Starting a nonprofit is time consuming and can be taxing. It is a major undertaking. Ensuring the proper forms are completed, articles of incorporation are complete, bylaws are completed, and the board is properly established is essential. The next critical step is generating your first strategic plan.
Strategic plans are a form of "syllabus" for what is to be accomplished "next." It provides a roadmap for the essential steps that your organization needs to perform in order to accomplish its goals. The strategic plan will evolve and change over time. It is not to be considered an immovable document. As your organization grows and experiences change, the strategic plan will have to adapt to meet the next set of goals and circumstances. The initial strategic plan should include immediate goals, mid-term goals, and long term goals. With a thorough plan, it is easier to accomplish the long term goals by implementing shorter term goals that help ensure progress toward the long term goals remain on target.
Without a strategic plan, your nonprofit is likely to fail. Not knowing what steps need to be taken to accomplish goals can derail a program, financially bankrupt an organization, and destroy any sense of cohesive momentum by staff and volunteers. Forget finding donors in this level of functionality. They want to know where you've been, where you are, and where you're going. You'd better know the answers and can articulate them thoroughly.
Strategic plans are not created by one person. The founder of the nonprofit, along with their appointed board members, will have to work collectively to generate a strong strategic plan. This is also why it matters what kind of persons are on your board of directors. Make sure you have people who have nonprofit experience, financial background (CPA, banking, etc.), knowledge in the area of your organization's goals, and someone who can help articulate an organizational strategy that ensures success. Everyone contributes, but the success depends upon the qualifications of those who make those contributions. Excitement is not a qualification.
What is strategic planning? The combined effort by the founder and the board of directors will produce the decisions and actions that will help the organization member navigate to establish what it is, what it does, and why. These fundamental core truths shape the organization and its management by focusing on internal and external factors that impact the functionality of the organization's efforts. In order to create a strong strategic plan, thorough research must be performed to identify the mandates governing the organization, clarification of the organization's mission and how it achieves its mission, identification of key challenges that the organization must address, consultation with key stakeholders, planning for future challenges, development of strategic alternatives for future challenges as well as implementation strategies and evaluation criteria of implementation strategies.
The strategic plan is a living document. It must be implemented, evaluated, and reassessed in daily management activity in order to ensure successful maneuvering of changes within the organization. Strong commitment by the leadership is essential to ensuring successful strategic planning management and its effectiveness.
A process sponsor aids to legitimize and endorse the strategic planning process. The process sponsor is responsible for making the process work. These external advisors can assist you and your board with implementing a highly effective strategic plan.
If you want strategic planning with a sponsor to be more productive in your organization, here are a few ways to accomplish this task:
- Have your sponsor present and active throughout the process
- Actively involve your sponsor to take part in identifying who to involve in the strategic planning process
- Make sure your sponsor devotes the appropriate amount of time to understand the strategic planning workshop’s design and strategic thinking exercises you have pre-determined.
- Be sure your sponsor can describe the process to participants in a language that people understand
- The sponsor should stimulate ideas among other participants without dominating a conversation
- The sponsor should ask constructive, probing questions to generate ideas
- The sponsor should engage people that aren’t participating much (if at all)
- The sponsor should refer back to information sharing and activities earlier in the workshop
- The sponsor should summarize the results
In summary, the strategic plan is an important piece from which your organization will develop and grow. If you are not in a position to bring in a sponsor for your strategic plan, engage your staff to contribute.
Full involvement of everyone who must be held responsible for ensuring the organization's mission and goals are fulfilled can help ensure commitment and motivation to ensure the goals are met as planned. Knowing that flexibility is essential, it is also important to prepare for alternative solutions should unexpected changes affect your plan. Planning for these inevitable challenges can prevent a lot of stress and chaos and possibly save your organization from failure or loss of funding. Funders want to see a well-planned organization that is fully aware of what they are taking on.