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Committing to Action: The Missing Step in Strategic Planning

The Board of Directors has passed the non-profit's Strategic Plan, Goals and Objectives. The Management Team understands what direction to go and how “success” will be measured. The Executive Director is ready to direct their staff on what needs to be done next…

Woah. Hold it a minute.

Action Planning
Woah. Hold It. Your strategic plan's not complete until you have a detailed action plan that addresses each goal and objective.

A strategic plan is an excellent tool for non-profit growth and evolution. BUT - yes, there’s a but - what isn’t clear is exactly how you will GET to the destination set for you.

In essence, the strategic plan completed by the Board is like a travel plan… You know where you need to go (goal) and the objectives (measurables) for each travel stage. What you don’t know is what mode of transportation or roads will get you there most efficiently and effectively.

The strategic plan is only as good as the trip plan you create – and each small decision will influence the path to success.

So, what does this mean from the perspective of the Management Team? How do they use the Strategic Plan? What’s the next step?

The work surrounding the strategic plan doesn’t end when the Board passes the strategic plan to the Executive Director; only the first step is complete. Action planning is equally as vital for a Strategic Plan to fulfill its purpose.

How Action Planning Happens.

Action planning
Strategic Planning tells you where you need to get to. Action planning tells you how you will get there. Choose your route carefully.

Action planning happens when the non-profit management team takes the goals and objectives and answers: "So, we know where we need to go; how can we best get there?”

This is where the strategic decision-making passes from the Board to the Management team. At this point, the Management team must break each goal and objectives down, parsing them into actionable steps, assigning the tasks to individuals, establishing due dates and metrics, and setting up performance monitoring.

Here is an example of a simplified action plan related to the goal of hiring a fundraising professional to drive external, event-based fundraising:

Action Plan example for one goal
A sample page from an action plan outlining steps required to achieve a goal.

This action plan – with clear steps related to each goal and objective – provides the true road map to non-profit success. Unfortunately, this step is skipped frequently as the Management team, and staff are already over-committed to day-to-day operational tasks.

Invest Time in Action Planning

A great strategic plan is only as solid as the accompanying action plan. Developing and writing down what needs to be done brings life to the strategic plan by clearly outlining who will do what, when it will be completed, and how progress will be measured.

The Board of Directors must persuade the Executive Director that having the management team and staff create an action plan is one more step in the strategic planning process. While all staff are busy, time MUST be carved out for this to happen.

The board or a board committee can work with the Executive Director to have each department complete its action plan, have it reviewed by the Executive Director, and then have all department action plans presented to the Board for comment.

Once action planning is done, the planning loop closes, and the action plan goes live. Check out the blog post "Feedback Loops: The Key to Strategic Planning Success" for more information on how to ensure goals are being met and proactively respond when they aren't.

Completing the action plan serves two essential purposes:

  1. It outlines how you will achieve organizational goals;

  2. It ensures that the staff knows they play a vital role in bringing the goals to life.

The Action Planning process empowers and engages staff in defining their role in moving the organization forward. It enables staff to take ownership and commit to achieving the established goals. It helps staff prioritize their activities and build their leadership capacity. Seems like a win-win all around!

Does your organization have a strategic action plan in place? If so, what role does it play in your daily work?

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