Lewis Carroll was onto something. Direction helps people to get where they need to go. That’s why the voluntary sector endorses strategic plans. A strategic plan is akin to a road map. As intimidating as it may sound, a strategic plan is simply a written document about the long-term vision for your organization. Essentially, it sets the overall direction for the board (and staff if applicable). A strategic plan will plot the organization’s route for the next two to five years. Did you know that it is the board’s responsibility to initiate a strategic plan? In fact, it there should be a policy stating that the board will engage in strategic planning within a certain time frame.
Without a strategy and its underlying tactics organizations tend to stay on the same path. Yet, all organizations need to evolve and be inquisitive. Actually, it is quite invigorating to take stock of where the organization came from, where it is today, and where it could go! Just think back two to five years of what existed or didn’t exist. You’ll be surprised to recall the successes and challenges of the past. You’ll be stirred to challenge the status quo.
It’s never too early or too late to mention the need for a strategic plan. However, you will need the commitment of your board (and staff if applicable), because strategic planning does take time and energy. Don’t forget to involve other stakeholders such as service users or primary funders. Everyone will work together to envision the organization’s future. If you’re curious but unsure about the strategic planning process then use a template or involve someone skilled to lead the strategy sessions.
Typically, strategic planning starts with a review of the mission, vision, core values, organizational statement, and core objectives. Then, it’s time for a SWOT analysis. This tool is also known as an environmental scan. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The SWOT analysis will assess if what you’re currently doing is still relevant and impactful. The SWOT analysis also helps to determine community needs and anticipate future demands. The SWOT analysis will bring a lot of internal and external information to the board table for consideration.
Once you’ve set the context, you’ll plot where you ought to be in the near future (2-5 years depending on your situation). Write short statements of particular directions you want the organization to go, but only choose three to five strategies. Any more than that becomes too cumbersome. Examples of strategies could be “the organization shall pursue mental health first aid certification for its members” or “the organization will build an online communications plan for fundraising and engagement”.
Under the strategic goal, you’ll list the tactics to achieve that goal. Don’t include the finer details in the strategic plan. Save those for the annual plan, but still make sure that the strategic plan is actionable in some way. Always strive for a fair division of labour for any tasks, and hold people accountable for the outcomes. In fact, set due dates and measure progress.
Strategic planning does require discipline and commitment. Otherwise, the strategic plan ends up gathering dust on a shelf. One tip to keep the board continually engaged with the strategic plan is to discuss one component at each board meeting. This way, everyone involved can say they have a clear sense of the organization’s mission, purpose, and direction. Just as Alice was first intimidated by Wonderland, you might feel anxious about the strategic planning process. On the other hand, without a strategic plan you could fall down a rabbit hole.