Sometimes boards and staff members need to be convinced that strategic planning is worth the investment of money and time. They need to know how the process will benefit them and the organization. Strategic planning can provide enormous benefits. It can:
- Bring clarity and agreement on mission and vision: Agreement on mission (the organization’s purpose) is paramount. Without this agreement, an organization cannot be effective. The strategic planning process can provide an invaluable opportunity for dialogue and consensus among staff, board, and volunteers. Defining a shared vision (the organization’s future direction) and then planning based on that desired outcome is the essence of strategic planning.
- Help organizations prepare for the future: As the popular saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.” A strategic plan outlines the steps to achieve a desired future for an organization. It is comforting for board, staff, and volunteers to have a roadmap to follow. The planning process prioritizes the work to be done. Strategic planning facilitates making short-term decisions based on long-term implications. Most important, a strategic plan provides a series of agreements about what needs to happen. It is a dynamic document that lending flexibility to the organization so that when change occurs, the plan can be adapted to accommodate the changes.
- Help organizations anticipate and manage change: Planning allows an organization to anticipate change and prepare for it. Planning also helps an organization deal with dramatic changes in its environment. In fact, by anticipating and planning for change, instead of just reacting to it, an organization can determine how to deal with the change.
- Improve the decision-making processes: With a strategic plan in place, day-to-day decision making and problem solving will be directly related to long-range and short-term goals. Planning reduces stress by making decisions easier. When choices are made within the context of a strategic framework, the organization’s direction is clearly defined. If there is no strategic framework, the future of the organization is in the hands of whomever is making choices. Strategic decision making and problem solving assure that the organization’s vision will be achieved.
- Promote effective stewardship: Practicing good stewardship means being accountable to others. In the case of charitable organizations, clients and funders of a nonprofit organization assume they will pay for services or donate money, respectively, to the organization, which will re-invest the revenues to address the social need. Similarly, association members and foundation board members and grantees assume that funds will be used for the greatest impact. Because strategic planning helps nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions, it also helps them be stewards of the public’s trust.
- Align the board and staff: When there is shared purpose and direction (“we’re all in the same boat,”) there is the basis of a high-performance team. When individuals are focused on the same goal or outcome, they feel a certain amount of synergy and often set aside differences, help each other, and become invested in a common purpose. An organization’s mission cannot be achieved without board members and staff who agree on a common direction and are committed to achieving success for the organization.
- Provide an opportunity to recommit to the cause: Focus on the future work of the organization can bring the board, staff, and other stakeholders into alignment around the mission — group interaction around a cause often fuels individual commitment.
- Educate participants about institutional history: By producing a synopsis of significant events in the history of your organization, you will learn what has worked and what has not worked. Historical synopses might include a description of major milestones and changes that have contributed to how the organization functions today. By understanding your organization’s past, you can make choices about what you want it to become in the future. This document can also be valuable in orientation of new staff, volunteers, and board members.
- Identify existing strengths in the organization: Constituent feedback conducted in conjunction with the plan indicates how well the organization is meeting expectations. It can also show you where your efforts are paying off and what to celebrate.
- Provide an opportunity to analyze the organization’s systems and processes: It is valuable to conduct a critical review of the organization’s processes and how it operates. A review provides an opportunity to analyze different systems and processes and make changes to improve them. Pay particular attention to communication channels and cross-functional operations.
- Reinforce the need to commit to continuous improvement: Planning allows an organization to anticipate and prepare for change. An organization without an effective strategic plan may react in a hurried, scattered way to unanticipated circumstances.
This is an excerpt from “Driving Strategic Planning: A Nonprofit Executive’s Guide” By Sue Waechter.