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 But more often, your organization's existing mission may be nebulous, ambiguous or even outdated.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