Yes, it’s tough, but strategic planning is more important than ever.

It seems that every few years many organizations declare that it is time to once again undergo a strategic planning session.  They dig around, dust off the old plan, refresh their memory, toss the old plan away, and start over with the intent to get it right this time.

As a result, they lock up their stakeholders in a room for an afternoon, brainstorm around a meager SWOT effort, dream up a wish list of things they would like to do and declare victory.  In other words, they skip the hard and requisite work of planning: understanding their position in the community, knowing where they are stronger than their competition, and determining the next best steps in their evolution in a best effort to see their vision of the future become a reality. Then they completely skip over the second half of the process, determining the steps to get the plan to actually work.

Strategic planning is hard and that is exactly why the best nonprofits perform it routinely.

The evidence is in, strategic planning leads to organizational success.

More than ever, strategic planning is proving to be an essential element employed by successful organizations.  In 2012 The Association for Strategic Planning in conjunction with University of Arkansas produced “Research on Successful Practices in Strategic Planning”.  Analysis of the data collected in this effort was presented during the Annual Conference of ASP in Atlanta, GA.  The effort involved a survey of nearly 1,000 individual respondents that consisted of a mix of 72% nonprofit organizations, and 22% NPO consultants with approximately 6% of the responses unusable.  It involved a self-rated process that gauged success as high, medium, or low.  Thanks to ASP and Denise McNerney of iBossWell, Inc. for permission to reprint this information.  The findings revealed the following key areas of process that are instrumental to success…

Successful organizations engage in the following activities:

  • Create strong agreement, buy in, and engagement among the Board of Directors and other key stakeholders.
  • The Board and staff work to become aligned behind the mission, vision, and values statements of the organization.
  • A unified focus and direction for both board and staff is created to gain involvement / engagement of all key stakeholders in the planning process.
  • The right people are placed in the right positions.
  • The CEO/Executive Director has complete confidence in the planning process.
  • The rethinking/revising of the strategic direction of the organization leads to a focus on and what will be added/changed/reduced/stopped.
  • They transparently share information and process among all stakeholders, board, staff, and key donors.
  • A systems and tracking plan related performance outcomes is employed.
  • Periodic follow-up meetings on plan performance are routinely conducted.

Awareness of the challenges to successful implementation can position organizations to more effectively face them.

  • Staff spread too thin to pay explicit attention to plan implementation.
  • Insufficient financial resources to employ the plan.
  • Lack of formal reporting process on plan progress is neglected.
  • Measurable progress indicators are not employed.

More diligent implementation practice is directly linked to successful plans.

  • Successful organizations don’t plan only to meet risks/challenges; planning is a “consistent periodic process”.
  • Medium success organizations are more challenged with lack of leadership support/direction.
  • There is a strong link between high overall organizational success and maintaining routine explicit plan implementation practices.
  • Highly successful organizations are more disciplined in conducting systematic implementation practices.
  • Highly successful organizations assess & report plan progress routinely: at least 3 to 4 times/year.
  • High success organizations credit strategic planning & management to their overall organizational success.

Finally, remember… The best plans are realistic and they evolve.

Strategic planning should be a dynamic process.  My advice to many nonprofits is to simplify their planning.  Based upon the resources you have available, determine the top 3 to 5 things you can accomplish in the next 12 to 18 months.  The plan will evolve as you learn relevant information about its progress.  That’s because the best plans have a measurement aspect that make them fluid.  As the environment changes, you learn from your mistakes, and therefore your plan should evolve appropriately.  Make it a continuous process.


If your organization would like to learn how to optimize your planning efforts, give us a call at 720-638-0909.