Strategic Planning for Grassroots Non-Profits
Creating a Successful Strategic Plan
Strategic Planning for Grassroots Non-Profits
The creation of viable strategic plans is a critical function for any organization. The strategic planning process creates a continual way for any organization to revisit their mission, vision and values, to determine what their critical goals are, and establish a system of measurements by which successes and shortcomings are identified and responded to. Many large corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars, or more, to have professional consulting firms hammer out the strategic plans for them. These plans are based on the same ideas as I’ve mentioned, but the blood, sweat and tears of crafting the plan have been shed by someone outside the company. There are pros and cons to this approach. Grassroots organizations do not have that kind of money to shell out for such a process, yet having a solid strategic plan is no less important to these smaller, fledgling organizations than it is to the mega-businesses. The following are some key concepts involved in the strategic planning process that may serve as a guide to any organization that is drafting their first plan, or needs a refresher when it comes time to draft subsequent plans. The ideas are laid out in the order of importance.
Assemble Your Team
Before you begin drafting your strategic plan, it is crucial that you select participants from within your organization that can offer a variety of perspectives. That may mean one or two persons from each department or board committee. In addition, you may select from among other stakeholders such as community partners, vendors, neighbors, parents, teachers, etc. These potential planning members do not necessarily apply to each organization, but each organization would choose those that are applicable to them.
Mission, Vision and Values
Once your team has been assembled, it is important to create your mission, vision and values statements. If you already have these in place, this is the time to revisit them and assure that they still reflect your organization. As with anything in life, organizations evolve. They change employees, products, goals, vendors or other business partners. In order to adequately acknowledge and reflect the changes, the mission, vision and values should be reviewed to assure that they still fit your overall business plan.
While there is nothing wrong with changing these statements, your organization should be careful not to do it too often, or risk alienating your target audience. If you find yourself changing your statements every five years with a new strategic plan, it is time to reevaluate why that is. You may have heard the saying, “it’s like trying to shoot fish in a barrel.” Well, if you change your mission, vision and values regularly, your business may be operating in a dysfunctional manner. By implementing ideas that were not fully thought out, your business model must constantly change in order to identify the right niche. This means of operation is a sure recipe for failure. Hitching your anchor to the next fly-by-night idea is a bit like trying to shoot fish in a barrel.
Your mission statement should be a statement that clearly tells the public, your target audience, who you are and what you stand for. An example of a great mission statement is,
“OWV is a Lutheran church-sponsored organization whose mission
is to serve older persons through loving, caring, Christian
communities, responding to their physical, social, emotional,
intellectual and spiritual needs, and to encourage a sense of
independence, individuality, dignity and worth throughout life.”
This statement clearly establishes the organization’s identity and purpose. It offers the public an opportunity to say, “This is exactly the type of place that I would choose for my retirement,” or perhaps to say, “No thank you. I am looking for a Catholic sponsored community.” Whatever your response might be, this statement gives you the ability to make an informed decision at a glance.
Your vision statement should be a shorter statement that is akin to a motto or catch phrase. Many are much longer, but the rule of thumb is not to exceed two to four sentences. The vision statement is one that is often recognizable and repeatable by your target audience. Examples of such statements are:
“Building Our World Together…Nuestro Mundo!” (Nuestro Mundo)
“To become the most successful and respected lift truck company in the U.S.” (Toyota)
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
If you have a body, you are an athlete. (Nike)
When you read these statements, you get a sense of who these organizations are and what they stand for.
Of the three statements, the values statement is the one that should rarely, if ever, change. The values are not goals to be achieved. They should be concrete and timeless. These are not mottos or catch prases, they are the principles upon which your organization has been founded.
Your values statement can be much longer than your vision statement. It is self-explanatory. What drives you? What values does your organization espouse which are critical to the manner in which you conduct yourselves? What values do you need to have in order to reach the goals set forth in your vision statement; in order to be true to your mission?
Consider such things as the quality of the work you do or the services you provide; the integrity with which you conduct business; the respect that you show to your customers and to each other; your spiritual influences (if applicable); your sense of caring and compassion; your resourcefulness; your timeliness in responding to concerns or questions; and anything else that adequately reflects the core of your organization.
Defining Your Hedgehog Concept
Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, coined the idea of the Hedgehog Concept. Simply stated, the hedgehog concept is one in which an organization identifies the one thing that they can do or would aspire to do better than anyone else in the industry. Then, like a hedgehog, they focus in on that concept and make it their goal to become or remain the best in the industry at that one thing. The idea is that organizations that focus on too many things cannot be equally good, or the best, at them all. In layman’s terms, if I am a wife, mother, full time employee, volunteer for two non-profits, and train for marathons in my spare time, I may be good at each one of those things, but I will likely never excel at any of them. It’s not possible because I am juggling too many balls and sooner or later, one or more of them is likely to come falling down.
Realistic Goal Setting and S.W.O.T. Analyses
So you’ve decided upon what thing you’d like to focus on. Now you have to decide how you’re going to do it. One method of identifying realistic goals and objectives is to lead your organization through a S.W.O.T analysis. S.W.O.T. is the acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It is the task of your team to identify items in each category that your organization is currently faced with. Some examples might be:
- STRENGTHS: strong team of employees; positive reputation in the community; dedicated board of directors; good location
- WEAKNESSES: lack of viable IT infrastructure; outdated bylaws; no current strategic plan; not a strong enough marketing plan; lack of fundraising plan
- OPPORTUNITIES: reorganization; community partnerships; building our volunteer core; development of solid marketing plans
- THREATS: competition (list competitors); not enough funds to remain solvent in the long term; economy
This is an interesting process because many of the categories seem to overlap. Weaknesses and threats may often appear to be one in the same, and they might be in some cases. But the beauty in identifying them is that they can give you a clearer picture of what your opportunities are. Likewise, by identifying your strengths, you will have a better idea of how to overcome, or at least successfully balance out your weaknesses.
In order to gain additional perspective, each strategic plan team member should survey their departments or board committees to dig deeper and determine if additional ideas surface.
Once you have completed the S.W.O.T. you will have formed the basis for setting your goals and objectives. When setting your goals, it is important to remember the following:
- Keep your mission, vision and values at the forefront of your thinking
- Don’t forget the Hedgehog Concept. It is easy to get off track and want to set many goals. All of the potential goals may be important, but what can you reasonably accomplish within this strategic plan cycle?
- Do you have enough manpower to accomplish the goals you are setting? If not, have you included a goal of how to rectify that?
- Always keep an eye on the weaknesses and threats that you’ve identified. You can’t pretend they don’t exist and you can’t assume that they will be balanced out by your strengths. Use the opportunities you’ve identified to craft reasonable goals.
There are two types of goals to consider during your planning phase. One type is the short-term goals. These are goals that are able to be met within the current strategic planning cycle, probably within 1-2 years. The other type is long-term goals. These are goals that require some amount of long range planning. Perhaps they are goals involving building projects or other capital projects or acquisitions, major fund raising efforts, or the initial acquisition of paid staff, including an executive director, which your company has never been able to afford in the past. When you establish your goals, be sure to apply realistic time frames to them or your plan is sure to fail. Remember that your time frame is not decided upon based on what you would like it to be. It is decided upon based on what you realistically think you can accomplish.
Your plan should include a healthy balance of both short and long term goals. This will help you to accomplish things in the near future as well as the long term, leading to feelings of success and achievement for your team. That will be critical to their feeling energized to continue moving forward. It will also give you the successes you need in the here and now to attract major benefactors.
Your Key Players: Who is Responsible for What?
Going back to the idea of manpower, you’ll need to assure that you have enough players on board to accomplish the goals that you’ve agreed upon. Not only do you need the manpower, you need the brainpower as well. A small, grassroots organization might have a board of fifteen members, but if your main objectives within this strategic plan cycle revolve around marketing and fundraising, and none of your 15 members have any experience in either area, your plan is doomed to fail. Therefore, your objectives (the action steps that will be used to accomplish your goals) must include building a volunteer core or partnership base with the expertise you’ll need to succeed.
Once your goals and objectives have been clearly stated, it is important to identify a leader for each one. That is the individual who will assume primary responsibility for assuring that the objectives are implemented within established time frames and that the team is on track to meet the chosen goal. So many organizations fall into the trap of crafting a beautiful strategic plan but failing to identify leaders that will assure that the plan is executed properly, if at all.
Being a leader does not mean that you do all the work. Leaders are responsible for building viable teams that will collaborate to work on goal attainment. They might find volunteers from within the organization or from the community at large. They assure that each objective has a well-suited designee to work on it. Maybe even more than one. But it is the team leader who monitors progress of each volunteer and provides regular updates to the board of directors.
Communicating Your Plan
Those that have been assigned to lead the efforts toward accomplishing each goal must also assure that the strategic plan is communicated effectively to the rest of the organization and to all other stakeholders. This can be done at board and committee meetings, community fundraisers, through newsletters and advertisements, by mailing copies of the plan to stakeholders, posting the plan on the public website, reviewing the plan and its goals at staff meetings, etc. Only by keeping the plan front and center during regular business operations, will you be able to asses whether or not you are making progress.
In order to determine your level of success, you must have identified methods of measuring your progress. Different methodologies are used by different organizations depending upon their goals, their level of sophistication and access to IT programs, etc. But measurement tools need not be difficult. You can create your own measurement tools using gant charts created using Excel or similar software. An example of the types of measurements you might employ is:
GOAL: Will raise $25,000 for the creation of a new computer lab at the charter school
OBJECTIVES: Send ask letter to 4000 households within the school attendance area by November 21; send flyers home regarding fundraising in each child’s backpack by January 7; identify at least 2 corporate sponsors by April 1; ask the district for $2,000 by June 1.
MEASUREMENTS: Of the 4000 letters sent out, how many were returned with donations? What was the net profit after mailing costs? How many corporate sponsors were approached? Who were they? What were the responses? How much money was raised through corporate sponsorship? Did the district agree to the $2000 contribution?
Time flies when you’re having fun. Or at least when you’re very busy. Those organizations that are working diligently through the execution of their strategic plan will find that before they know it, the plan’s life is coming to an end and it is time for a new planning cycle to begin. A good rule of thumb is to begin your subsequent planning cycle at the start of the final year of the current plan.
Hopefully you will find that you’ve accomplished most of your goals. If not, they may be rolled over into the next plan, but you need to give serious consideration to the reasons why such goals were not met. Are they attainable? If not, why not? And why keep them? If so, how much time do you reasonably think you’ll need to complete them? Do you need to select a new team leader? Recruit more volunteers? If you decide to keep the current goal for another planning cycle, you must give serious consideration to what steps you’ll take to assure its success this time around.
Do not assume that the same strategic planning team will serve on the subsequent planning team. You likely have new members now. There are hopefully new stakeholders to draw from. There may have been ineffective members on your last team. Consider all the possibilities when building your new team for subsequent plans.
Best of luck to you in your efforts to design a new plan and meet your critical goals!
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