The Strategic Plan IS a Non-Profit’s Road Map for the Year
The new calendar year has us all writing new year’s resolutions, spending some time reflecting on the past year, and making plans for the new year. We spend time in the office supply store sorting through planners and deciding the system we want to use to map out our goals for the coming year. What does a non-profit do when it wants to plan out its next year?
It all starts with a strategic plan, and that’s where most people roll their eyes, declare a strategic plan boring, and skip to the next topic. Don’t let the name distract you from the fact that strategic plans are very dynamic and are the starting point for developing all the programs and services the non-profit will offer each year.
12 truths about strategic plans.
Here are 12 truths about strategic plans and planning to change how you might look at this often-overlooked document.
1 - A strategic plan is created once every 3-5 years, BUT it is monitored at each board meeting, and updated annually. It is very easy to keep a strategic plan relevant.
2 - It is the job of the board to monitor the environment the non-profit serves and make changes to the strategic plan at any time, as needed.
3 - The success of the strategic planning process requires all the different visions of the members, clients, and stakeholders.
4 - When people come together to share their individual ideas, the discussion begins to reveal patterns and areas of overlap, indicating common themes. As those common themes begin to emerge, the strategic plan begins to take shape as a collective representation of all ideas.
5 - The strategic plan is written in broad terms. It must stop before deciding the programs and services a non-profit will offer, because that’s the job of the operational plan.
6 - The strategic plan uses three types of terminology: goals, outcomes, and measurements. Goals are the big picture dreams the non-profit wants to achieve, outcomes are the changes the non-profit wants to see as it pursues the goals, and the measurements are the data a non-profit will track to be sure it is on the right path to achieving the goals.
7 - The strategic plan is the guide, or first step, to decide the programs and services a non-profit will offer. Ideas for programs and services are specifically selected to align with the goals and outcomes of the strategic plan. Programs and services that don’t align are usually dropped.
Think of it like driving on a highway. All of you won’t get to Saskatoon if some of you are headed to Winnipeg.
8 - Usually the board writes the plan, but it is very common for the executive director and other staff team to participate to provide information about the workings of the non-profit. It is the job of the board to be sure it has the feedback from the previous year and the data from past plans, as well as their own input as representatives from the sector, to build a relevant plan.
9 - If the board is not able to write the strategic plan, the executive director, other staff, or volunteers can write the plan. Anyone can write a strategic plan. There are no laws governing who can write a strategic plan.
10 - Each element of a strategic plan is developed using a specific set of questions. If it is too expensive to hold a planning retreat, the discussion questions can be answered by email, phone call, or conversation (virtual or in person). Using the questions for each element of a strategic plan can eliminate the need for an expensive retreat and keep costs very low.
11 - The strategic plan is a very useful tool to share with everyone from volunteers to the staff team, and even potential funders. A strong strategic plan and a strong corresponding operational plan will mean everyone working or volunteering for the organization are all aiming for the same goals. That alignment is something to share, never hide.
12 - The strategic plan and the operational plan are a package that work together to outline everything a non-profit will work on during the year. Since everything is captured in the plans it is very easy to know what to be working on and when.
A non-profit without a strategic plan is really just guessing what programs and services to offer because they haven’t spent the time figuring out what goals they are working towards.
A non-profit without a strategic plan is really just guessing what programs and services to offer because they haven’t spent the time figuring out what goals they are working towards. Eventually, the staff team will figure out a handful of repeatable activities, but they won’t be in alignment with the wants and needs of the membership, clients, and stakeholders. This will result in potential funders and stakeholders viewing the non-profit unfavourably, or with suspicion.
A non-profit WITH a strategic plan has an immediate competitive advantage.
A non-profit WITH a strategic plan has an immediate competitive advantage. The non-profit will know its goals for the year and will choose only those programs and services that will help achieve those goals.
Potential funders will take notice of the non-profit’s strategic – operational alignment, which may result in increased funding and a favourable reputation. Volunteers, members, and stakeholders will take notice of the clearly outlined goals and will understand how their support plays a part in that plan.
The new year is a great time to write a strategic plan, but there are ways to get started mid year.
First, find your non-profit’s strategic plan and copy all the goals, outcomes, and measurements onto a blank piece of paper. Next, think of all the programs and services the non-profit offers and write them under the goal/outcome where they align the best. When a program or service doesn’t align with any goal, write it on a separate piece of paper.
Review the finished list. Any programs or services that don’t align with a goal will need to be evaluated to determine why they are being offered. If there are a lot of programs or services that don’t align, then the goals and outcomes will need to be evaluated to determine if they are still relevant.
A strategic plan is the non-profit’s road map for the year. Programs and services must algin with goals and outcomes to ensure a non-profit is truly meeting the wants and needs of its clients, members, and stakeholders.
Thanks for taking the time to read my ideas. What questions do you have? Please use the form on the right side of the page to let me know.
Hi, I'm Christie Saas, former board member, current Executive Director, and non-profit volunteer. I remember well, those early years when I lacked the training, the confidence, and the work-life balance to focus on becoming the best non-profit leader I could be.
Fast-forward past many bumps in the road, lessons learned, and you’ll find me still in the trenches, but a little wiser, a little calmer, and a whole lot happier. I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.
I created ChristieSaas.com so non-profit leaders never need to feel alone. I’m here to help. If you’re a brand-new non-profit leader, or a little more seasoned, someone who’s looking to make a meaningful contribution and still have time for a full life away from the job, you’re in the right place.
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