Dr. Renee Rubin Ross will provide concrete steps organizational leaders can take to plan strategically, building investment, ownership and fundraising.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Renee, is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started officially? 

Dr. Ross: Yes, absolutely. Go.

Steven: All right, cool. Well, good afternoon, everybody. And if you’re watching the recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter when and where you are. We’re going to have some fun today. We’re going to talk about strategic planning, one of our favorite topics particularly your first steps to strategic planning. So if it’s new to you, you are in the right place. We’re going to have some fun over the next hour or so.

I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating our discussion as always. And just some real quick housekeeping items before we get going. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session. We will send the recording and the slides to you later on today. So if you have to leave early, or maybe you get interrupted, or you want to share with a friend or colleague, don’t worry, we’ll get all that good stuff to you later today.

But most importantly, please use that chat box on your Zoom screen. Ask questions, introduce yourself, if you haven’t already. There’s a Q&A box and a chat box. We’ll keep an eye on those. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. We’d love to hear from you. We’d love for these sessions to be interactive. You can also send us a Tweet. I’ll keep an eye on that as well. But bottom line is we’d love to hear from you.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, special welcome to you first-timers. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. Renee and I were talking about how last year in 2020, we were doing like two or three sessions a week. We’ve gotten back to our normal schedule. Great session every week, totally free, totally educational. Today is no exception by any means. 

But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang besides our webinars, Bloomerang is a provider of donor management software. So if you are interested in that, maybe curious about us, check us out, visit our website. There’s all kinds of videos and stuff that you can interact with there if you want to learn more about us. But don’t do that right now because one of my favorites is graciously returning to our webinar series. Joining us from beautiful San Francisco, Dr. Renee Rubin Ross. How’s it going, doc? You doing okay? 

Dr. Ross: Oh, thank you. It’s a little foggy here, but yeah, in general, beautiful.

Steven: I’ve heard that you know, every time I talk to someone in the Bay Area it’s always foggy. And I wonder if you just say that to keep people away because it’s so beautiful. But that’s okay.

Dr. Ross: Oh, I noticed it says fundraiser Chad on my thing there.

Steven: Oh, yeah, that’s not you. 

Dr. Ross: Don’t worry. No.

Steven: That’s my guy. I will put out your Twitter handle in the chat. 

Dr. Ross: It’s all good. Renee Rubin Ross. Yeah. Renee Rubin Ross.

Steven: You’re going to want to follow her on Twitter and also get involved with The Ross Collective because she’s got an awesome consulting firm, does all kinds of cool stuff. Specifically, I’m really interested and one of the reasons why we got connected inclusivity, DEI stuff, we’ve been talking about a lot. So I’m really passionate about those topics as well, in addition to strategic planning, which you’ll talk about later on. 

But I don’t know how you make time for webinars, Renee, because you’re doing all these other things. You’re super involved with Cal State University. You’re teaching grant writing and doing board development and super involved in the nonprofit community there. And you’ve done great sessions for us in the past. So I’m really excited to hear your take on this topic. So I’m going to pipe down. Nobody wants to hear from me. I’m going to stop sharing. And we’ll see if we can get your beautiful slides going there, all right. 

Dr. Ross: Great. 

Steven: It’s always a fun transition.

Dr. Ross: So thank you for the intro. Oh, my, gosh. And so good to be back. Great. Can you see my screen there? 

Steven: Yeah, looks like it’s working great. 

Dr. Ross: Excellent. 

Steven: Go for it.

Dr. Ross: Okay. And let me just skip this. Okay. Wonderful. Okay, great. So let’s see oops, yeah. So Steven already said a little bit about me, Dr. Renee Rubin Ross. My firm guides leaders and organizations in strategic plans and governance processes that deepens social change, racial justice, stakeholder engagement and community strength. I do run the Cal State East Bay Nonprofit Management Certificate Program. And I teach Board Development and Grant Writing for the program. I have actually one of my students on the on this call which is fabulous. Hi, Shelton. 

My firm is The Ross Collective. My contact info is there. I use she/her pronouns. I identify as a white consultant, San Francisco Bay Area native, as Steven said. Mom to two humans and one dog, spouse, pandemic baker with my 11-year-old human, that might be a subject for another webinar. And I enjoy running, walking and playing guitar.

So the challenge that I hear from a lot of clients or potential clients or nonprofit leaders is we don’t have a strategic plan. And Steven, I forgot to check in with you about the poll. But are you able to launch the poll at this point?

Steven: Yes, here we go. I’m going to try to do it.

Dr. Ross: Okay, awesome. 

Steven: Here we go. It’s it should appear. There we go. 

Dr. Ross: Great. Thank you. 

Steven: Yeah, the answers are coming in pretty [inaudible 00:05:27]. 

Dr. Ross: Wow. This is really interesting. So yeah. Is your organization working off of a strategic plan? And why don’t you have a strategic plan? Okay.

Steven: Want to give it a few more seconds and I’ll go to the next question?

Dr. Ross: Yeah, give it like another 20 seconds.

Steven: It’s like almost everyone’s voted. Good job. 

Dr. Ross: Oh, awesome. All right, five seconds. You want to close the poll? 

Steven: Yep. Here we go. Okay. And then there’s the results of the first one. 

Dr. Ross: Great. So it looks like is your organization working off a strategic plan?

So 21% say we’ve never had one, some about 20% no, it expired, or about 30% it doesn’t really apply to our current work so it sits on the shelf. And about a third of you are saying it’s a key part of our work. Great. So the good news is about a third are working off of a strategic plan and about two thirds are not. 

Okay, so the second question, why don’t you have a strategic plan? Can we see that one too? 

Steven: Yep, here it comes. Here we go. Okay, here it comes, should be there now.

Dr. Ross: Okay. Oh, okay coming in slowly. Okay. Oh, people are voting right now. I see.

Steven: I want to give it 10 more seconds. 

Dr. Ross: Okay, 10 more seconds. Think about why you do not have a strategic plan.

Steven: Okay, here come the results. 

Dr. Ross: Okay, great. So yeah, so I see it looks like about a quarter of people don’t know what to do. Well, that’s why you’re here. We don’t have the time about 16%. We don’t have the money about 11%. And there are some other priorities, almost 30% of you’re talking about that. Last one wasn’t good. We’re hesitant to create a new one. Definitely, something that I’ve heard from some nonprofit leaders. Oh, yeah, some other people put some other ideas in the chat, too. Thank you. So yeah, that people aren’t able to move it forward. And some people are working off of a strategic plan, a minority about 40%. Okay, so great. Thank you for the . . . yes and some resistance. The board doesn’t want to work on it. Thank you for the responses in the chat.

I wanted to say, you know, if you are saying you don’t have a strategic plan, you’re not working on one right now, you’re not alone. Research shows that the majority of nonprofits are not working off a strategic plan. And I think the reasons really have to do with the ideas that all of you are mentioning here. It’s not about good intentions, it’s about there’s some other factors involved. All right.

So every time I present or teach, I like to be really clear about what we will be talking about, what the outcomes for the session are. So I wanted to share them with you. At the end of this webinar, you will be able to define strategic planning. I’m going to do that pretty quickly, identify three considerations for doing strategic planning now given all the change that we’ve seen over the past year. Plus, identify four steps of strategic planning and identify one or two next steps that you can implement within the next week to do strategic planning.

For anyone who’s been my student or come to my trainings, I’m really focused on usable knowledge. It’s great to be inspiring, but I would . . . my goal is that you have some tools that you did not have an hour before. And so I’m going to ask you this question at the end of the hour, what is a next step that you could put into place to begin to do some strategic planning?

So every time I teach or present, I like to do group agreements. It’s really about how do we want to be together. So my agreement with you to share some content that many nonprofit leaders find useful, and to stop periodically during the webinar to make sure that you’re with me and get your thoughts. How you can benefit the most? Participation is the path to learning. So the more that you’re part of this webinar, chime in. It’s great. And inquiry stance, we’re learning together. If you have a question, please put it in the chat. Most likely someone else does too. And I encourage you to value our time together, the more that you’re present, the more you’ll benefit from the content being shared. 

Those of you on the East Coast, I know it’s the end of the day. You may be tempted to send off your last few emails. But the more you can put your work aside and be here, the more you will get out of the presentation. 

And I wanted to say one more thing, which is that I am generally when I do teaching and training, I am always paying attention to the expressions on participant’s faces. Are you nodding along? Are you confused? Do you disagree with what I’ve just said? So one of the challenges of a webinar format is that I cannot see your face. So I really want to encourage you to use the chat in a positive and supportive manner to ask for clarification, or add your thoughts or experience to what’s being shared. Everything about my approach is about the wisdom in the room. And so I, you know, want to hear from you because I know that whatever is on your mind, you’re able to add to the conversation.

All right, so what is strategic planning? I’m going to do a quick, sort of quick definition. And then we’ll get more deeply into this. Strategic planning explores three key questions. So key strategic planning questions are, and I’m going to tell you these now, and then we’re going to go into them in a lot more depth in a little bit. Who are we in the context of our community and the environment? Who are we? So once we figured out who we are, what do we do best and feel pulled towards? And given number one and number two, what should we do now?

So the other thing I want to say about this is there’s a lot of different ways of defining strategic planning. The kind of strategic planning processes that I lead are inclusive and participatory which means that the group is consulted, the vision of the group, the energy, we kind of tap into the energy, vision, knowledge, experience of the people who will be doing the work in order to make plans. And I’ll talk a lot more about that when I talk about the process. 

But there are some benefits, some real clear benefits of inclusive participatory strategic planning. And they include clarity that team members understand what we’re doing. It’s crystal clear what we’re working on, why we’re here. Alignment, we’re all swimming in the same direction, because we have gone through this process of coming to agreement. Also focus, there’s a sense of understanding as an organization what we do, and what we don’t do, you know, where are we putting our energy? Where are we not putting our energy? And lastly, energy. 

So once again, this inclusive participatory strategic planning is as much about a list of priorities as it is about a process where people who are on the team are consulted in the planning. And then there is a sense of agreement. And this leads to an energy to expand the energy for plans. 

Okay, so, you know that you’ve got the benefits of strategic planning. And something that I wanted to talk through together is how do you figure out should we do strategic planning now? I created this table to help you figure this out. So the first thing you want to . . . and I’m going to talk through it. 

The first thing you want to do is look at your organizational capacity. Some questions you want to ask are, do we have the energy and motivation to dig into some big questions about our organization? You got to clarify that. If I know that, that some people working inside of nonprofits have been working really, really hard. There’s been a lot of adapting to change. And you got to figure out as a team, do you have the energy and motivation to put the time aside to work on some of these questions. I find it energizing to but you have to figure out if you can do this kind of capacity work. 

And also given what is on our plate, how important is planning? I recently worked with an immigrant support organization that had expanded their ability to serve their community during the pandemic. Had significantly increased their budget and increased their staff by 50%. So their work had shifted, and they did need to do some strategic planning, because they had gotten into some new areas of work, but the first thing they needed to do was onboard their staff. So it’s really, before you get into whether you should be doing planning or not, you could start out by accessing your organizational capacity. 

Okay, second, assessing your financial stability. And some questions to ask in this area. Is our organization in a place of financial stability? And also, to what extent do we have the financial resources to invest in strategic planning? 

There, as I’m going to talk about it a little bit, there may be a range of how much you would spend on strategic planning. But no matter what, even if you’re going to start devoting staff time to an internal planning process, it will demand some amount of financial investment. So you want to look at that. 

And third, you want to assess your programmatic stability. Some questions to consider, how much have we shifted our program due to changes in the external environment? Are there significant unknowns about program delivery in the next few years? 

Wow, this is really extremely relevant for the moment that we’re in, right. We know that certain organizations have seen increased need this year and have expanded their services and visibility. Those are the human services organizations, environmental organizations, organizations focused on justice, hospitals, health organizations. And their programs may have changed, but they also might have found some programmatic stability.

And but on the other hand, if you think about arts organizations, a community theater may be currently closed without the public’s desire for returning certainly to full capacity. And in that case, it’s hard to figure . . . it’s hard to make a plan for the future. And hard to do that planning without really knowing what’s going to happen next with the program. And I want to . . . okay, so I’ll come back to that. 

So I wanted to ask you, based on what you’ve heard, where does your organization fit in this table? Yes, maybe. So do you do strategic planning now? Yes, maybe, no. And feel free to put something in the chat if you . . . Oh, okay, we got a yes, all right. So, yes, wow. Wow, maybe. Definitely, yes. Yes. Yes. Wow. All right, we got a lot of yeses. Wow. Okay. That’s great.

All right, so it seems that’s really interesting. I will say that maybe six months ago or eight months ago, I think we would have seen a lot more maybes. And what I’m seeing is, I’m seeing now is, is that organizations feel like not that we have hit a lot of change, but the waves are decreasing in height, let’s say. 

Okay, so let’s say you decide that you are in that, yes, or maybe area. So what happens next? So this is what I want to encourage you to do. So this is my recommendation is that every organization you should be used to be right-sizing your strategic planning. 

So if you look at this image, it may look that you may understand here that this is the “Three Bears,” right. We have the big chair for the papa bear, we have the middle-sized chair for the mama bear and we have a little baby chair. Now, what I loved about this image is that all the chairs look equally comfortable and luxurious. Each of the chairs is the right chair for the right bear. So it is the same kind of thing with strategic planning, we need to think about how much do we need to plan? How much do we need to get into the questions of strategic planning and really right-size your process? And I’m going to talk about a lot about how to do this. 

So just one, I’ll be getting into this more about just, you know, one thought about this. It may be that, for some organizations, a really large strategic planning process would include hiring an outside facilitator, doing a . . . oh, thank you for that. Somebody says I love the analogy, appreciate that. Hiring an outside facilitator, spending six to nine months, and, you know, reviewing all of your programs. And going into a deep fiscal analysis and commissioning outside research, all of this kind of thing. 

But it may be that you don’t need that, that there is committee that could come together and you need more of the mama bear strategic planning. And that’s going to work. And that’s going to help with all of those benefits that I mentioned before. Right, the focus, the clarity, the alignment. And it may be that this is something that you can do internally, that you can internally have some reflective conversations that will help you to shift or to just deepen investment and clarity. And I’m going to go into much more detail about this. 

Okay, now, so going into what is strategic . . . So you’ve gotten a sense that you are either in that yes, or maybe category, you are ready to do strategic planning, you see the benefits. And what does this actually involve? So these are the key strategic planning questions that I mentioned before and I’m going to go more into them. 

So first of all, the first question to think about is, who are we, in the context of our community and environment? Every nonprofit was formed for the benefit of the public good and to serve a certain purpose, right? Now, what happens as organizations go on through their lifecycle is that often there’s the kind of veering off course, or getting away from, you know, the reason for founding. But it’s really . . . and so strategic planning is really going back to immersing yourself, and that’s the board and staff team, you know, in what is the environment that we are working in? And what are the community needs?

There’s a lot of different ways you can do this. You can, the least resource intensive would be to hold a reflective conversation with staff and board on changes your organization and community have experienced over the past year. Right, more resource intensive would be to have board and staff members conduct surveys or interviews on changes, to share and reflect on them, to share what was learned and to reflect on this. And most resource intensive would be to commission research on changes in the external environment or the population that you serve.

Depending, I think that the other thing to consider is well, a couple of considerations. First of all, you may need to think about how much change have we actually really experienced in either community needs or the environment that we are working in. And that would probably help you to understand how much data you’re going to need to collect and how much this will inform whatever planning you do. 

Okay, yeah. So some other areas that you want to think about in this background and context work. So one of them is a fiscal analysis, what is the story that our budget tells about our work? Where are we allocating, you know, our financial resources? And yeah, and what is the breakdown? Programmatic analysis, similarly, what are our current programmatic priorities? And what could use more attention? And a demographic analysis, what are the demographics of our boards, staff and clients? And what do we learn from this? 

For each of these, again, for each of these areas, as you can imagine, it is possible to go into an incredible amount of depth. And then it is also possible to have to not go as deeply into these questions. 

Okay, so next, I want to talk about values. So values are a compass. There are a lot of ways of understanding values. The way that I understand them . . . Well, first of all, over the past year, there was a lot of talk about values. And you may have heard conversations about values-based businesses, values-based organizations. And I think this is because we did hit this moment in March 2020 where things just shut down. And we couldn’t act for a moment. And so the way that we figured out how to move forward was to listen to our values. 

And I wanted to and when I think about this, I wanted to share the story of La Cocina, an organization that I’ve worked with in the past. La Cocina is a San Francisco based nonprofit. La cocina means kitchen, the kitchen in Spanish. Before the pandemic La Cocina ran a multi-year incubator program to train low and very low-income entrepreneurs to run their own food businesses. So in some of these after, I think, three to five years of this training in running their own businesses, some of them became or I would say, a really high percentage, opened either pop ups or restaurants. And this is a way of helping entrepreneurs to become self-sufficient. 

So what happened? The pandemic hit. Well, it did not make sense in that moment to keep running an incubator to train people to open restaurants, right. There’s no restaurants that are open. So La Cocina went back to their values and their vision and revised their strategies for the time of the pandemic. And what they found in doing some planning, what they found out was they really valued supporting the entrepreneurs in their community. And that was what they did for the past year. They raised funds to make sure that the people who had already gone through the program could continue to be self-sufficient. 

They’ve actually come out of the pandemic . . . We’re coming out of the pandemic. And I don’t know how many restaurants are open for indoor dining, but a lot of these restaurants are open for takeout now. So they’re able to keep working with these entrepreneurs and keep supporting them. It is really inspiring. And it’s a way that their values of self-sufficiency helped them to figure out what to do. 

So, again, what are values? Values are a process of figuring out who are we in the context of our community and environment. I see core values as deeply ingrained principles that are part of . . . that are unique to a particular organization and are part of day-to-day interactions. So this isn’t something that you’re trying to be, this is really how you are together as a team. And you might not hit it every single day but it’s how you are, you know, aspiration . . . how are you are trying to be and trying to keep getting closer to, sort of like the compass. Values help us to know who we are and how we want to move through change, and that’s why I find them . . . that’s one of the reasons why I find them really powerful. 

A couple of examples another Bay Area organization, Asian Women’s Shelter is a domestic violence organization in the Bay Area. Their values include survivor centeredness, non-hierarchy and anti-oppression and each value includes a description. I have a white paper that I, if you subscribe to my newsletter, or also on my blog, I describe the process of creating values. And so you can read more there.

So next one is vision. So vision focuses on the future. This is what we are hoping for, for the future. So the simplest way of understanding this is, what future state would the world need to be in for us to know that our work was complete? Okay, what future state? So what would need to happen for us to say, “Well, we’re done. We don’t need to be here anymore. We have done everything we need to do.” 

So, for example, Agricultural Institute of Marin, a local organization that focuses on food and education says, “We envision a responsible food and farming system that is environmentally beneficial, economically viable, and socially just,” right. If that were to happen, we would no longer need to exist. That we would be complete and we could go into some other work, close our briefcases, go into some other work. 

And I want . . . I forgot that I put this image in the corner of the Three Bears because I wanted to say that for each of these questions, again, there is a way to do this in a very big way. And there’s a way to do it in in kind of a medium way and in a smaller way. Yeah. Oh, and I see a comment in the chat, “Arts will and should never go away.” Okay. That’s a great, yeah. Thank you. So appreciate that. And potentially, you would need to think of another way to come up with a vision. What is the future state that you hope that putting this into the world will help make happen? That’s probably how I would adapt it a little. Thank you for that, Jim. 

Okay. Yeah. And I see, okay, a couple people are asking, you know, how would we answer the question if your organization is continual, and never done? So I think that you could say, what is our vision? If you feel like, we’ll never . . . our work will always be there, then what is our vision for the next three to five years? What’s our vision for the next 10 years? If we did everything we wanted to do, had an unlimited amount of time, money and collaboration with other partners. What would be in existence in the world? Because it’s really going back, this is really that star that you’re moving towards, right? And the thing about this is, to name this is to bring out the energy of the people on the team. You know, why are you doing this? That’s a lot of vision. Why are we doing this? Okay, thank you for the questions. 

So mission. So now we’re kind of going from the stars down to a bull’s eye. So mission is more about the day, the focus of our day-to-day work, right. So, for example, some of you may have heard of Charity Water. Charity Water is a nonprofit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. For Charity Water, they can say every single day, “Are we bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries?” Right, are we doing the thing that we said that we would do? 

Okay, I see a question here. From Shelton, thank you for that. Can I clarify the difference between mission and vision seems like they overlap? Vision is in more of a distant future. How would we want . . . what’s the future state that would indicate that we are accomplishing our work? And mission is much more in the day-to-day. What are we working on today? They’re very much connected, but mission is going to help you to figure out what to do today. And because we’re starting to get into what are we doing and what do we feel pulled towards? So mission is really about what’s the focus of our day-to-day work? Okay. 

Some of the ways to . . . a couple more, Habitat for Humanity builds strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. Again, if you’re on the staff of Habitat for Humanity every single day, you can say, “Are we building strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter?” And if we’re not, if we’re getting distracted by something else over there, then maybe we’ve hit mission drift, right, and we need to realign. 

Similarly, Agricultural Institute of Marin their mission is to educate, inspire and connect communities, responsible farmers, and producers as part of a healthy, earth friendly, equitable local and regional food system. So every day, the staff and board can look at each other and say, “Are we living out our mission,” right? And this is where you go back to why it’s so helpful to do this work. Because you start to talk about, you know, as you going back, as you do that prep work of looking at what your program and your finances are allocated towards. Well, does it reflect our mission? You know, that’s where you start making those connections in strategic planning. And if it doesn’t, what do we want to do about it? We either need to shift our mission, or we need to shift how we’re allocating time and money. 

Okay, so and then, the last component of strategic planning . . . well, the last kind of high-level components are these strategic priorities. So these are really the buckets of work that move you towards your mission. And some of these may focus on program. But at least one bucket should focus on building the capacity of your organization. So some of them may be around high level around the work that you’re trying to do but there should . . . but usually, there are at least one of these strategic priorities that focuses on your fundraising goals. Or a recent client needed to work on improving the systems of their staff, so that everybody was . . . you know, so there was more balance.

So it’s, you want to have some . . . and so the strategic priorities are really high level. They will not be measurable. And then from those strategic priorities, that’s really where you start to create objectives. Again, I put this image in here, of those chairs, as a reminder, that there are ways for each of these kinds of questions. That they could be really big, or that they could be a lot smaller. 

Okay, the last thing I wanted to talk about in terms of strategic planning is around equity and justice. There is so much to say on this topic and I think it really is a topic for another webinar. But I really wanted to . . . a lot of organizations are working on this now, how do you bring equity and justice to planning and to board governance as well. And I just wanted to mention just a couple of thoughts. 

So equity means that the people who are closest to the problems are weighing in on the solutions from, this approach to strategic planning, which is inclusive and participatory. A strategic plan is only as good as the voices and perspectives of the people weighing in on the plan. So you need to make sure that the people who have a sense of these problems are weighing in on them. And if that isn’t, if your process isn’t set up like that, then I would say you need to adjust it so that you are making sure to have that equity focus. 

And the second part of this is equity it means that systems are shifted. So that black, indigenous, or people of color, who have been historically and systematically disadvantaged in terms of access to wealth, power, education and health, have the resources to enjoy full healthy lives. And so what many organizations are looking at now is how are the systems inside our organization contributing to equity? Right, and if they are not, what do we need to do? And when I say systems, I mean everything from hiring to policies to any kind of systems that your organization is using. Okay. 

So, again, going back to these are our key strategic planning questions, who are we, in the context of our community and environment? What do we do best and feel pulled towards? And given number one and number two, what should we do now? So who are we is really that collecting that context background information. What do we do best and feel pulled toward is getting into the vision and mission. And then those strategic pillars are more about what should we do now? 

I know that someone had asked a question, Robert, about scenario planning. And I wanted to . . . so I did want to respond to that. Scenario planning is really in number one, scenario planning would be to say, “Wow, we have hit a lot of instability, and we have no idea what’s going to happen. But how do we plan?” And the response is to come up with a couple of scenarios that might help you to narrow down your approaches for what you’re going to do next. 

So one scenario might be, we get a lot of government funding. And so even though there are significant needs in our community, we have the funding to run all of our programs. And then you could say, “Okay, then we figure out what we’re going to do in that case.” Another scenario is our local governments are cash strapped. And so we’re going to struggle to serve our community needs. 

And so from that, kind of looking at the scenarios, which becomes background information. You can then decrease the, let’s say, complexity of your planning by saying, “Well, there aren’t really infinite number of possibilities of what’s going to happen. We could probably narrow it down to a couple.” 

Okay. So here we go. I am now sending this back to you. And I wanted to ask you, as I said I would what in the chat if you can share . . . Oh, thank you for the edit. In the chat, if you can share, what is one next step that you will take in the next week to do strategic planning? So it’s always really interesting to hear what are you taking away that you might be able to do to start to put this into action? 

So I see clarify the mission and vision. Review the current strategic plan. Assemble a diverse team. Have a conversation with the CEO, oh, my, gosh. Share this information, small conversation with the group, define our who. We have strategic planning scheduled. Oh, we’re having retreat to, wow, do a SWOT analysis. Have a conversation with the ED who is resistant. Feel free to send over this PowerPoint. Have the vision conversation. 

Yeah. And there’s so many good ideas here. Wow. Review current strategic plan and process, share info with the leadership to begin the conversation. Share with the board chair. Oh, I love all those so many good ideas. This is really, really inspiring. Thank you. Oh, my, gosh, talk to the rest of the board, talk to the ED. Get the team refocused. Yeah. 

And, by the way, man, I want to say so many good ideas. Let’s see we have to, gosh, I almost feel like we have to send these out, Steven, because there’s millions really, I can’t even read them all and they’re going to all panelists. Maybe we can, like collate or something and share. 

So yeah, what I was going to say is that this is . . . Mary, yeah, I feel like we’ve been in a scramble, and we need to refocus on our strategic goals. I’m not, as you can tell, I’m not coming from this from a judgmental perspective. This has been a really hard year, and people are really tired. We had to . . . everybody had to go remote. That was a big project. There’s been a lot more work around fundraising. 

The positive is a lot more money has come in. But the negative was that there was a lot more fundraising I think that people felt that they needed to do on grants and also individual because of increased need, and so people are so tired. And what I’ve been trying to share here is how do you right-size this? How do you do it in a way that’s manageable because I’m a strategic planning geek, is there some real benefits to doing this work? 

So okay, so I just at this point, wanted to open this up for questions. And see, Steven, I don’t know if you’ve been collecting some questions. Oh, and look at this, I did put some, if you want to stay in touch, I put some information on this slide too. If you want to schedule a consult, I have a newsletter that I send out every other week. And if you subscribe, then you can get this white paper that I just put together that talks about the ideas in this webinar in more depth, in terms of how to do some of these processes. And I would love to connect with any of you on LinkedIn. Actually, I did the last slide in here has a couple of resources for further reading. I don’t know if . . . you don’t do send out the slide deck, though I think, Steven. Maybe there’s a way we can.

Steven: Yeah, we’ll make it happen. We’ll figure something out. 

Dr. Ross: Okay.

Steven: And shout out to that newsletter, I get that newsletter and it’s always a good read. So definitely sign up for that.

Dr. Ross: Thank you.

Steven: Hey, this was awesome. We got some questions, but I just want to say thanks, before we get into it, because we’re getting some good comments there. And you’re seeing them but.

Dr. Ross: My pleasure. I just really, I’m just appreciating. I see. It’s funny, because there’s in the chat there’s all panelists, and there’s all panelists and attendees. And so not everyone is seeing what I . . . so like people wrote to all panelists, but I’m just really appreciating the fabulous participation from, like, so, so, so many of you. So yeah.

Steven: Yeah, it always a group. So I appreciate that as well. Well, there’s a lot of questions here. If you haven’t asked a question go for it now, because we’ve probably got about 10 minutes. There’s an interesting one here. They’re about halfway through the strategic plan, but realizing that maybe they need to make some changes, maybe it got off to a bad start. Any guidance there if maybe you’re in the middle of the process, and you feel that maybe you need to pivot or re-examine? Have you seen that happen and be successful?

Dr. Ross: Yeah, I mean, I think I have seen that happen in different ways. Or I’ve also heard about this, where I mean, where I said at the beginning. Sometimes people say, I mean, one of the organizations that I work with said, “You know, we have this strategic plan, but the staff wasn’t consulted.” And so really, they have no investment in the process. And yeah, so I would say, you know, yeah, it’s funny. 

I did mention or in the readings, I did mention this book “Emergent Strategy.” And Adrienne Maree Brown, I put it in the slides over here, it’s over here. I have it right here on my desk. And it talks about how strategy really needs to emerge from the group and be and that’s really what my approach too, it needs to be small enough. 

So if you feel like you’re starting to go down a road where the strategies that you’re getting, or the process that you’re getting is not getting you there. Then I would say take a step back, because you do want something that, you know, is going to have those benefits that I mentioned at the beginning. And so I think you could probably tell. Yeah, so you may have to pause and say, “Hmm, this seems like it’s not working.” It’s not getting us where we want to go. Pause, and then see what you want to do.

Steven: Make sense, Yeah, no reason yeah, chugging forward, right, if it’s not working. Here’s an interesting kind of brass tacks question. How long should a strategic plan be? Is it you know, is there a good sweet spot for the length or size of it? You know, is this like a 50-page tome? Is shorter better? Does it depend?

Dr. Ross: Yeah, I mean, I think, for the . . . I think that you should be able to create a visual of some of the high-level stuff that could fit on one page, or one or two pages. 

Steven: Okay. 

Dr. Ross: Now your organizational, I mean, depending on the size, your organization, you know, it couldn’t be 50 pages if you’re a multimillion-dollar organization, and you’re talking about your objectives and your goal . . . your very measurable objectives in each area, right because you’re going to go into a lot of depth. But some of these high level, you know, your vision, your mission, your strategic priorities or pillars, that should be something that I mean, that you could post on the wall of your organization as a poster. And really, I mean, I think that, you know, if you build alignment around this, and it’s pretty inspiring. “Hey, this is what we are seeking to do every day. This is the focus of our work,” so, yeah.

Steven: That makes sense. Speaking of strategic priorities you just mentioned, can you give some examples of those a couple people have been asking is, does that read kind of like we want to reduce hunger by 10% this year? Is that kind of an example of maybe what . . . 

Dr. Ross: Well, the priorities I mean, I think it would be a little bit higher level than that. So I was just looking at First Five, and their work it was all about focusing on children, focusing on families, focusing on, you know, policy and advocacy. So or, you know, and then below that, there were some more measurable objectives that were, you know, all the different kinds of groups that they were going to work with for each of those areas. 

Generally, you want to start with a verb, right, create the systems, you know, to strengthen our work, you know, build capacity. And then you start to think about how, you know, or strengthen fund development, so we can expand, you know, all of that. 

So the priorities are not measurable, but then you pretty quickly, once you’ve agreed on those priorities, you should be going into, okay, now, how do we make this happen, right? And, by the way, I mean, you’re not just throwing everything up in the air. You already . . . I’m assuming that you already have a lot that is valuable, and it’s really a matter of making sense of it. So you already if you step back and look at your work, yeah, you have some most organize . . . you know, pretty much every organization, you have these strategic priorities already. 

Steven: That makes sense.

Dr. Ross: And you just want to . . . but this planning. I mean, it’s something that’s really exciting about the planning is that one of the questions that come that you are wrestling with is, okay, we have seen these changes. And now we noticed that some new priorities are emerging.

Steven: Along the same lines, Madison was wondering how many priorities or pillars is appropriate or too many. I mean, probably wouldn’t want to have hundreds but.


Dr. Ross: No, I think like three to five.

Steven: Okay. There you go. Easy.

Dr. Ross: Yeah, I mean, and there are tons, if you just start, you know, looking at different organizations, many organizations do have their strategic plans online. And you can kind of do some Google searching to get a sense of, you know, the kinds of priorities. And often you’ll see, when you look at an organization’s strategic plan, you’ll see the priorities and some more detail, you know, about the rationale and all of that. But you won’t see their objectives, right, because you’re not going to see that you know, they want to raise 500,000, and then a million and all of that. You’re not going to get that level of detail. It’s confidential, generally. 

Steven: Yeah. That makes sense. From Elizabeth, I love these questions, because we’re getting down to brass tacks. How long is this process? Is this months long, weeks long? You know, Matt, also chimed in saying, is it kind of an ever-present processes or is it continual? What do you think?

Dr. Ross: I love that. So okay, so I would say, you know, some of this depends, how much do you need to align, right? So if you are . . . I just worked with an organization that had a change in leadership, they had really shifted their work. We’ve been working together for about six months. And, you know, and some of it was collecting, it was a process, collecting data, reflecting on the data, having some retreats to process that. Communicating, you know, to others outside the strategic planning process, and then coming back. 

And they also, by the way, I mean, I said this at the beginning, but, you know, in terms of that capacity, organizational capacity, right, you’re driving the bus, and you’re also changing the tire. So you’re still running your organization, and then you’re doing this whole other process on top of that.

So I would say, you know, if you feel like you have pretty good alignment, you maybe could do it in three months that would be very quick. But it’s, I would say, you might want to allocate more like six to nine, especially if you feel that there’s a lot that you’re going to need to work through and you really . . . It also kind of goes back to that culture of the organization. You know, how much time, do you want to reflect and think, about what you’ve learned. And see, you know, and maybe you want to slow things down, especially if you’re saying, we’re going to create a strategic plan for the next three to five years of our work. Five years is kind of a long time. 

Now these days, I think especially, we’re seeing that, we just see so much change that organizations are hesitant to do that. You know, to go that far out. But then the other part of this is yeah, one of the . . . I would say this is something you want to revisit, if not every month at a board meeting, then at least every quarter. And that’s the whole thing you do not want some . . . And you want to look at, well, are the strategies that we came up with or the even the objectives, you know, are they working? And so it’s not like this is a living document. I mean, you know, you have to kind of keep adjusting because something might have changed again. Wow, we’re in a moment of a lot of change, let’s say.

Steven: Yeah, it doesn’t just get shoved in a drawer and forgotten about.

Dr. Ross: Yeah, and I love Nancy says, you know, yeah, there’s abbreviated, moderate, and extensive. Yeah, thank you for that. I mean, so you could two days . . . oh, wow. Okay. Yeah, I mean, I think, that’s also what I was saying, in the sense of, you know, figuring out how to right-size this. But I really do no matter what, whether you are working with an outside consultant, or whether this is an internal process, there is a great value to doing that reflective thinking and allowing time for that.

Steven: Yeah. Well, I love that question about engaging a consultant. I mean, is this an always you want somebody outside to come in and help? Or is that that kind of a nice to have? Does it depend? What do you think?

Dr. Ross: I think it depends, you know, on the financial. An advantage that people often talk about is, first of all, if you’re the ED and you’re running the organization, that’s the focus of your work. And anytime you bring in a consultant, you have someone else who’s going to be, you know, the project manager for the strategic, you know, for staying in touch for the strategic planning process. And bring in their tools and process, which, as an ED, your core work is really making sure, you know, that you’re working with your staff and your clients. 

So and then the other part is, if you have a facilitator, then everybody can participate in the conversation nobody needs, you know, you have kind of outside person. But some organizations, you know, it’s not financially feasible. So that’s why I’ve been trying to say, “All right, how do you right-size this?” And then, sometimes people find somebody on their board who can do this kind of work, or, you know, pro bono or, you know, help out with it. But again, then that person can’t participate in the process in the same way. Yeah.

Steven: Well, dang, I know we didn’t get to all the questions. We’re about out of time, but.

Dr. Ross: Oh, my God. Wow.

Steven: Folks can get to you if that’s okay.

Dr. Ross: Yeah, I would love to hear from participants if you want to talk about this further. It’s exciting, you know, as I said, I’m a strategic planning geek. So really, and just believe that we are so much better when we can hear from each other and build that alignment on a team. The work is so much stronger. And so that’s what I and so you know, in this from the small to the big, tried to do in my work as a trainer, consultant, all of that and really encourage other people to do as well. And really exciting to hear that many of you are working on this. Congratulations in advance.

Steven: We all need geeks that specialize, so no problem. And you’re awesome. We always love having you. So thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Ross: Thanks so much, Steven. My pleasure.

Steven: And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I think we had, dang, over 300 people or something like that. So that was awesome to see. I so appreciate all of you. I hope you’re all doing okay, you’re staying healthy, staying safe. We got some cool sessions coming up over the next few weeks. I’m just going to grab the screen away here real quick, Renee. 

Dr. Ross: Yeah, okay. Yeah, go. 

Steven: Next week, our buddy Maryanne Dersch from St. Louis. She’s going to come in and give what’s going to be a really fun pep talk. If you struggle with maybe being persuasive, getting your ideas across, you know, kind of vocalizing your opinion on things. I struggle with that. I’m going to be listening very intently to this session. That’s what we’re going to talk about. Maryanne’s awesome, has done webinars for us in the past and is all over the place speaking so that’s going to be a fun session next week 2 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, totally free. 

We’ll record it if you can’t make it register anyway because you’ll get the recording. So no problem there, if you don’t attend live, that’s okay but hopefully we’ll see you on that session. If not, register. There’s other webinars that you can check out there, lots of cool topics and we will send you the recording of this presentation later on today. So be on the lookout for that. And hopefully we’ll see you again next week. So we’ll call it a day there. Definitely, [inaudible 01:00:09].

Dr. Ross: Thank you so much. 

Seven: Yeah. This was awesome. Have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a good weekend. Stay safe, and we’ll talk to you again soon. See you. 

Dr. Ross: All right.

Steven: Bye.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.