Dust-Collector or Change-Driver: Who Needs a Strategic Plan?

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘plan your work and work your plan’.

In the nonprofit world, particularly in the smaller shops where one or two individuals are expected to address the needs of so many, the thought of stopping to plan your work may seem laughable. Who has time? Day-to-day operations – just putting out fires and keeping things running – gets the most of you. Your time and energy is spent. And speaking of spent, you have no money, right? What good is a plan if you don’t have the money to make it happen?

If the booming entrepreneurial mindset sweeping the country sheds light on anything, it is this: you’ve gotta have a business plan to grow a business. Investors want to know you’ve done your homework. Doing your homework reduces the likelihood of mistakes that cost time and money. The plan itself is not the critical piece, so much as the process of developing the plan.

An acquaintance once said, “a business plan is the best work of fiction ever written”. Many in the nonprofit sector groan when they hear mention of a ‘strategic plan’, thinking of binders and brochures gathering dust on the shelf, demonstrating that said plans are exercises in futility.

Reality is, if you never take the time to plan strategically, your priorities, messaging, and movement forward will reflect a lack of direction, at best.

An effective process stimulates proactive, rather than reactive, action. You not only confirm your vision and mission, but spark creativity, clarify values, promote consensus, and focus on the desired future for the organization and the community being served.

Articulating long and short-term goals for the organization also protects the organization from becoming too person dependent. Nonprofit leadership is charged with ensuring the long-term viability of the organization, regardless of who sits on the Board of Directors or in the Executive Director’s seat. With goals supported by objectives, achieved by taking specific action to deliver measurable outcomes, your vision becomes reality. Establishing priorities rooted in a review of the organization’s demonstrated impact and current capacity ensures donors and prospective board members, donors, employees, and volunteers, that engaging with the organization will lead to change, growth, and positive impact.

With this clarity, you can tell a better story. Strong stories answer, without question, the ‘WHY?’ many savvy donors want to know before throwing their money behind an organization. Folks don’t get excited about backing a budget so much as buying into a vision!

You may think the Board, Executive Director, and key staff members are all on the same page. But a quick survey asking each person to share the organization’s mission and top funding priority (without peaking at any documents, minutes, or the website) might reveal striking results!

Try it. I dare you. If everyone offers the same answer – kudos! If not - whether you employ a long, extensive method for strategic planning or you opt for a shortened, barebones approach, do something!