission above it’s own agenda which ultimately hurt the alliance (Herman, 2010).

            -Non-profit-Non-profit: Both the art museum and First Things First had a clear mission and were successful in the passing of the referendum. It may be difficult, however, to integrate two passionate non-profits because the heart and soul of a non-profit is its mission statement (Herman, 2010).

Herman, R. (2010).  The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management (3rd ed).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sharma, J. & Missey, A. (1998). How I Learned to Stop Griping…And Love Collaboration. National Community Service Conference, New Orleans, LA.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Setting the Direction with Strategic Planning

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.
-       Lewis Carroll

This paraphrase from Alice in Wonderland is an often-cited quote, and originates from a conversation between Alice and the Cat. It has resonance, because it is true for many aspects of life: agency requires informed choices. It all comes down to a sense of direction. You need to know where you’re going, in order to take the necessary steps to get there. Strategic planning is the process that will enable you to do this.

First of all strategic planning forces a nonprofit, or any other organization for that matter, to explicitly frame the most important issues and thereby take a stand and act on it. Initiating a strategic planning process will help illuminate and attend to possible disagreements concerning mission, vision, or shorter term goals within the organization. If kept in the dark, these will only lead to friction and fractions possibly moving in different directions, resulting in the nonprofit getting nowhere.

The first step is to revisit the mission. This part can be left out if it is the first time a nonprofit takes on strategic planning. This process should include stakeholders and will ideally spark a dialogue that will enhance the feeling of inclusion (Bryson, 235). Strategic planning ensures that everyone is heard and facilitates commitment and continued support to the process. Different techniques such as the Implications Wheel or Nominal Group Technique can facilitate this.

Considering the mission, which could be translated into a particular nonprofits unique reason for existence, an analysis of the external environment, in which the nonprofit is situated, and its internal capabilities should be conducted before establishing a vision (United Way, 2). The vision should provide everyone with a sense of where the nonprofit is going and sets the direction for more concrete goals and objectives, that will be set later in the process.

Next up SWOT’s is an excellent tool to for an overall assessment of the nonprofit. This will provide the framework for formulation of strategic issues the nonprofit should develop a strategy for its response to (United Way, 3). It is important to highlight the fact that even though this seems as a step-by-step process, it is often necessary to work iteratively and especially to ensure feedback to every step of the strategic planning, so adjustments can be made when revisiting each step.

Finally concrete, measureable goals should be a result of the strategic planning. This will enable everyone to monitor the progress and create the sense of direction needed in order to map out the path to completion of established goals. It should be considered how to create reward systems that will support this in a constructive way. As such this will “make the challenge inescapable for everyone in the company” (Hamel & Prahalad, 68).

Another benefit of strategic planning is that it increases effectiveness in the organization.  With an increasing pressure for efficiency, accountability, and results, strategic planning is a necessary tool to ensure future viability of the nonprofit (Ebrahim, 101). This will get rid of unnecessary processes and engage the leadership. Keeping it simple is key to effectiveness, and strategic planning will support this.

As many benefits as there are to strategic planning, you can be sure that the environment is going to change (Brown, 214). Whether it is legislation, a crisis, shift in attitudes and support, turnover, or that you learn underway that what you are doing isn’t working as planned. One element that should be included in the planning process is to visualize what could go wrong and how the organization would respond to adopt. Hopefully this will enable the organization to act faster and adjust to a changing environment.


Brown, William A. "Strategic Management." Robert D. Herman & Associates. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management 3. Ed. David Renz. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 206-229.

Bryson, John M. 2010. Strategic Planning and the Strategy Planning Circle. In: Renz, David O. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA

Ebrahim, Alnoor (2010). The Many Faces of Nonprofit Accountability. In: Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

Hamel, G. and Prahalad, C.K., “Strategic Intent,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 1989, page 66.

United Way. Strategic Planning Process, page 1-7. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Importance of a Plan

Imagine you are taking a road trip, but have not taken the time to pack, fill your car up with gas, or check a map to see where you are going or how to get there.  With no plan or preparation, the likelihood of a successful road trip (or a smooth one, at least) becomes slim.  While the analogy is not perfect, the lack of planning within an organization is similar.  Who wants to drive sixty miles out of town, realize that they are heading in the wrong direction and then realize that they are out of gas?  Likewise, it is not productive for an organization to work hard, realize that they are heading in a direction that they do not want to go, and/or realize that do not have enough resources to accomplish what they set out to accomplish.  This is where strategic planning comes in.    

Strategic planning is an important process for organizations to work through in order to evaluate where they are, and determine where they are going as well as how to get there.  Through the strategic planning process, organizations are able to develop a road map to direct its steps.  It gives organizations the opportunity to assess the current internal and external environments and move forward accordingly. Furthermore, it allows organizations to be proactive instead of reactive.  This creates cohesion within the organization, gives each person within the organization a clear direction, and increases the likelihood of the organization being successful.    

The strategic planning process is just that…a process.  It takes time and there are several components to an effective strategic planning process:

Decide to Create a Strategic Plan

First, there must be an agreement within the organization to go through a strategic planning process as well as how that process will take place.  What will this process look like?  Who will create the strategic plan?  What other people will be involved and to what extent?  Organizations typically have many stakeholders, and it is important to get buy in as well as knowledge and input from these key people who will be helping to implement and/or be impacted by this plan.

Determine Vision

In order to be successful, and organization must know what success looks like.  It must determine what the purpose or the mission of the organization is and any guiding principles that the organization will uphold.  With the focus of a mission, the organization will have a clear direction to go in the remainder of the planning process. 

Assess Internal and External Environment

Before any strategies or plans can be laid, the current environment must be assessed.  This is done through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.  What is the organization doing well or not well?  What resources are available?  What resources are needed?  What is the current political environment?  What is the public view of the organization?  What are the needs of the community?  Once this assessment takes place, the organization will be better equipped to create a plan that will be successful within its current environment.

Develop Strategic Issues

From here, an organization can develop strategic issues.  These are critical issues and challenges that impact the organization’s mission, products or services, stakeholders, and/or processes.  It is important to determine which issues are most important to address as well as to assess the probability of the issue being successfully addressed. 

Develop Strategy and Plans

Now it is time to determine how the organization is going to address each strategic issue.  Steps must be determined and put in place in order to reach the desired outcomes.  It is through these strategies and plans that the organization is able to be on the same page in regards to how the goals of the organization will be reached. 


Evaluation is a crucial element of the strategic planning process.  Without intentionally evaluating the effectiveness of the plan, it is difficult to determine what is working and what is not.  Evaluation should take place on a recurring basis and components that are being effective should remain, but components that are ineffective should be changed. 


Howard, Leslie (2015).  Personal Communication

Renz, David O. and Associates (2010).  Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

“Strategic Planning Process.”  United Way of Dane County.  Retrieved from

The Importance of Being Strategic

Strategic planning is a formal road map that analyses the way an organization operates, how effective it is at executing various functions, where it is going in the future, and how it is going to get there. Strategic planning helps management better understand their organization on a number of levels, in turn allowing them to focus their resources, time, and efforts in the right (and, importantly, the same) direction. 

An organization can utilize many different frameworks and methods in the strategic planning process; most have a pretty similar sequence and their steps have similar characteristics. They can be grouped into four general parts:

1. Analyzing/assessing the organization's current status as well as external environments. At this stage, management and other key players focus on getting to know the ins and outs of the organization and its environment. It also includes, as Jossey and Bass point out, "identifying organizational mandates," or the formal/legal "must-dos" that can include legislation, ordinances, regulations, contracts, and more. Another key task is to evaluate the organization's mission and vision. A document from the United Way defines an organization's mission as its "reason for existence," a "constant reference point" that "defines basic philosophy but is never completely attainable." An organization's vision is its short- and long-term goals in the context of the mission. Evaluating the mission and vision is important for many reasons. It helps ensure that everyone is on the same page about the organization's purpose, channeling the discussion in a productive direction. 

The mission is also held close in mind while completing a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is an important tool that assesses an organizations' Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Strengths. A strength is any internal activity or position that could help an organization achieve its mission; a weakness is any internal activity or position that would do the opposite. An opportunity is any external position, trend, or issue that could improve the ability of the organization to accomplish its mission; a threat, once again, is an external position, trend, or issue that could hinder the organization's ability to accomplish its mission. A SWOT analysis helps identify key strategic issues an organization will face. According to Jossey and Bass, such issues are "fundamental policy questions or critical challenges" that affect an organization on a variety of levels. 

2. Forming and documenting a strategy. Properly framing strategic issues can be tough, but it is key to success in this second stage. Here, management and other players develop detailed strategies to deal with the issues found in the first stage. An Impact Probability Chart can help determine which issues are most pressing in terms of their potential influence and how likely they are to occur. 

3. Carrying out a strategy. Perhaps the most important part of this stage is developing an action plan. An action plan details who is responsible for what, what expected results are, specific objectives, action steps, timelines, communication processes, review processes, and accountability procedures. The plan should include hard deadlines and figures, i.e., "Increase membership by 15% within the next 9 months." It should answer questions such as "How will we increase membership? Who will be in charge of this effort? How often will they update us on their progress?"

4. Evaluating progress and reassessing strategy. When a good strategic plan fails, it is often because management and other key actors did not reconvene to assess the effectiveness of the plan. Some of "checking in" will be done as part of the action plan from stage three, but a closer look at the overall effectiveness of your strategy will be necessary. What has been successful? What hasn't? Have we been true to our mission? What were the strengths and weaknesses of our strategic planning process?

Kaplan, Robert and David Norton. 1992. "The Balanced Scorecard: Measures that Drive." Harvard Business Review. 
Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. United Way of Dane County. No date. “Strategic Planning Process.”

Strategic Planning: Don't Let Good Intentions Go To Waste

While improvising an organizational plan as you go along may seem an attractive and time-saving option, it ultimately will prevent an organization from reaching its full potential. Organizational leaders may feel that the organization's expertise and good intentions will allow them to navigate challenges as they arise. While employee & volunteer expertise and good intentions are invaluable assets to an organization, this is not the best way to put these abilities to use. To the contrary, it is the role of leaders to tap into the expertise and good intentions that exist within an organization and channel those into the organization's strategic development. Strategic management scholar, John M. Bryson, writes: "Think of strategic planning as organizing hope, as what makes hope reasonable" (Bryson 2010). Even the best of intentions can get lost if the organization is not operating strategically and intentionally. The strategic planning process is undoubtedly unique to each organization, but a few key steps should play a role.

1. Revisit the Mission
Put candidly, if you don't know what you're trying to do, you're probably not doing it. Make sure the mission reflects the organization's values and clarifies the organization's reason for existence. The mission should serve as a reference point for employees and stakeholders (United Way of Dane County).

2. Articulate a Vision
Similarly, if you don't know where you're going, you're probably not going to get there. An organization's vision should dictate what kind of future the organization seeks to create. The vision should help employees & volunteers understand the direction of the organization's work in the short or long term (United Way of Dane County).

3. SWOT Analysis
The Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis encourages organizations to look at their internal and external environments and move forward with a strategy that capitalizes on and addresses these categories, respectively. Looking at strengths and weaknesses requires reflecting on internal aspects while opportunities and threats are external and should be considered in a strategic planning process accordingly (Bryson 2010).

4. Define a Strategic Issue 
The identification of a strategic issue facing the organization is a helpful part of the strategic planning process. The United Way of Dane County identifies characteristics of a strategic issue: "An internal or external development that could impact the organization's performance to which the organization must respond in an orderly fashion and over which the organization may reasonably expect to exert some influence" (United Way of Dane County). The process of addressing strategic strategic issues should include significant dialogue with and expertise from stakeholders. 

5. Make the Plan a Reality
An intentional and well-developed implementation process provides the link between strategic planning to strategic action. The process should include a schedule for planned future actions/changes, designate roles and responsibilities, list specific action steps to take, detail resources required and establish a communication process (Bryson 2010).

After your strategic plan is successfully developed and implemented, it is critical to revisit the plan to reassess strategy and make changes as necessary. Certainly, strategic planning is not always such a clear process, but this framework will put your organization in the best place for a successful strategic planning process. 


1.United Way of Dane County. Strategic Planning Process.
2. Bryson, John M. 2010. Strategic Planning and the Strategy Planning Circle. In: Renz, David O. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

Strategic Planning: WHY you must and HOW to go about doing it

People often advocate for non-profits to do strategic planning until it has almost become a cliché. You might be aware of "it" and know basically that it is good to do, but you may not know what it can offer to organizations and how best to go about the process.  Below I will explain some key reasons why you must do strategic planning and how to go through this cyclical process.

WHY you must:
First, why go through strategic planning?  Why should you integrate in as a process within your organization?  In addition to the references identified at the end of the post that I use throughout the post, Wilkinson (2011) in "Why You Need a Plan: 5 Good Reasons" offers some key reasons:

  • To understand your core mission
What is the reason for the organization's existence?  What makes the organization unique?
  • To identify your vision to carry out the mission
Where is the organization going?  In the long-term?  In the short-term?  How does it connect to the mission?
  • To get everyone in the know and on board with the mission and vision
Does the board, leadership, staff, clients, and community know what the organization wants to accomplish?  Does the goals align with all stakeholders needs?  Can the organization communicate a unified message about who the organization is and what it does?
  • To identify what stands in the organization's way of achieving the mission and vision
What internal weaknesses and external threats issues pose barriers to achieving the organization's goals?
  • To identify what will help the organization achieve the mission and vision
What internal strengths and external opportunities can the organization utilize to move the organization's goals forward?
  • To create a plan for action moving forward to carry out the mission and vision
What steps need to be taken?  Who needs to be involved?  What is needed to move forward?
  • To determine how to know if the organization is fulfilling its mission and vision
How does the organization measure its progress in its goals?  How does the organization evaluate its success?

HOW to go about doing it:

To summarize, strategic planning allows your organization to conceptualize:

  • Your mission 
  • Your long-range vision 
  • Your internal and external environment via identifying your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (aka SWOTs)
  • Your strategies for these issues 
  • Your plans to address these 
  • Your means to evaluate how your actions fit with what your organization identified  
The process includes doing different methods to generate ideas about each step and come to a consensus about each before going on to the next item. Moreover, this process that I just laid out should be thought of as a cycle.  The process should continue over time (as your organization and the environment around it changes), and the previous process should help build to the next cycle. 

I seen to be making bold claims about what strategic planning can do for your organization, but I want to add a caveat.  How you conduct and integrate the strategic planning process and make it into a cycle will greatly affect the process's effectiveness.

Some keys to making this process work:

  • Engage all key stakeholders in the process.
Who is present matters a lot for strategic planning.  If only internal stakeholders are included, your organization will miss a key opportunity to create a dialogue with external stakeholders, such as clients and the community.  Not only would you miss an opportunity to engage, your process might become miss key opportunities and threats to your organization
  • Create buy-in at all levels in the process
Not only should leadership be invested in the process but staff and other stakeholders as well. Everyone should take part, be invested, be LISTENED to.
  • Allow enough time to go through the process 
This process takes TIME.  Allow your organization the time and space to carry it out.  Prioritize it as a process worth investing time and resources in.
  • Integrate this process and its into the other activities of the organization.  Continue to go through the strategic planning process periodically.
The resulting strategic plan needs to be integrated with the organization.  Organizations and their contexts change and so, organizations need to treat strategic planning as cyclical - a process to continue to go through and re-integrate.  

In sum, strategic planning takes time and energy, but the process is vital for nonprofit organizations to works towards achieving their dreams.

Some good resources on strategic planning (that were also used throughout this post):

  • United Way of Dane County. No date. “Strategic Planning Process.”
  • Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 
  • (Especially: Bryson, John M. 2010. "Strategic planning and the strategy change cycle." The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Ed. David Renz. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 230-261.)

Strategic Planning: Why & How

Strategic planning can be touted as an important process1, but what’s the real benefit of strategic planning and what are the most important aspects of strategic planning? In our course we identified some reasons why strategic planning is important (most of which can be supported by the Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management1,2) and in re-examining these reasons the benefits of strategic planning can be grouped into three overarching themes: a well-informed and unified sense of direction; a thorough evaluation of opportunities and threats; and avoidance of confusion, wasted resources, and failed initiatives.
A well-informed and unified sense of direction results from strategic planning as it brings together representatives of the organization and key stakeholders. Diverse perspectives can help to establish, clarify, or redefine the mission, and those involved then have investment in the direction the organization plans on taking and a clear sense of what they need to do to achieve the goals of the organization. Those involved in the process also facilitate a thorough evaluation of opportunities and threats. The organization can identify and take advantage of opportunities both internally and externally that will leave them better equipped to fulfill their mission and can also identify threats to the successful fulfillment of their mission and determine ways to circumvent or overcome those threats. Finally, strategic planning can help the organization avoid confusion, wasted resources, and failed initiatives by preventing financial and other inefficiencies that may result from duplication of efforts, general disorganization, and/or uncertainty around how to accomplish the goals of the organization or a specific project.  
            Given these benefits, how does one actually go about developing a strategic plan? The attached figure3 provides a basic outline that can help us walk through some key steps involved in strategic planning4.

The organization needs to define and/or clarify its mission to provide direction to the strategic planning process.  It needs to conduct an external environmental analysis, examining the social, economic, political, and technological trends currently at play in the community/ies the organization serves. The organization also needs to conduct an internal organizational analysis to assess its own capacities related to staffing and volunteers, financial capital, technological assets, organizational structure, and information availability. These three processes can then be used to establish a longer range vision for the organization. As the organization establishes its direction through its mission and vision it can conduct a SWOT analysis to analyze its internal strengths and weakness and the external opportunities and threats that will impact its ability to achieve its goals. From the SWOT analysis strategic issues can be defined which in turn can be analyzed in terms of their probability of occurrence and the impact they will have on the organization. As strategic issues are defined and prioritized based on probability and potential impact the organization can develop its strategy, defining what it is going to do to address the strategic issues and achieve its goals. From there plans need to be made to address how the organization is going to do what it needs to do. Throughout this process and the eventual implementation of the strategic plan evaluation is imperative to understand the effectiveness of the process and to determine any need to readjust decisions made.
            That’s a very basic introduction to the integral aspects of strategic planning but it’s also important to note that the perfect plan will fail if it’s not implemented properly, so another integral aspect of strategic planning is strategic management1 which you can learn more about from reference 1, below.


1. Brown, William A. "Strategic Management." Robert D. Herman & Associates. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management 3. Ed. David Renz. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 206-229. Print.

2. Bryson, John M. "Strategic planning and the strategy change cycle." Robert D. Herman & Associates. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management 3. Ed. David Renz. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 230-261. Print.

3. Howard, Leslie A. (2015) Personal Communication.

4. United Way of Dane County. “Strategic Planning Process” n.d.

Fail to plan, plan to fail - let's plan!

Does everyone in your organization know where it is heading, why it is heading there and how? Maybe not. Imagine a tree. Would it survive if its roots were missing? Would the stem be stuck to the ground? Certainly not. Still, leaders might aim at growing nonprofits without roots.

It is perhaps tempting to give it a try, reassured by the fact that most of your colleagues are trying their very best to make the world a better place. It might work for a while. If it is not storming outside. As a leader, it is your responsibility to look beyond the daily operations, and into the future. The process of creating a strategic plan is an effective tool to align the organization and set the direction. Having it written down increases the probability that  everyone is on the same page (L. Howard, personal communication, February 3, 2015).

1. Identify key stakeholders

The primary step is to determine who should be around the table. According to Howard, it is ideal to include everybody, both because multiple perspectives are value adding, but also to get buy-in. (L. Howard, personal communication, February 3, 2015). Even if everyone cannot participate throughout the process, make sure to involve and collect input.

2. Develop a vision (the crown)

This is the crown of the organization. It describes why the organization exists, what it does and how it creates value for society.  The vision should be long-term, and it should be used as a linchpin, guiding all the organization’s decisions and activities. (Bryson, 2010)  

3. Conduct a SWOT analysis

This is the process of assessing the organization’s internal and external environments. The internal environment is within the organization’s control, making up the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. A strength can be a scaleable model, and a weakness might be that the organization lacks long-term thinking (luckily, a thoroughly worked out strategic plan will deal with that). The external assessment includes determining opportunities (such as a growing need for the organization’s services) and threats (for example decreasing donor allocation of money to cause).(Bryson, 2010)

4. Define strategic issues 

This step makes sure that everyone is aboard with what the organization has to deal with. We focus on strategic issues, decisions that link the organization to its environment. Examples include issues that can alter the organization’s core business – major changes in products, services, customers and clients. It can also include issues that need immediate response, or certain areas that do not have to be dealt with immediately, but must be monitored carefully. (Bryson, 2010)

5. Develop a strategy (the trunk)

This step can concisely be described as “identifying a valuable problem or opportunity, and a coherent set of actions that address it” (Posen, 2015). Put in other words, we start from the defined issues and then make sure we link a coherent set of rhetoric, choices, actions and consequences to address these (Bryson, 2010). The strategy is the tree’s trunk, connecting the crown to the ground.

6. Make a plan for how the strategy should be implemented (the roots)

How should these strategies take root? We want to make action plans to know who is accountable for what, what results should be achieved, milestones and how communication should be managed. (Bryson, 2010)

7. Evaluate

To learn from and update strategies that don’t work and leverage strategies that do - we have to evaluate the strategies themselves as well as the process of setting and carrying them out. (Bryson, 2010) Does the tree stand steady even if it is stormy outside? 

After evaluation, it is probably time to start planning for the next strategic planning process (Bryson, 2010). The external environment is constantly evolving, and we want an organization that can continuously improve to survive in the long run.

United Way of Dane County. Strategic Planning Process
Bryson, John M. 2010. Strategic Planning and the Strategy Planning Circle. In: Renz, David O. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.
Posen, Hart E. 2015. Welcome to Strategy [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from:

A Successful Plan Is A Useful Plan

Organizational decision-makers are continuously bombarded by issues that could potentially affect current and/or future performances. Because of their powerful missions, nonprofit organizations are exhausted from the demands of getting things done with fewer and fewer resources. In today's nonprofit sector, the need to "recharge" organizations has never been greater. A common way to "recharge" your organization to get your staff energized and excited about who they are and where they are going is the strategic planning process. 

So, what does strategic planning look like and what are the benefits?
A strategic plan not only help revitalizes your organization, but serves as a tool for organizations to address change. Strategic planning is a structured process that help key decision makers identify and resolve the most important issues their organization face. With this tool, decision makers are force to think outside of their organization and link decision making to what is happening in the world. In all, strategic planning encourages discussion and congregation of diverse people, who may otherwise never get to talk about what is important, in the same room to propel their organization forward. 

The following are elements that make a successful strategic plan a useful plan:

Identifying key stakeholders. To construct an effective plan, knowing who should be at the table is very important. Stakeholders help decide major strategic goals and objectives that will lead to organizational transparency which means the organization has established complete buy-in and commitment. These key decision makers then lay the foundation for a successful strategic planning process and organization for years to come. 

Clear mission (and vision). Sometimes your mission statement is so self-evident that it literally writes itself. But more often, your organization's existing mission may be nebulous, ambiguous or even outdated. Your organization may even be devoid of "big picture" thinking with conflicted missions in mind. With the guidance of this process, new and existing nonprofits should be able to answer the questions "Why do we exist?" to the most basic "What do we do?" resulting in an explicit, straight-forward and concise mission statement that reminds stakeholders of your purpose (Renz). The same thinking process can be apply towards your vision. 

Assess your environment. To understand where your organization is, consider the organization's strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T), called a SWOT analysis (or environmental scan). For the internal environment, you can assess strengths and weaknesses of the human, financial, structural, and technological capacities of your organization. (Note: 90% of the time, internal factors are what keeps organizations from achieving their goals) For the external environment, you can assess opportunities and threats that may derived from policy and regulations as well as changes in the economy and lifestyles of the people you are serving. A complete environmental scan of internal and external factors will help your organization identify future challenges and gain insight of new opportunities.

Define strategic issue(s). From your SWOTs, you are able to identify and prioritize urgent issues that are more likely to impact your organization. Strategic issue is defined as "an internal or external development which could impact the organization's performance, to which the organization must respond in an orderly fashion, and over which the organization may reasonably exert some influence (United Way, p.3). After your planning committee has come to a consensus of these issues, (1) operationally defined the issue, (2) assess opportunities and threats the issue will pose, (3) determine the driving factors that made this an issue in the first place, (4) examine the issue on the different scenarios and impact on your organization, and (5) formulate a response to address the issue. As you can see, this is the bulk of strategic planning. 

Develop a strategy and implement. Now that your organization is clear on the mission and overall goals, it is time to construct a path on how to get there. Make sure everyone agrees on who is responsible for which action, when specific actions should be completed and how people will be held accountable. Put your plan into action!

Evaluate your plan. Even though strategic planning is presented in a linear fashion, it is more cyclic and iterative as decision-makers should continuously evaluate the strategic plan throughout the process (Renz). This re-check system ensures that organizational goals are truly being met and not just drafted and collecting dust somewhere. 

Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.
United Way of Dane County. Strategic Planning Process