Strategic Planning  

by Beth Bordeaux

Strategic planning is an often-neglected task. The urgency for planning only comes when it has been left undone for too long and the organization has lost a sense of direction or unity of purpose. By that time, it is not just strategic planning but also identity discernment, mission, and vision work that need to be done. I am always amazed when organizations hope to accomplish this work in a half-day board retreat so they can move on to the real business of what they do . . . serving, creating, connecting, supplying, making, etc. For effective, healthy organizations, strategic planning is not a task, an event or a product that can be created or accomplished. It is an ongoing and integrated component of the life and breath of the organization, focusing its activities, engaging its constituents and defining its boundaries.

Yes, there is the official strategic planning process, where a leadership team may work with a consultant to conduct focus groups and interviews, complete an environmental scan, gather internal data and hold a retreat or series of meetings when the data and input are reviewed and the course is set with goals and objectives. However, there is also the ongoing strategic planning process that is so critical to healthy organizational development.

Ongoing planning includes the development and use of individualized work plans for committees, departments, staff, and sometimes volunteers, derived from the organizations primary objectives. Workplans, or action plans, are working documents that are reviewed and updated regularly and function much like a To-Do-List where all tasks are connected to broader organizational goals, objectives, and priorities so that each person or group’s work is directly tied to the mission and direction of the overall organization. Workplans are helpful in such areas as financial and fund development; marketing and communications; policy and procedure review; program development, evaluation and quality improvement; direct services or product development; board and staff development.

Ongoing planning also includes a continuous review of the environment – internally and externally – listening, assessing, engaging, improving, focusing, driving the action of the organization in such a way that the best of what they have to offer meets the deepest needs of the community it serves. Finally, ongoing strategic planning requires a regular dialogue about mission and vision, checking for clarity and unity, testing against opportunities, challenges, and changing possibilities.

How to make Strategic Planning a way of doing business instead of a task that is so often neglected until clarity is lost? Begin the dialogue! Begin the conversation at the board level, at the staff level, with stakeholders and clients. Engage a formal process if you have never done so or if it has not been done in the past 3 years. Use a participatory approach – this is where the consultant works with a team of staff, volunteers, board members, etc. to determine what information should be gathered, to review the data and decipher its meaning, to assist in designing the retreat and to provide leadership for the overall strategic planning process.

Then, most importantly, keep it alive. Use the vision for regular board and staff check-in conversations. Use the goals and strategies by integrating them across all facets of the organization. Use the plan in your marketing, in how you describe who you are as an organization and what you do. Use the plan every chance you get, and when there is a rub because the plan doesn’t quite fit the reality the organization is facing; it is time to revisit the plan. Don’t wait for chaos or conflict.

The Bottom Line:To maintain a healthy organization, strategic planning needs to be an ongoing, proactive process, not a reactionary event that occurs only when chaos or conflict exist.

Beth Bordeaux is the newly-appointed Executive Director of PLM Families Together.  She has extensive experience in social work and in cultivating volunteer leadership, through her roles with nonprofit organizations and formerly as a consultant with GTM Evaluation and Planning, Inc.

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