I was in a conversation with a nonprofit CEO about the organization he led. At one point he said something along these lines: “Oh yeah, four or five years ago we hired [a consultancy] to come in and help us do a thorough re-think. They looked at everything, top to bottom, helped us frame and write out all kinds of stuff.”
That was, most likely, a good, healthy, positive, helpful, much-needed experience. As in MUCH-NEEDED. It’s easy, and common, for an organization to put its head down and do its work, month by month and year by year, without stopping for good, thorough strategic planning. Things change – the organization changes, its programs change, its people change, its emphasis changes, its context changes … until the day comes that it lifts its head, blinks in the light, and says, “Whoa. We need to do some planning. We need a thorough re-think of where we’re at, what’s happening, and what we’re doing.”
What follows is then a big, complex, thorough process that requires maybe six months, a lot of valuable staff time, and a lot of money. If it’s done well, the organization will smile at the end and feel good about its fresh understanding and direction.
There’s a better way. An annual strategic planning process:
1. Allows the organization to regularly review its mission, purpose, values, and major objectives. Most years these major things won’t change. That’s fine, but a good, thoughtful review will help keep the whole organization on the right track. But then the year will come when one or more of these foundational things will need to change. An annual process allows that to happen when it needs to happen.
2. Allows the organization to be nimble. To review its work and its context in a good way every year, to make changes every year, or to evaluate changes made mid-year.
3. Allows the organization to keep the whole leadership team on the same page, all the time. If the organization only does strategic planning every three-to-five years or more, what about the team members who joined last year or the year before? They won’t work with as much force and focus on a plan they had no voice in. Sometimes the newest voices are the most valuable, and an annual process allows them to be heard.
4. Allows the organization to stay goal-oriented in an effective way. Team members are more likely to keep goals in view, and to fulfill them, if they know exactly how many months they have before they are asked, “So how did we do on this year’s goals?”
5. Allows the organization to be constantly looking forward. Team members are more likely to think ahead and develop good ideas if they know exactly how many months there are before they are asked, “What should we have as goals for the coming year?”
6. Allows the organization to frequently test its assumptions.
7. Provides a framework for powerful, effective field impact assessment – important for donors and important for program improvement.
8. Costs less, in both time and money.
9. Keeps the organization from drifting.
BTW – just because you’re producing an Annual Report doesn’t mean you’re doing annual strategic planning. They are two very different animals. The same goes for producing an annual budget.
love, joy, peace … Michael