Strategic Planning in the Not-for-Profit Realm

"Organizations that plan for the future have a chance to succeed in changing times. Organizations that do not plan for the future have no future at all."

In the case of volunteer-intensive organizations, focused and effective planning is often the difference between a long and successful life and a short and unhappy existence.

Effective organizational planning:

  • Begins at the top of an organization.
  • Involves as many of the organization's leadership and management team as possible.
  • Provides for customer input throughout the planning process.
  • Is linked to larger organizational visions and goals.
  • Reflects realistic assessments of organizational needs, capabilities, and priorities.
  • Is rapid, focused, and leads to action and change.
  • Commits the organization to specific accomplishments in specific time frames.
  • Takes an operational focus on specific actions to be taken in a short (1-3 year) period.
  • Documents agreements to pursue common objectives that require collaboration and cooperation across different areas of responsibility.
  • Documents how the organization will measure its progress.
  • Is part of an on-going process of continuous evaluation and assessment.

It can actually take longer to describe and prepare for the planning process than it takes to develop an effective organizational plan! Key steps include:

Identify Key Issues

Paradigm Associates provides materials for use as "food for thought" to assist leaders and others to consider a wide range of factors in constructing their plans. These are best used to surface issues of concern and to help stimulate focused discussions with your leadership team.

Evaluate Resources

Once key issues are clearly understood within the context of overall goals, your team can address the extent to which local needs and resources may impact your choices of how to proceed. Experience shows that trying to do too much and failing is less effective than trying to do a few things, succeeding, and then building on that success - over, and over, and over again.

Create a Plan

The plan the leadership team develops should be simple, direct, and clearly understood by all parties. To the maximum extent possible, it should reflect a consensus of what the entire team is willing to commit to accomplishing in a 1-3 year period. The plan document can be used as a "contract" for what will be accomplished in the coming 1-3 years and as such can help the organization achieve its overall goals and objectives.

Future View

The "planning horizon" is typically 1-5 years. This means that the current leadership team can commit the organization to a course of action that may not bear fruit until after many of them are no longer on the board or in a position of governance. This is consistent with a fundamental responsibility of organizational leaders: to plan for the future of their organizations without regard to their own stake in the outcome. Boards have a fundamental responsibility to lay out plans for their successors, just as their successors have the responsibility to assess progress and changing needs and revise those plans or make new ones for their own successors.