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Crafting a Roadmap: The Essential 5 Steps to Prepare for Non-Profit Strategic Planning

Your organization is considering embarking on a strategic planning process. As a Committee, the Board has charged you with making recommendations on the purpose of the planning process, how the process will look, who will be involved in the strategic planning process, what strategic planning model will be used, and who will facilitate the process. That’s a tall order!

As with most things, best to break it down into small pieces and tackle each independently.

Step 1: Why are we doing strategic planning?

To gain a clear understanding of why the planning process should happen, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do our current guiding statements (Vision, Mission, and Values) reflect our current realities?

  • Are we looking to update our strategic plan or start from scratch?

  • Will the resulting strategic plan be for internal or broader use (marketing, funding, sponsorships, etc.)?

  • How is the last strategic plan being used to direct the organization?

Understanding the answers to these questions will help you understand the complexity of your next step. If your current Vision, Mission, and Values are good, and you are simply looking to update your plan to reflect the new realities, then the process is relatively simple.

If your Vision, Mission, and Values are no longer reflective or your last strategic plan collected dust and wasn’t utilized by management or the Board, your process may be more complex. You may be starting from scratch.

Step 2: What will we do specifically?

Defining your strategic planning process depends significantly on the answers to the above questions, as noted in the last paragraph. Here are some additional questions to help you further refine the process and what you could prioritize:

  • If your Vision, Mission, and Values need to be updated, do you want to invest in refining the guiding statements to better guide the organization?

  • If updating the current strategic plan, what needs to be updated specifically?

  • If the last strategic plan is dusty and unused, is there anything that can be salvaged? Ask yourself, why wasn't it used? The answer to this is critical to moving forward with a plan that gets used.

  • If no strategic plan exists, recognize you are starting from scratch and ask how the new plan will be used from a strategic and operational perspective.

  • What is the most important outcome of this planning process for us?

  • How much time does the Board invest in strategic planning (including all the above)?

  • How much can the Management and Staff invest in contributing ideas to the plan? In operationalizing the strategic goals?

  • What is the organization's budget (money and time)for strategic planning?

Much like the previous set of questions, the answers inform future decisions.

Suppose your current guiding statements (Vision, Mission, and Values) are sufficient. Then, your planning process may include a review of the guiding statements at a high level only.

If your organization has never had a strategic plan, your Board needs to dig deeper to identify what to include and how the plan will be operationalized. In this case, Board must:

  • Reflect on your guiding statements (Vision, Mission, Values) and their current relevancy.

  • Consider which stakeholders to consult with and how to coordinate this. And,

  • Define how staff, management and the Board will be engaged in the planning process.

Once the plan is in place, buy-in and commitment is required from all levels of the organization to weave it into daily operations. This starts with involvement, engagement and being heard.

Step 3: Who will be involved?

Strategic planning can be done as a wholly internal process or with a broader community perspective, depending on the current situation and the questions the Board wants to answer. When the Board has a firm grasp on funding, reputation, non-profit trends, and clients, a simple planning process involving the Board and Executive Director is fine.

A broader, more robust strategic planning process is recommended if the Board is unaware of the above-noted market factors. This community engagement process can be as inclusive or exclusive as the Board deems appropriate.

When considering who to involve, ask the following questions:

  • Does our Board genuinely understand the marketplace in which this non-profit works?

  • Do we understand the current trends in client needs, funding requirements, fundraising concerns, programming expectations, etc.?

  • How important is it to hear from stakeholders (funders, politicians, volunteers, staff, sponsors, partners, etc.) about their understanding of who we are and what we do?

  • Which groups are most important to invite to the conversation?

  • Which groups would have the most compelling insights to share?

  • Who would it be beneficial to engage and why?

Knowing who to include as stakeholders in your planning process is vital when hiring an outside consultant or facilitator. You don’t necessarily need to understand how to engage the stakeholders; you need to know which external stakeholder voices and opinions you want to gather. A good facilitator/consultant will shape a planning process that fits your criteria.

Step 4: What cultural outcome do you desire from the strategic planning process?

A short personal story:

As a volunteer Board member several years ago, I was involved in a comprehensive strategic planning process that didn’t sit right for me. When the consultant presented the final strategic plan, I read it and balked. The document’s wording didn’t reflect the organization’s values or the culture that had drawn me to volunteering. I hesitantly raised my hand and voiced my concerns. Culturally, the plan didn’t fit with organizational values (or my own). I then sat back and listened, only to realize while I’d been the brave one to raise the concern, others were significantly put off by the language used by the consultant as well. Culture and values matter!

The question of cultural outcomes in strategic planning needs to be addressed. Strategic planning in and of itself can be a tedious, tiring process or an uplifting, empowering process. As an organization, you need to know what you are going for and ensure that your planning process and final document reflect the culture and values you want to showcase.

The strategic planning model and the tone of the planning process are significantly influenced by who you choose to lead the conversation and the planning model used to guide your strategy. Do your homework in advance, ask yourself these questions and where needed, do research:

  • What cultural outcome and value reflection are you looking to achieve during the strategic planning?

  • How do you envision the final strategic plan communicating what the organization will do in the future?

  • What sticky points does your organization have where the conversation can spiral into conflict and become less able to find their way forward proactively?

  • Which planning model allows for discussing these sticky points while moving the conversation toward positive outcomes?

  • What are the pros and cons of the different strategic planning models for non-profits?

  • Which model best meets your organization’s unique needs?

Every good facilitator or consultant will have a preferred strategic planning model and can clearly articulate why they believe the model is best in your situations (that’s the salesperson at work!). Knowing what you want and how you want it to go ahead of time enables you to ask different questions when interviewing potential facilitators/consultants to see how they would handle various situations.

Step 5: Who will guide your process?

Determining who will guide your process is the last step in getting prepared. By now, you have a clear idea of:

  • Why strategic planning is vital for your organization?

  • What exactly do you want to accomplish in the planning process?

  • How much time, energy, and money you can invest? And,

  • How do you want the final plan to align with your organizational culture?

Now comes the hard part: choosing the right facilitator/consultant – unless, of course, after reading through this series of articles, you recognize that HIP is the only answer – in which case, it’s easy! 😉

Since we know that HIP isn’t the right fit for all organizations, here are some questions that we recommend you ask potential candidates to guide your strategic planning process:

  • What is your experience facilitating strategic planning for non-profit organizations?

  • What strategic planning model do you use? Why?

  • What is your approach to difficult conversations that may arise? How do you manage these?

  • What hiccups have you helped non-profit Boards overcome during your strategic planning processes?

  • Who do you recommend we involve in our strategic planning conversation?

  • How have you seen strategic plans utilized once they are complete?

  • What recommendations do make to ensure the plan is woven into daily operations?

As a Board Committee, you will also come up with your own questions. However, these are a good starting point.

By following these five steps to prepare for strategic planning, you set your non-profit up for success – and for choosing the BEST facilitator/consultant for your organization.

Check out HIP’s Preparing for Strategic Planning Checklist, free when you sign up to receive our monthly newsletters, packed with all things non-profit strategy and leadership. Check out our article Committing-to-Action-The-Missing-Step-in-Strategic-Planning to learn more about operationalizing your strategic goals and metrics through Action Planning.

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