Community engagement, though at times unwieldy and time-consuming, is critical to truly propel all variables towards a common goal. Julie Ha Truong will outline best practices in community engagement in planning.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Julie. I’ve got 1:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started officially?

Julie: Let’s do this. Yes. I’m so happy everyone’s joined. 

Steven: Yeah. Welcome, everybody. Thanks for being here. Good afternoon, good morning if you’re on the West Coast. If you’re watching the recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter when and where you are. We are here to talk about strategic planning, specifically how to involve the community and how the community will be a driver of that. So thanks for being here, awesome to see a full room. I’m Steven, I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. 

As always, just a couple of quick housekeeping items, I want to let everyone know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the recording and the slides later on today. So if you have to leave early, no worries, if you get interrupted, maybe a kid barges into your room while you’re working from home, no problem, maybe your boss bothers you, don’t worry, we’re going to get all that good stuff in your hands. And if you stay for the whole thing, you still get those things and you can review them, you can pass them on to a friend or a colleague. So have no fear, we’ll get those in your hands. 

But most importantly, please feel free to use the chat box right there on your Zoom screen. I know a lot of you already have. That’s awesome. Introduce yourself if you haven’t, say hi, but ask questions, you know, leave comments. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A so don’t be shy, don’t sit on those hands. There’s a chat box and a Q&A box. You can use either of those. We’ll keep our eye on them. You can also send us a Tweet, we love it. I’ll keep an eye on Twitter. But bottom line is we would love to hear from you. 

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, welcome. We do these webinars just about every single week, usually on Thursday but tomorrow is Yom Kippur so we’re keeping that day free. So thanks for joining a special Wednesday session, this is kind of fun. But every week, we love it, we bring out a great guest, today is no exception. But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, we are also a provider of donor management software. 

So if that is of interest to you, maybe you’re thinking of switching software or you’re just kind of curious about us, check out our website, all kinds of videos and stuff you can watch and, you know, we’d love for you to learn more. But don’t do that right now because we got a friend of the program joining us once again. Julie Ha Truong is joining us from beautiful California by way of South Dakota in her background. Julie, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Julie: I am great. I love it. I love the energy that you bring to these and we have the energy in the chat box too, so that brings a smile to my face as well. 

Steven: Yeah. I’m telling you. It’s a good group.

Julie: I’m going to ask you . . . I’m going to put Steven on the spot. First thing in the morning here for me, I know it’s afternoon for you, but do you mind kind of reading the chat box as we go? And if there are questions that you’re like, “Oh, this is a really good one,” feel free to just say, “Hey, Julie, we got a good question here.” 

Steven: I definitely will. 

Julie: I’m happy to address it. Otherwise, to make sure we get through most of the slides, we’ll make sure we save some Q&A time at the end and then I’ll turn it back to you, Steven, to let me know if I missed any chat box questions or Q&A box questions if you don’t mind.

Steven: Yes. Will do it. That sounds great. 

Julie: Great. Thank you.

Steven: Julie, you’re awesome. You did a webinar for us last year, had to have you back, check her out over at Leadership Savvy, does a lot of good work helping folks with strategic planning, which you’re going to talk about obviously, and just an awesome person. So I don’t want to take any more time away from you, Julie, so I’m going to stop sharing and I’ll let you bring up your beautiful slides here. Here we go.

Julie: All right. I will take over the presentation of the screen. Great. I wish I could see you all because so much of what we do in this work is building community. And so today’s topic is hopefully just that, it helps inspire you to be able to work in a more organized way to engage all of the different stakeholders that we work with in the field. And so today’s topic is Power of Community and Strategic Planning. We’re going to be using strategic planning processes to talk about how we can engage folks in helping to design the services, the programs, the community infrastructure that we all live in, right? So it’s for the people, by the people, is kind of the mantra here. 

So today’s agenda, we’ll talk a little bit about the why, the pros, and the cons, right? It’s beautiful, wonderful when everyone comes together, but then you have so many personalities and ideas, agendas can get messy really quick. So then we’ll talk about what are some participatory planning methods. How do we do this well? How do we do it in a way that feels inclusive, that people are heard, and that we can make decisions and not be overwhelmed by the process? I’ll share some lessons as we go, experiences that I’ve had, and how to also manage different stakeholders and people. So we’ll have some tools to help you manage the process as well. I hope to pair both vision and mission and goals with concrete tools for you to be able to help manage whatever project that you are overseeing or strategic planning process that you were overseeing.

So I have a question for you, and feel free to put this in the chat box. Just curious, when it comes to strategic planning, are you newer to it, are you somewhat familiar, or are you very experienced? Move aside, Julie. I could practically teaching this class. I’m just here to gain a couple of nuggets or I have some friends out there who are just here to cheer me on. I appreciate that as well. So just let us know into the chat box, kind of where you are and what brings you here today. That would be wonderful.

So as I mentioned, power of community and planning. That is big and bold, right? And you know that there’s potential here but it’s also kind of scary if you are leading the charge. It can also be a bit confusing if you are a member of an initiative or of the planning process and you’re not quite sure why you are working together or what the process is, right? We’ve all been a part of those kind of team planning sessions where we’re like, “Oh, I think I was invited but I’m not exactly sure what the agenda is or what the process is,” right? So as leaders, our job is to help build upon that momentum but also create that infrastructure. 

So just before we start, I wanted you to sit a bit and think about your experience with strategic planning. And think about, you know, feel free to grab a piece of paper right in front of you, put it down, I want this to be interactive for you, and take some notes. Because a couple of things, I do a lot of these trainings throughout the year and two thoughts I have before we start. One is you already know a lot. The things that I tell you will not stick unless you are able to reflect upon your own experience and go, “Ah, yes, I think this is what Julie is talking about. I had an instance that was similar.” Or, “Oh, I’ve seen that. I didn’t quite know what was happening there.” That reflection is really important. 

So I want you to be able to do that as I share examples, as I bring up tools today. The other thing is to write it down. I’m a big believer about putting things into the universe. When you write things down and you say, you acknowledge, right, after that reflection, you acknowledge, this is something that really worked for me in the past or this is something I recognize now, oh, I’d like to work more in the future, to write it down. Because once we write it down, we start to see it on paper, it reflects to us, we start to internalize it, and then we start to tell the world, right? We tell our colleagues, other folks have mentors, or we do some research about it. We start to take action. 

So I give kudos to you for coming to this training today, that’s an important step, and then to actually implement it, right? That is my goal, is for you to have a few actionable takeaways. And so feel free to actively take notes, write on this piece of paper. You don’t need to write everything on the slide because as Steven said, we’re going to be sending you the slides after today’s session. So think about your experience with planning, with working with communities, with getting people engaged and involved, what’s easy, right? What are those roses, those beautiful things that blossom? And what’s difficult? What are some of the thorns and stumbling blocks that you encounter? 

From my perspective, the roses is always seeing people’s faces, seeing how excited they are about the potential, the excitement to dream something different about their community, about the program, the project, the organization. And when we engage folks, I see that buy-in increases exponentially. We may go through rough patches, but because we’re working together, because it’s not just dictated by a small group of people what the plan is going to be or a top-down approach, folks have worked together. They’ve done the hard work to go through planning and land on a plan that everybody is informed about and can see that, oh, I was a part of designing this. 

And when that happens, when people have that buy-in, when they can see they are part of this vision and this community, two other things happen. They want to invest more time, more resources. And so the partnerships keep growing. I call it the snowball effect. And funding opportunities, I’ve experienced, start to kind of just roll in. Like, I would not have believed this if someone had told me previously, but we started to share our partnership efforts, our strategic planning process, our vision for the community, and folks started to knock on our doors to say, “How can I get involved?” There were even naysayers who were like, “I’m not going to participate in this. We’ve tried this before, it doesn’t work.” Or, “Oh, so and so is involved. We don’t partner with them. We don’t trust them.”

But after a few meaningful meetings, some small wins, people are starting to see it fall into place, what the plan could look like, right, what the community could look like, and that it looks like it’s going to happen. Folks start to want to jump on that bandwagon, right? They don’t want to be left behind, right? So I’ve even had a call where United Way said, “Hey, it’s our fiscal year end and we realized we have $75,000 extra. Could you use it? Like a colleague of mine told me about the effort, the initiative you’re working on. We’d love to be involved.” So that snowball effect is really amazing.

In all of my trainings and in my work, I also try to share that it is not always smooth sailing. You know, the end result looks really wonderful, there’s a big media blitz, social media posts, you know, everyone’s celebrating, but it doesn’t mean that there weren’t thorns along the way, difficulties along the way, or a lot of lessons learned. And so over time, I’ve learned a few things, right? We really need strong project managers. Yes, you need someone who can be that strong and visionary but you also [inaudible 00:11:05] and be a strong project manager. For me, last between six to nine months. That way, it can be really robust and also not lose momentum, right?

If it goes a year or a year and a half, it can lose momentum. Sometimes, you have too many ideas so you need a strong facilitator who can make sure we hear from everyone, but are able to put these ideas through a funnel and find those common threads. That facilitator has to be able to manage many different personalities, the different cultures, different experiences. And another thorn can be seen around shared resources. Groups that start off kind of on the wrong foot, I find can argue over resources but groups who start with vision and mission and values, those are the groups, right, where you didn’t come together because there’s a grant opportunity, you came together because there was a shared community need that you talk about resources very differently. 

So I wanted you to just think about that, how your group addresses resources. Are you using existing resources? Are there departmental issues? Is there competition between organizations? And then, for the last point here, that project manager, as I mentioned, having at least one person, actually, I would recommend just one person really be that ultimate project manager, because there are always so many different moving parts to managing a strategic planning process, to managing all of the stakeholders. We’re going to walk through what some of those steps are and making sure that there’s one person that is in charge. 

Sometimes there’s a committee, but I found that if there’s at least one person, like, they are the one who’s always staying on top of making sure communication is clear and people are on track and have expectations clearly set. So I know some people are raising their hand because this is a webinar with hundreds of people on it. I’m unable to address specific hand-raising questions. So if you could put your questions into the chat box or the Q&A box, Steven is helping me kind of curate it and by the end of the session, if not before, we will address your questions. Thank you. Thank you for your understanding. So some examples and lessons. Sometimes in our sector, we think of strategic planning as a very cookie cutter process, right? 

Let’s define our organization’s 3 to 5-year future, right, or 10-year vision and come up with a very clear strategic plan, right? What are some of your goals? How are you going to get there? And then by when, right? What resources will you need to make that happen? That fundamentally is what a strategic planning process is. But I wanted to, before I dive into the tactical elements of the strategic plan and working with community on developing that, I wanted to share some examples so that we remember, right, this is really about the community end result and not so much about the process.

So, for example, when we were working on a community policing project, I used to work in Minnesota, and about 15 years ago, we had another wave of immigrants, refugees that came from Southeast Asia and different countries from Africa. And there was a lot of cultural misunderstandings, something very basic. In one of the communities I worked in, they’re from Africa, they said that when a police officer stopped them, that for them, it would have been respectful to actually, you know, unbuckle your seatbelt, open the door, and actually stand outside your car to greet the police officer. And so that was that person’s understanding that that was how they would show respect to a police officer.

In America, that is definitely not how most of the police officers that I have spoken with would expect somebody to act at a traffic stop. And so we were able to through understanding that there are these moments that there’s a disconnect and using a community planning process, create conversations where we can sit down and say, “What is your assessment of this situation and why do you behave that way?” for both the community member and the police officer, and really creating genuine connections and letting them see that we’re all a part of the same community. And so it’s really powerful to be able to facilitate those conversations and then together, they could plan a project on how to help clarify what the expectations are at traffic stops. That was one really fun example. 

Another project I worked on was regarding youth mental health. We had surveyed an alternative high school and half the kids had said, “There’s no adult that I can talk to but I need to talk to somebody.” We were floored that half the students were raising their hands. And so we identified this desire, right? We listened to them. We then gave them access to referrals and you know what, 90% of the students did not follow up on the referrals. That’s probably not a surprise to you all who are working in our sector. It can be very hard for a student to take a day off of school to find their way to a mental health clinic or to have their parents take a day off of work to take them to this appointment. And so everyone loses, right?

Our mental health providers are waiting there with scheduled appointments and there are all these no-shows. And so we went back to the youth and we said, “We need to start our planning again and make sure we know the need but we need to include you in the process for how we plan the program.” And so when we went through a planning process that involved the students and the mental health providers, it resulted in opening some clinics that were inside the schools. That way, we were able to take the kids directly from the classroom and walk them down to the clinic to make sure we have 100% of students actually able to get to their mental health appointment.

Chemical health in the Southeast Asian community continues to be an issue and a lot of it is cultural. So they’ll go to different programs but when they come back home, our . . . I’m actually partly Southeast Asia, that’s where my family immigrated from. We don’t have the language to talk about drug abuse and really aren’t equipped to be able to help them live a healthier lifestyle and address chemical use directly. Like that’s just not something that we are born and raised with. And it’s not just Asian culture, I’m sure many families are ill equipped to have that kind of support for the individual. But what we did for this Southeast Asian community, working with Hmong and Lao families, is we wanted to create a more supportive chemical abuse and reducing the use of chemical and drugs. 

So what we did is instead of just helping to refer them to existing programs, we actually had community meetings inside, not just their homes but like inside their garages, because that’s something I did not know about some of Hmong friends, but they would cook in the garage, right? They’d have a burner. And those were actually some of the best strategic planning surveys and interviews that I were able to do, was really being more entrenched in the community and having colleagues and friends that were of the Hmong and Lao background to really welcome me into those spaces to be able to do this work. So sometimes, we have to think a little bit differently about how we work with the communities to be able to best serve them and really be able to listen to them. 

The last two examples are through a school district. They realized that academically, they were having some issues, the school was being labeled as a failing school and was facing potential closure. And so they realized that it’s not just academics. The kids are coming to school hungry. Kids need glasses, they can’t see. We are having some families drop off the kids really late, a lot of tardiness, and more and more kids were just getting into trouble. So the in-school suspension was growing and realizing that kids aren’t getting educated if they are in-school suspension. So the superintendent, His name is Keith Lester, in his planning process, did a series of interviews with organizations, nonprofit, even corporate, and then also spoke with families and said . . . he was very vulnerable and said, “This is a real issue in our district. How can we work together to fix it?”

And so after he got to about 25 conversations, he realized he needed a project manager. And so I came in and I was his consultant. And together, we worked with the community to create this joint vision for the school district. It’s now called Brooklyn Center Community Schools so that it’s absolutely apparent that this is not just about schools and communities separately, we are one unified effort. And so together, we worked on painting that vision, coordinating all the programs. I actually put here, implementation was one of our thorns. So multiple times, and maybe after the seminar, we can connect if you guys are interested in learning more, but there were multiple times where we launched something and it kind of didn’t catch on. 

So, for example, teachers, they were not initially very interested in this program. They had to deal with their own students and their own curriculum. And so we had to get creative. We had to find out who are our influential teachers, get them on board, and then the rest of the teachers came along. Or the parents, when we tried to take cupcakes away from them, oh, my goodness, the principal had not received as many calls before, but like this was 10 years ago when cupcakes were not being, you know, limited from schools. I think today, many more schools are trying to ask for healthier options for celebrations. 

But a lot of times, you come into these implementation hiccups and it’s okay as long as you have a process for addressing it. So the best plans that are laid out, sometimes it’s iterative. And so I encourage you to note that as you create your plan, that the best plans will probably still need to be reviewed and updated as you go. And then I already showed the example about as we do all this work, remember that visibility matters. You want to share that it’s not just one person or one organization that’s building this plan, making this vision happen, to acknowledge all of the different stakeholders, and then that snowball keeps growing.

That school district effort, there was also a community clinic that was built. And the only thing I want to say here so that I can move on to the next slide is we used a lot of different existing resources and we had a lot of duplicate efforts. In some initiatives, that would have been seen as maybe a waste of money or competitive but what we learned is a plan that has multiple stakeholders who maybe have some shared goals is if one stakeholder falls away, right, if one organization falls away or one funding stream falls away, it is less volatile. And so that is one thing I’ve learned as I work on building out community and strategic plans is it’s okay to have multiple players working on one initiative. 

Ideally, they would become partners in this work, but it also creates less volatility and in terms of I want to make sure that whatever program we introduce to a community, to an organization, that it can last, right? Too many of us have experienced programs that pulled out right when they’re doing so well because funding has changed, right? So yeah, that’s one of my roses, is partnership decreases volatility. So let’s get into . . . I’m seeing a couple of questions come in, which is exciting. We will get to those. But let’s get into the more of the tactical parts of community-engaged strategic planning. So some of you said, I’ve done strategic plans in your responses in the chat box, but some of you have not, you’re earlier in this process, and that’s okay. 

This would be my very pared down version of what a strategic planning process is. At the initial part, it is to provide a centralized area for data collection. What do we know? What do we have, right? What are what the needs of our community? But maybe more importantly, what are the perceptions around those resources, the needs, the partnerships? Because that sets a baseline for what we want to focus on and how we’re going to work together to get there, right? And so to share kind of what the goal of strategic planning is, I put the definition of strategic planning at the top. It’s a process to help bring multiple people together to set priorities and focus those energies and resources and identify common goals, right?

So that’s why you want to start with, what resources do we have now? What needs do people feel that they have now? And the reason I say perceptions are important is sometimes you identify a need but the community isn’t ready to address that. So if you create a program that the community is unaware that they need that or just not ready to talk about that issue, then your program might be three steps ahead, right? And so that is one example in this data collection process, really listening to where the community is at at this moment. And then you bring everyone together, we will talk about the who you bring together pretty soon here, to talk about that mission, vision, and values alignment.

With some groups, I’ve heard that can take six months, right? There’s a group that I worked with that are all different types of government and higher education stakeholders and they have very different big, bold agendas that they’d had worked hard on. So when they came together to create a joint strategic plan, it took them three months just to make sure that they all trusted each other and then another three months to identify the shared vision, mission, and values, but it was time well spent, because then, they can move forward with that trust, with that baseline. 

Then after you have that agreed vision, mission, and values for the organization, usually, I say for the next three to five years, right? You might have like a long-term 10, 20, maybe really far, 30-year plan, but it’s really hard to come up with an implementable plan that’s 10 years out. So having that 10-year North Star, you should be able to come up with a 1 to 5-year strategic plan. It really depends on your project, on your organization, kind of where you’re at. If you’re still coming out of COVID, maybe you have some sort of leadership or financial crisis, maybe your strategic plan will only be for a year or two years. But if you have a little bit more stability, we might be looking at three to five years. 

And so you go through a series of strategy sessions. Some consultants just do it over one day or one weekend, I like to do a couple of rounds. The first round is to establish the high-level goals. That usually reveals some more questions, right? How are we going to meet these goals, right? Or you might need to talk to other stakeholders or experts to gain more insight. So go and do some of that research and then come back again, reconvene, and make some decisions. And by the end of your planning process, you should be able to have on paper and with stakeholders bought in on shared goals, strategies, benchmarks and timeline. I think benchmarks and timeline are really important. It’s often missed in the planning process because benchmarks and timeline is what allows you to real-size your strategic planning process. Because too many times, I have experienced this, where you get amazing people, big-hearted people together, to create a shared vision and goals. 

And guess what? They’re amazing but they’re too big, right? It’s going to take double, triple amount the resources, and time to be able to make it happen. So in your planning process, if you can build in identifying what are our benchmarks for the next year, three years, right, and then does that timeline work for us? Another way to think about benchmarks is, how will you define success? How will you know you are successful at that one-year mark, at that two-year mark, at that three-year mark? And that’s when reality starts to hit for folks, like, “Oh, we’re supposed to get all that done in one year? Okay, we might have to go back to the drawing board just a little bit and real-size our plan.”

So community stakeholders, I’ve been throwing out that word. In our nonprofit sector, I think we use that a lot. But I wanted to just make a quick distinction that community is a group that we have an affiliation with, right? We have a shared cause or geography. It’s something we share in common. A stakeholder is also very important because these are the people who are directly impacted by the work that we do. And so sometimes, we immediately invite our community members to participate but sometimes, we forget to really look very broadly at the wider range of stakeholders, folks who maybe are not as well connected to us but could be impacted by our work. 

And so kind of I want to invite you to look at both lenses. Who’s in our immediate community that we feel a connection to but who are some of the broader stakeholders? Some of them may not be engaged in your programs yet but could be influential or could be a beneficiary of your program or could be helping to fund it. And so you might want to look at other outside stakeholders too. 

And then when to engage them, really, the answer is throughout the process. Now, that is an overstatement, right? That’s too simplified. So I’ll give you a few examples of when I like to work with organizations to bring in community. We will think about who to invite to the committee of a strategic plan. So if you have a strategic planning committee, do you want a couple of outside stakeholders, key partners? Some folks even go back to some of their key volunteers because they know the community, they know the organization so well. 

And in addition to your board members or your key staff who are also on the committee, I would say a committee probably no more than six people would be an easier to manage committee. If you want to engage more people, I would encourage you to consider workgroups. So maybe have an executive committee but then have other workgroups who are working on different topics. Maybe you have a research workgroup, a programs work group, right, or an external messaging workgroup. And those workgroups might not show up right at the beginning, they might show up later in the process, but that’s another way to engage more people. 

In the survey and interviews process, that is the primary way to reach everyone. So what I like to do is have an electronic survey and allow as many stakeholders as possible to participate in that survey and really want to let your organization think about who’s important that you want to hear from, but use this opportunity to gain buy-in. People are very honored when they are asked to provide input into a strategic planning process, especially if you can do it early. So I do the survey early in the process. I will circle back to them later in the process to gain feedback. Here’s how the plan is starting to shape up, do you have any additional thoughts or based on your personal experience as a client, as a funder, as an expert in the field, what are we not seeing? Or, do you agree with us on these priorities? So it’s good to circle back with them. 

And then the one in the middle there, strategy participant, during the strategy sessions where you are really diving through the data, having meaningful discussions, making some critical decisions, some of those, you can invite those outside stakeholders as well or you can have a separate focus group or workgroup that engages those different stakeholders. So there’s lots of opportunities to engage them in a strategic planning process. 

So the last thing I want to do is overwhelm you with, you should engage everyone all the time. That is also not the answer. One lens that I like to use to think about who to engage and how often is the spectrum of impact. For your strategic plan, what level of impact are you trying to achieve? 

Is this a strategic plan to help inform a project or an initiative or is it to help inform the future direction of an institution of an organization or is this more of a community partnership effort? It’s multiple stakeholders, maybe it’s cross-sector, public, private. Is it a coalition that you are helping to create a plan for? Or maybe you’re really looking for larger scale, a change, right, systems-level policy advocacy change. That spectrum of impact will really help you think about who to engage in your planning process. 

So I just wanted to take a moment to help you think about, have you worked with and engaged communities? What helps and what hinders? Again, I’ve been sharing a lot of different things about my experience, kind of the process that we take, the areas in which we engage stakeholders, and I may have used lots of different terms that you do it during the research data collection phase or the strategy sessions. And even though this is all standard strategic planning language, for some of you, you’re like, “I got this. We’re ready to do this, Julie. You’ve got me fired up.” For other folks, you may feel a little bit intimidated. And so this slide here is just to remind us that we’ve all worked with community stakeholders before. Our colleagues, our clients, our neighbors, right, our school and our church friends, they are community members. 

And so give yourself credit and take a moment to think, what was it during those projects or volunteer efforts or staff meetings, right, team meetings, what worked and what didn’t? Because again, it’s when you stop and reflect and write it down, that’s when you can call out what worked and what didn’t and replicate it or avoid that misstep. So I just wanted to invite you that when you have a moment after today’s session, to do a little bit of homework, find some time for yourself to think, when it comes to engaging community, what am I good at? You know, what skills do I have? What experience do I bring? And what are some areas where, oh, Julie was talking about that and that seems a bit new, kind of scary, or, oh, I think I want to learn more about that. 

Take a minute to write those things down because then, you can start to put in the next steps of who do I need to talk to to be able to do more of that work that I’m good at, that I love, right, and deepen my engagement and community-based planning? Or who do I need to talk to to continue to mentor me to be able to step up into my leadership potential to help manage a community-based strategic planning? 

We’ve spoken a lot about building trust throughout this process. So these are just a couple of questions that I wanted to highlight and a lot of these are kind of ways to give yourself some credit and allow yourself to give yourself some patience because sometimes, it’s fits and starts. We have lots of different personalities we’re working with. 

These causes aren’t easy, things that we’re trying to tackle. And so we can have moments where we feel like, “I wish I could be doing this differently or better,” or, “Why is this process so difficult?” And we have to remember that every single group, every single process is different, right? If you’ve worked with one group, one planning process, that’s just one group, and the next group you work with, even if it’s the same group, two years later, three years later, it’s going to be a whole new process, right? But give yourself that flexibility, know that you need to be flexible with those changes and to kind of anticipate them as you begin your planning process. 

As I gave as an example earlier, how can you really reach the different community members and stakeholders? For me, it was in the garage, cooking with the Hmong family, right? For others, that might be going to a classroom and observing the teacher student dynamics, right, and understand, are we meeting our goals for that program? But thinking about, there’s different ways to really listen to and really see our communities and to invite them in. A lot of times, I have to think about it as who should make the ask. We may have a survey. We may have an opportunity to volunteer on one of the planning committees. 

Who should make that ask? Just because I’m a strategic planning consultant doesn’t make me the best person to ask, right? There could be people in the community, students who would not feel comfortable with me making the ask. So think about who has the trusting connection, and it allows them to continue to deepen their relationship with that stakeholder. 

Is the approach accessible? I always appreciate working with clients and communities that ask that question, right? They’re like, “Julie, I love your process but these questions are hard to digest. Like, we got to make it easier for our students to digest.” Great. Like, we’re checking that lens to make sure that not only are we trying to engage them, we’re actually giving them ways that are accessible, friendly enough for them to engage. And that can be through the specific survey questions. Maybe survey doesn’t work. I’ve had older generations of members say, “I’m not going to do an online survey, but happy to meet with you for coffee,” right?

And then giving them a seat at the table. So many times, we ask folks for their input but then, we don’t actually give them a seat at the table. So open up some of those leadership opportunities, invite them to the workgroup, have them join a committee. Once they have that relationship with you, and hopefully, you’ve worked with them in the past too, invite them to join your board, right? Or I’ve worked with a lot of small community-based organizations where they help to disseminate information, they partner, but they don’t get to see very much of the funding, right? So think about that. How can we engage community but also make sure that the community is being compensated for their time and their efforts to be a good partner with you?

This slide is for my data folks, those who really like to dive into data and want to make sure that we’re making smart decisions. As you can see, this is a long process, a lot of stakeholders, a lot of input. I talk about it as creating a funnel, right, to find the common goals. These are some of the tools in which you can gather that data. I’ve mentioned a couple already, but I wanted to make sure you had one slide in which you could see a list of them. These are some of the tools that I use all the time. Resource mapping, who’s already here? What resources, what services are in our area, and then where are the gaps? What is the kind of market competitors’ analysis? 

That’s actually diving in to what do they specifically do, what programs do they offer? Is it for kindergarten, elementary, high school, career outcomes? Is it for senior citizens, right? Starting to dive into the nuances of those agencies and to see where your particular initiative organization can differentiate. You might also identify some potential partners. The community needs and readiness assessment, I’ve said multiple times. This is something I see very few consultants and strategic planning processes focus on. People focus on what are the needs, but they often forget the readiness assessment. So that is one question, at least, it should be a question, if not a survey or an assessment, on are they ready to take on some of these bold visions that the community needs to address so that you can plan a plan that will help bring the community along versus alienate them. Or they just don’t get on board, right? And they’re like, “I’m not ready for that.” 

And then the trends analyses, what’s happening in the policy space? Who are the players? Who do we need to connect with, build relationships with, and what’s the funding? What are the funding trends? Ideally, you are on top of kind of what’s happening and have a seat at the table. So knowing who the players are, getting a seat at the table, not only are you able to do strategic planning for your organization but you’re able to impact the actual funding streams and the actual players and have them become your advocates. So you can use the planning process to reveal some of these opportunities as well.

For data collection, there’s a few types. I would look at existing data, review existing programs and systems, observe the programs in action, do surveys and interviews, focus groups, and then other like town hall style forums can allow you to receive a range of data and input. I think, yes, this is my slide. I was hoping I would get to this, is make sure that when you are thinking about your data collection and the whole strategic planning process, to check against these standards. Hopefully, this will help you breathe a little bit of a sigh of relief. When you bring people together, there’s one organization I’m working with right now that loves data, right? They could just look at data all day and they have a million questions they’re always asking. They want more data. 

What I have to ask them is, will this be useful? If we survey these people with so many questions, are we actually going to use some of the answers that we hear or is that outside of the scope of our current project? So make sure that whatever data you’re collecting is actually going to be used, right, or we’re wasting everyone’s time. 

Feasible. When you set up that plan for data collection, are you going to be able to actually collect that information? So in your strategic plan, you may say, “I want to track long-term outcomes, 5 years, 10 years from now.” What would make it feasible? Because if you’re working with some communities, they move a lot, right? It might be hard to track and you might need to add additional resources to be able to actually do that type of research. 

Of course, is it ethical? If that community member, if that senior citizen, that student, if they were to read these surveys, listen to some of the responses, see the results of the report, would they feel good about it or would they feel like they were put in a vulnerable position revealing more than they were ready to, right? And so just kind of double-check and make sure, especially if you’re working with more vulnerable populations, to make sure that you’re working with a trained consultant who can help you walk through that and make sure that we are protecting our most vulnerable communities. 

And then an accuracy. We don’t want imperfect data. It’s going to be hard to get perfect 100% participation in the data but it’s really important to use data where you have received enough input and again, a consultant or a like survey developer, somebody who’s experienced in building out surveys, can help you understand what level of input yields a more accurate data sample. And so accuracy, kind of go with your gut too. If you feel like you haven’t been able to hear from enough stakeholders, be honest and transparent with that and say, you know, we need you to spend a little bit more time on data collection to make sure we’re getting a full picture here. 

And we’re getting towards the end of the slide deck so I’m looking forward to answering your questions soon. So this slide here might be familiar to folks. It’s a very common slide to think about group dynamics. Every single group has ups and downs. When we form, when we embark on a strategic planning process, when we invite people to the table to participate, things are on a good note, right? They’re starting where folks are really positive, they’re excited to be a part of it.

But when you start to get into the areas where you’re talking about making some decisions, I mean, something as simple as rewriting a mission statement can certainly have its moments of storming, right? “No, I didn’t mean community, I meant stakeholders,” and like that wordsmithing process can be very tiring. But when you overcome that, you get to a place of norming and folks go, “Yes, this is really what we meant. This mission exactly absolutely encompasses what our goals are,” right? It doesn’t have to be just a mission, it could be any group working on any topic will go through these ups and downs. But the takeaway here is you got to weather that. You have to have a strong facilitator, a strong project manager, a strong strategic planning committee, that helps to facilitate those ups and downs because once you get to that plan, it’s being drafted, folks can feel and see the potential vision and roadmap for the community, they’re getting to a norm. 

They’re like, “Oh, this is what we could be. This is how we work together. We have the trust.” And when we roll it out together, we are performing at a higher level because we have the trust, we have clarity on where our North Star is, and we have a roadmap to action.” 

So the last thing I’ll say about this is it’s also cyclical. Sorry, I wish it was just you’re high performing, you can all kick your feet up on the table and relax. Unfortunately, it is a cycle, because the world is constantly changing. And so you might reach a point of performing and then realize some of the things have changed, maybe some of your staff have changed, the partners have changed, funding has evolved, and you might have to go back to the drawing board a little bit. That’s okay. You go back through it, you weather it, and you become strong performers again. It’s part of the natural process. Give yourself some credit. 

And finally, just one slide about how I kind of assess the success of the people that I’m managing through the strategic planning process. I look at do they have a strong sense of purpose, people, and process. And so right now, you might be working with a team in general or with a strategic planning process and periodically, you’ll want to check in and see, especially if you feel like something is a little off, what is off? Is it purpose, people, or process? And when everyone is aligned with purpose, that means they know the what. They have a clear understanding of their shared vision as well as their purpose there, right, how they can contribute and the expectations. 

Not everyone has to contribute at the same level. In fact, some of the groups that I work with that have the best rapport with each other, they are very honest with each other. Some organizations are the big whale and they contribute 50%, other organizations don’t have that capacity so they’re only 5% contributors, right? There’s that transparency and expectation. 

The people. Do we still have the right people on board? Do we have the right decision makers? There are some planning meetings where if you don’t have the decision makers, you’re just kind of talking in circles, right? Or sometimes you’re talking about program design, do you actually have program staff and experts at the table? So think about do we have the right people at this time? 

And process, is there a clear process? Are communication channels clear? Are regular meetings set? Do we have a clear structure? Is it a hub and spokes model, you have an executive group and then different spokes who cover different topics, or is it more of a linear horizontal structure? There’s many different structures to managing your community, you just have to put it on paper and share it. And again, it’s okay. We’re always learning as we go. So let folks know, this is the current structure, this is the current communication channels, and then we’ll check in with you to make sure it still works for you and adjust as we need.

Final points on managing people, competency and charisma. Every group you work with is going to have a mix of folks who want competency versus charisma. What I mean by that is you’re going to have some folks who love data and they want evidence. There are other folks who are about connection and making sure that people are cared for, right? You need both of those in a healthy planning process. You’re going to have some cultures that lean one way to another. I work with some organizations that are more STEM tech corporate who are really like the competency side that like the data, the KPIs, right, the return on investment, KPIs is key performance indicators, but then I work with other teams who are really about helping foster youth or ensuring that social justice engages community members. 

They want to make sure that they’re creating a safe environment, right? So if you’re working with a group, make sure you’re thinking about what is the existing culture and how can we make sure we’re meeting the needs of both types of people, because sometimes, those questions come just because we have different desires in terms of how a process should go or what kind of information we should receive. And then my kind of tip here is try to include a little bit of both. Just because a culture is a certain way doesn’t mean you should feed into just that culture because diversifying folks to have both competency and charisma will help you make better decisions, right, because you’ll be able to pay attention to both sides. 

Everything else, I feel like I’ve already mentioned before, that throughout the process, celebrate your progress. And especially at the end, don’t forget to circle back with all of the people that have been engaged in your process. Sometimes we forget to even like mail or, sorry, email them the final strategic plan. They’re like, “What happened to that plan,” right? Make sure that you share that plan back with them and you let them know that their voice helped to impact this plan and here’s how they continue to stay involved. 

So those are my slides. We have about eight minutes left and I’m happy to answer some of the questions that you have. Steven, would you assist me with that? And sorry, I should mention, I’d love to get to know you all out there. This is such a fun topic. I’d love to hear about your strategic plans. You can find me on LinkedIn and Instagram, @Juliehatruong. Instagram is more of my travels. So if you’d like my pictures of travel, you’ll see more of that there. Otherwise, my website is leadershipsavvy.com. Thank you for coming today and I’ll pass it back to you, Steven.

Steven: Yeah. That was awesome, Julie. Thanks so much. I was just nodding along like the whole time. So it was fun to have you again and learn from you. And those cupcakes, I think there’s a strong metaphor there. That could be a book topic, perhaps. Keep thinking about that. 

Julie: Who took my cupcakes?

Steven: So yeah, we’ve got time for questions. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. We got a lot of questions, probably more than we will get to, but do reach out to Julie, her contact info is there, obviously an awesome person. Here are some good ones. Madison was wondering your take on the SWOT analysis. Are you a fan? You got any spicy takes on that? You won’t offend me either way but what do you think? Is that a good tool for strategic planning?

Julie: Spicy SWOT. You know what, I used to think, “I’m better than the SWOT,” right? Like SWOT is old news. But 20 years later, I’ve been doing for 20 years, I still go back to the SWOT. You might not need all four quadrants, right, SWOT is strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, for those who don’t know the quadrants. The best way if you want to use all four quadrants is strengths and weaknesses are your internal strengths and weaknesses as an organization. Opportunities threats are those external opportunities and threats. So if you’re going to use a SWOT, use it in that way. But for many organizations, if you don’t have a long planning process or meeting time, synthesizing it down to just strengths and opportunities is okay too because sometimes, it’s really hard to delineate what’s an internal versus an external opportunity because they can be intertwined.

Steven: I love it. Good call. There’s a couple of good ones here I want to get to. One, Julie, a bunch of people were asking about the survey questions. What do you suggest to ask in those? Any questions that are kind of your go-tos there?

Julie: Oh, love it. Yes. So I’ll default to the early survey. Let me know if my audio becomes unclear and I can turn off my video, okay? 

Steven: Okay.

Julie: So the early survey process is to check in on the current reality. So you’ll want a series of questions that do just that. This is our current vision, this is our current mission, these are our current programs. Are they still needed? Are they working for you? What should we invest more in? What do you think is less important? And so a lot of times, I will list out the existing programs and have stakeholders prioritize them. Because what happens over time is most organizations end up taking on more and more and more and more. And then five years later, they realize, “We can’t grow because we’re just struggling to even sustain our current programs.”

So the planning process and through the survey, you can ask, what is the priority, then you can really hone your resources in to target serving those priority programs. It’s also your opportunity to ask, what’s changed the landscape? What are your current needs? And so you might end up getting new ideas and evolve your program or develop new programs. So you want to get all this at the front end, really hear from the stakeholders, how they see your current programs but any new opportunities that they would invite you to consider.

Steven: I love it. Here’s another good one. If you were revising an existing strategic plan rather than creating a new one, what’s different about this advice, if anything, Julie? Any special tips there if you’re just kind of revising something that’s already, you know, dusting something off that’s already there versus starting from scratch?

Julie: Yes. I actually love . . . I think it’s a good exercise to pick up a strategic plan and look at it quarterly or annually. And so you technically should be revising your strategic plan as you go. If you have a strategic plan that really is just high-level, it’s the vision, mission, goals, that might not need to be revised as much but if you have one that also has the specific strategies for meeting those goals, high-level benchmarks, the annual benchmarks, and maybe some of the key partners and resources that help you implement this plan, all that work in the more specific strategies should evolve over time. You may find that you were able to execute some of these strategies much more quickly than you had originally thought. 

And then for others, you may say, “Oh, this has been a tough year. We’re going to have to extend that timeline,” right? So really, I would recommend that what you’re doing is you are updating your strategic plan. And even when you are starting a new strategic planning process, you should look at your old strategic plan and to have a report out, right, an understanding of what did we accomplish? Where did we fall short? What became maybe less relevant, right?” Sometimes the world changes and you suddenly realize, “These are not the goals that we want to work on. We have new goals.” But it’s really good to reflect on what was created prior just to, you know, have kind of some closure. Otherwise, a lot of stakeholders will say, “Are these plans even worth our time because the last plan, we didn’t really even use,” right? So hopefully, that’s helpful.

Steven: Yeah. Good advice to always go back to those things, right? Because it’s never a project that’s, you know, completed and done forever, right? That’s a good way to end it. It’s one till . . . I want to give you the last word, Julie. I know we didn’t get to all the questions. I’m so sorry for that. I promise I wasn’t playing favorites. But Julie, would you mind maybe taking questions by email or, you know, offline here? Is that cool with you?

Julie: That is definitely good with me. We had many great questions. Thank you for having me today and hopefully, this seminar inspired you to engage community more throughout your planning process and I hope I also am part of that. It’s not a smooth sailing, easy process 100% of the time. There’s always personalities and different agendas and everyone means well but I give you just huge kudos and thank you for doing this work because when we come out the other end and become these normalized and performing organizations, you are making huge impacts in our community. So I see that each of us as leaders in our sector, we see a different future. Status quo isn’t good enough. So thank you for joining us today so that we can create strategic plans that are community-engaged and will be more effective.

Steven: I love it. Thanks for doing this, Julie. It’s always a pleasure to have you. 

Julie: Thank you. Yes [inaudible 00:59:53].

Steven: We’ll pull you back on next year’s schedule for sure. 

Julie: Wonderful.

Steven: And yeah, definitely reach out because she’s awesome and it can be a resource for you. We’ve got a great webinar coming up. Next week, we’re back on the Wednesday schedule. Our buddy, Maureen Wallbeoff is going to talk about how to get some ROI out of your technology investment. So if you just bought some software, thinking about buying some software, any kind of software, any technology investment, she’s got some advice for you. She really specializes in helping people get implemented. So that’s going to be an awesome one. And if you can’t make it anyway, register because you’ll get the recording even if you don’t attend. That does not bother me at all. 

Speaking of, we’re going to send the recording and the slides of this session later on today so be on the lookout for that. I’ll get that to you before dinnertime, I promise. And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So if you’re observing Yom Kippur tomorrow, I hope you have a really meaningful day. And for the rest of you, I hope you have a great week and a great weekend and hopefully, we will see you again for our next session. So we’ll call it a day there. Thanks again. Bye now.

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.