goals,  mission,  strategic planning,  strategy,  values,  vision

FAQ: Strategic Planning

Frequently Asked Questions About The Strategic Plan

A note from Leadership Bridges: We have been asked to provide answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about various organizational governance, leadership, strategy, and operations topics that we have encountered in our work.  This first FAQ topic is about Strategic Planning. We believe this topic should be first because an organization’s strategic plan provides the foundation for all the good work that follows.

As you read this FAQ, let us know if you have other questions about strategic planning that we should answer. What other topics should we cover in future FAQ posts?  Let us hear from you – either through the comments feature or by sending us an email.

Why do we need a strategic plan?

There are three primary reasons your nonprofit needs a strategic plan. First and foremost, the process (and the resulting plan) helps clarify and communicate the organization’s vision, mission, and values. Second, it provides staff with well-defined goals to strive for. Third, it provides leadership staff and board with a benchmark and goals by which to evaluate performance – individual, departmental, organizational, and even the chief executive.

How often should we do a strategic plan?

The rule of thumb for strategic planning is every three to five years. BUT. The process is as important as the resulting plan. The plan should be referred to often and adjusted if the situation changes. Examples of situations that may warrant a revision include loss of funding for a program outlined within the plan; change in leadership; expansion of services and programs; merger of two organizations into one; reorganization within the organization that changes the structure, program components, or reporting priorities.

What should be in our strategic plan?

The contents of a strategic plan varies by organization type, size, stage, and even funder requirements.  Typical contents include an executive summary, a statement of the organization’s mission, vision, values; an analysis of the current environment (often called a SWOT, STAR, or STEP); findings; key result area(s) with associated goals and strategies; conclusion.

How do I keep our strategic plan relevant, alive?

The best way to keep your strategic plan relevant is to keep it active in people’s minds. If the organization’s situation changes, revisit your process in order to keep your plan relevant to the new normal. At least annually make sure program staff check in with the plan to see how they are performing with respect to the goals and strategies outlined within the plan. Make sure your board receives regular reports and updates concerning the outcomes expected.  And relate other board reporting to the mission and vision. Communicate to staff regularly about vision, values, mission as well as goals and strategies. And remember to help your employees understand the connections between their job and the agency’s strategic plan.

Who should be involved in creating the plan?

The better question may be: Who shouldn’t be involved? But seriously, the board and executive staff should be the drivers of the process and the resulting plan. Program managers and line staff should have input. Clients, funding partners, collaborating partners, and community leaders should certainly be consulted through focus groups, online surveys or phone surveys.

How should we communicate the plan internally/externally?

The plan should be written in a report format and distributed widely through the agency’s website, intranet, email, social media, or even mailed to key stakeholders if appropriate. Beyond the written report, though, communication should continue with the key internal audiences – staff, board, volunteers, and even clients – throughout the life of the plan. And when you have something to celebrate about your accomplishments from the plan, by all means, shout it from the rooftops – to the media, funding partners, donors, regulators, political leaders, volunteers, staff, board, and anyone else who will listen.

How do I know when it’s done?

The PLAN is done when the research, discussion, and writing is finished and the document is published. But the PROCESS is never really done, as you will continue to monitor, report, communicate, celebrate, and revise throughout the life of the plan.

Final thought:

A strategic plan is your road map toward a successful and sustainable future for your nonprofit organization. It is a dreaded process for many leaders, but it is a vital, empowering, and affirming process, too.  If you’ve been putting it off, now is a good time to get started. Good luck!

(And by all means, call us if we can help.)