Sam Frank recently joined us for a webinar in which he showed how the various kinds of strategic planning needed by a nonprofit can intersect with and reinforce each other.
In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:
Steven: All right, Sam, is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?
Sam: I think that sounds great.
Steven: All right, great. Let’s do it, then. Well good afternoon, everyone if you are on the East Coast and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “The Case for Integrated Planning.” My name is Steven Shattuck. I am the Chief Engagement Officer here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
I have just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and we’ll be sharing that recording as well as the slides with you later on this afternoon. So if you have to leave early perhaps or if you want to be able to review the content later on or share it with a friend or coworker, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an email from me later on this afternoon with all those goodies.
As always, please feel free to chat in any questions that you may come up with along the way. I’ll see those, our guest speaker will see those and we’re going to try to save just as much time as possible at the end for Q&A. Don’t be shy; we’d love to make this as interactive as possible. You can follow along on Twitter today if you are a Twitter-type person at #Bloomerang and our user name is @BloomerangTech.
If you are listening today via your computer speakers and if you have any trouble, it’s usually a little bit better quality by phone. These webinars tend to only be as good as your own Internet connection and dialing in by phone usually takes that out of the equation, which is nice, so if you have any trouble, just refer to that email from ReadyTalk and switch over to audio mode via phone if you can and you’re willing to do that. We appreciate it.
Just in case this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say a special welcome to you folks. We always have some first timers here. If you don’t know Bloomerang and if you’re not familiar with us, in addition to providing these webinars every week, we also offer donor management software. If you are interested in that or perhaps in the market, you can check us out. You can even download a quick video demo and get a nice tour of the software. You don’t even have to talk to a human being if you don’t want to first, so check us out. We’d love for you to learn more about us later on.
For now, I’m really excited to introduce today’s guest. We have Sam Frank joining us.
Hey Sam, how’s it going?
Sam: It is going well so far, but of course I haven’t said anything wrong yet.
Steven: No, you’ll be great. I’m really excited for this. If you guys don’t know Sam, Sam runs his own webinar series over on www.4Good.org. It’s possible you’ve attended some of those webinars in the past. He kind of takes my role, what I’m doing today and it’s kind of fun to hear him be on the other side and actually be the speaker for once, so that’s going to be really cool to see. Sam’s a great guy. I got a peek at his slides earlier this week. I’m really excited for you all to hear the content.
A little bit about Sam, I just want to brag on him really quick before I hand things over. He’s got his own consulting practice, Synthesis Partnership, where he helps out nonprofits with strategic planning and organizational development. There, he’s worked with a lot of nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes. He loves to serve arts and culture, social justice, healthcare, education and lots of those worthy causes. He’s a great guy and a really smart guy too. You guys are in for a treat, so Sam, I’m not going to take any more time away from you. Why don’t you go ahead and get us started, my friend?
Sam: Well, if you have to, Steven. I was enjoying listening to that, but it is a pleasure to be on this end of the conversation after more often being a host every week for the last seven years on the 4Good webinars.
Here we are and let’s focus on why we’re here today. Welcome to all of you to a broad overview of planning that should help you approach any form of planning that you need to do within your organization with a little more context, with more effectiveness, and you should be able to guide your board better in thinking about what you need in your organization in terms of planning.
What we are going to talk about today and what I hope you will walk away with is how to think about planning comprehensively. Many times I hear the term “strategic planning” being used, or master planning, or program planning and sometimes people actually don’t mean the same things as each other when they say that. If we have a comprehensive understanding of planning, you can know exactly how to think about strategic planning for your organization in a way that doesn’t get tied up in other things, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We will see that momentarily.
I’m going to talk about the differences among types of planning, about why you do them, who’s involved, how they impact your organization and how they fit together. For the resources, I should let you know that the material in this webinar is material that I find it possible somehow to compress into five or six hours of more detailed webinars. This webinar touches upon a lot of material I’ve written about and spoken about elsewhere and you will see in a moment in the upper right-hand corner of the slides a lot of URL links to some writings and some other webinars that are given in a more explanatory list at the end of the webinar. If you are interested in going into more depth, certainly I would be happy to hear from you, but also there are some things that you can look at and read that will give you some of that detail.
I’d be very interested in hearing what you’re particularly interested in taking away from this webinar. Type it into the chat screen and if I have a chance to glance that way while I’m thinking about what I’m talking to you about, I will see if I can also address those things and we will have some time for questions at the end.
The first question is why plan? When I was in the corporate world a number of years ago, I often heard the term, “no brainer.” Often it was used to squelch further thought and conversation and most of the time, I thought it was used in a way that was not getting us anywhere and was not actually talking about something that didn’t require thought. It was talking about something that required more thought, so I always like to start out talking about planning by using this quote from H. L. Mencken. “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution and it is always wrong.”
It’s important to really understand the complexities of the situation you’re trying to address and the complexities of how to address it more effectively before you try to come up with an answer. Let’s go through half-a-dozen reasons of why nonprofit organizations go through planning.
The first is circumstance and you can see in the upper right that there are some links for other resources on this material. The first is circumstance. Change happens in the world and your organization may be aimed in a direction that needs to adapt to that change. Sometimes you have to face that change. Sometimes you have to create that change or sometimes you actually don’t survive change when you don’t adapt to it, so planning allows you to think about how your organization fits with the world of the moment as opposed to the world as it was when your organization started out.
The second is operations. You can fine tune what you do and get everyone much more on target. Have them dismiss distractions, develop critical metrics for what people are doing — both individuals and departments in your organization as a whole — and actually you can be so clear about your organization that you’re building a much better case for fundraising when you look at operations and plan them.
The third reason that I would give for planning is wisdom. I referred to the “no brainer” at the beginning of the presentation. The important thing about a strategic planning process well done, is it brings in multiple perspectives. It brings in thought from people who aren’t normally in a management or governance conversation and allows you to see what you know from a different perspective. It can be extremely helpful to get out of your comfort zone as you run your organization and see that certain things you thought were obvious actually are a little off target or at least are not understood by your stakeholders and maybe need a little effort from you to clarify or change course.
The fourth reason for planning — and this is most specifically about strategic planning — is to cultivate your stakeholders. empower your stakeholders through a transparent process that includes them and gets them involved in the organization. I always say that a good strategic planning process using, among other things, surveys for the people that you don’t normally have direct contact with. Everyone is pulled just a little closer in to involve them with the organization. The people who are marginally involved are a little more involved. The people who are pretty much involved now can get more so and in fact, you are cultivating interest in your organization and you are also building connections and enthusiasm for perspective donors as well as perspective users of your organization.
The fifth reason is organizational development. By going through a strategic planning process . . . actually any of these planning processes I’m going to talk about really develops internal leadership, it improves an understanding of the organization by various people with various responsibilities or leadership team, your staff, your board members and stakeholders who are involved. In other words, everyone involved in the process improves their understanding of the organization and their ability to be useful to the organization in turn, is increased in its effectiveness.
In fact, I often tell clients — to that end, I tell people who aren’t clients — that if you’re going to do a strategic planning process, for instance, the best person to chair that process is a future leader of the organization such as the next board chair or a senior staff member. Not someone who knows the organization really well from 30 years of experience, but someone who needs to really learn and understand perspectives about the organization now. It will develop leadership in an incredibly effective way.
The last of these reasons to plan is aspiration. If you are not thinking about how you can do what you do better, if you’re not thinking about how you can serve your mission more effectively, you’re not likely to do all that you can do for your mission and your vision. There are all kinds of different reasons to plan and they lead us to understand planning in slightly different ways.
Let me tell you about this concept of integrated planning that is the title of this webinar. Integrated planning as I think of it is a comprehensive or complex process that includes at its core strategic planning, program planning and business planning. Strategic planning is the why of your organization. It is a broad, inclusive process.
Program planning is a what. It’s what you do, and in an organization that has professional staff, program planning is done by the CEO, Executive Director and the program staff, the professional staff, not by a big process that includes all your stakeholders and not by the board, but by the professional staff. Certainly a program plan can be reviewed by the board or given guidance by the board, but program planning is really a much more specific process than strategic planning.
Business planning, the how, is really more limited even than that. It’s the CEO, the CFO, Business Manager or whatever you call your finance person, your Treasurer of the Board, perhaps your Board Chair and perhaps a few other selected members of the board who are important in this process, but it’s a very small group doing business planning. You don’t want everybody involved in a business-planning process when it really needs to be more focused.
Around the periphery of this core of strategic planning are all kinds of other activities, some of which I’m going to say a little about today, most of which I’m just going to allude to. I have maybe a slide each on them toward the end.
Organizational development supports strategic planning and I often find that when I come in and work with an organization on strategic planning that a major and sometimes unexpected element is board development or governance, which turns out to be a crucial issue for that organization to make any further progress in strategic ways. Organizational development is also staff and there are lots of other issues.
Identity and branding is very much connected to mission. It’s also being able to be perceived in the world in a certain way and therefore be more effective in grabbing the attention of the people that you need to pay attention to you, whether they’re going to use your services or they’re going to be your audience, your applicants or your donors.
There’s investment planning, communication and fundraising planning and on around the circle. I will go into more detail than that. I’ll be touching on these again, but this aggregation is integrated planning. You might at any point need part of this and not other parts You can also start anywhere.
Here’s a little diagram broken up a little more about the planning cycle. Depending on what situation your organization is in, you might most need right now to do business planning or you might most need right now to do program planning. The trick is not to let those things stand on their own for too long, but to do a cycle so that you’re always thinking about these aspects of planning from different directions and all of these interdependent areas.
Let’s look at the structure of planning. There are a lot of moving pieces and there are a lot of ways to be ineffective in planning, but with attention to details, there are a lot of different ways to do it well. All of these ways, I would contend, involve connecting resources to mission and all of planning is about that connection.
Down in the left-hand corner along with resources are activities. The resources determine what kinds of activities you can afford to do, but not necessarily what kinds of activities are most effective for mission. For that, you need strategic planning and strategic planning is a process of looking at mission and building from mission to goals, broad, mission-based goals. Again, this is going to be very brief because there are a lot of details that I can’t get into, but those webinars listed in the upper right-hand corner will go into it more deeply.
You need to start with mission. What goals will support your mission? What strategies will support your goals? What activities with specific outputs will support those strategies? When you can put those together, you have a strategic planning process complete with, as you will see often referred to outputs from activities and outcomes. If you see this question of outputs versus outcomes, you need to think about what that means.
Outcomes come in a hierarchy. The strategies in your strategic plan are outcomes of the activities and their outputs. The goals are the outcomes of successfully achieving your strategies, your mission is the ultimate outcome for your organization and that is a product of achieving the goals you have set for your organization based on that mission.
Let’s look at the other forms of planning and how they fit in with this nexus. First of all, business planning is really concerned with resources, activities and outputs. You’ll notice that resources are not inside the strategic planning oval, not that they’re not relevant. All of this is relevant to each other, but usually you evaluate what resources you have to pursue the strategic plan as you go along in the planning process kind of separately and it might be at the end. After you’ve established all your strategies and measurable action items, you then begin to look at them and prioritize — this is a smaller group — and understand actually how you can go about this. A business-planning process specifically looks at those elements together.
Program planning is really looking at a slice of strategic planning . . . the activities, output, strategies and goals . . . but only within the program areas. Certainly, mission should be a part of that, but it’s only the program areas. It’s not your infrastructure, your fundraising, governance, finance or other kinds of issues that determine whether your management of the organization can be successful. Program planning focuses on programs alone.
There are a lot of other ways to look at planning, but as I said, all of them corral these elements that we’re talking about. You may come across something called a Logic Model, which really talks about how resources and what you do with those resources can produce outcomes and what logical connection there is in what you say you’re going to be doing. There is also Theory of Change, which looks at the outcomes you’re trying to achieve and what outputs would actually affect that. I’m not going to go into detail on these.
There are a lot of other ways of looking at things, but the main idea to draw away from this set of diagrams is that all of this is connected, all of this starts with mission and is really about the connections of what you can do, the activities and their outputs and mission – what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t connect them through this sequence, you’re likely to have all kinds of stray, unfocused activities that sound like a really good thing, but aren’t mission driven and you are likely to not serve your mission as effectively as you might want to.
How do you set up a planning process, the structure of a planning process? There are five components, really, in the way that I look at a planning process. First is preparation, where you decide what this planning process is going to be about, how long it’s going to take, who’s going to be involved and if there is going to be a consultant. You have to be clear about what the consultant is going to do and what you are going to do as an organization if you’re using a consultant. Some of this has already been determined perhaps in a proposal or a request for proposal and then a proposal and perhaps an interview, but the preparation sets up expectation for the entire planning process. It can be just one meeting, but it needs to put a lot of things explicitly on the table.
Then you get to assessment. Again, applying to a whole range of different processes, assessment is when you look at what you already know and what you should know about the outside world and bring them to bear on the initial premises of a planning process, so in an assessment, if you were an accredited organization, I always suggest that organizations look at the self-study for their accreditation, because that’s where they have said what they’re trying to do most effectively and outlined who they are most effectively. It might also be the introduction to a grant proposal, another thing I ask to really learn about an organization.
An assessment can also be previous plans, previous strategic plans, business plans, program plans, facility plans, development plans or technology plans. All of those things should be put on the table at the beginning, not discovered later or not ignored at first and then say, “Oh yes, we talked about this the last time, five years ago, too.” You want to put all that on the table.
Also, as part of the assessment process, you may be looking outside the organization, looking at trends in the society that affect your mission, benchmarking other organizations and as another element of the assessment process, I always suggest that they do a board self-assessment at the end of this assessment process prior to really diving into the planning so that the board can be reflective about its own role and really identify issues that may be very critically important to the strategic planning process.
The third component of planning is engagement. That always needs to start with board engagement, typically a board and senior staff retreat. Outsiders can be invited to it, but the board has to own the process by being involved in exploring the process right at the start. If you’re going to do a strategic plan and not get full ownership, buy in, commitment or whatever you want to call it from the board right at the beginning, you are probably going to find out at the end that you have some resistance.
If you do engage people — first the board, then perhaps your staff, then your stakeholders and various tiers — in this process, no matter how obstreperous any group may seem and how difficult and contrary any elements of your organization might seem, I have seen this planning process time and again by engaging people, listening to them, letting them say what’s on their mind and letting them know that their thoughts are being involved, engaged or included in the process does wonders. I can talk about that in more detail and there are lots of other materials other even than in those links listed in the upper right-hand side of the screen that I could offer you about engagement.
The next piece is then — and only then — plan development. This is when you develop your mission-based goals. You’ve talked about mission perhaps in the assessment stage and certainly in engagement, but in the plan development, you connect that mission through mission-based goals, strategies to achieve them and begin to develop measurable action items.
Finally, is implementation. Strategic planning has a reputation as does business planning and program planning of being an exercise where you come up with all kinds of great ideas, put them down on paper and put them on a shelf. Implementation is the second process. Once you’ve developed a plan with metrics, you then need to implement it, monitor it and track it. It is at the end of the planning process you have a transition to implementation. It’s not the end, but as they say in higher education, it’s a commencement of the next phase, so then you begin all over again.
The points of integration in these different planning processes, most particularly strategic planning, program planning and business planning, but some of the other processes as well, are in assessment, because you can do multiple kinds of planning in parallel at the same time and I’ve done that with clients. I’ve simultaneously done strategic planning and with the professional staff done some program planning and alongside that with the CEO and CFO some business planning. The assessment is one place they all come together. You’re gathering information that really affects all of these different kinds of thinking in these different processes.
Engagement in its broad sense is more specifically about strategic planning, but then in plan development they can come together again. Then your business plan, your program plan and perhaps your advancement plan and others can be integrated into the final strategic plan as a comprehensive plan, even though it’s been developed in a slightly different process.
Program planning focuses in a most focused way on assessment and plan development and we’ve seen that. I’m running a little slow, so I’m not going to go into this in detail, but again, program planning is driven by mission, professional expertise and assessing where you are and then developing a plan for where you’re going are the crucial elements of this aspect.
In all of this planning, but certainly, especially, the program plan, is dependent on mission. Here are three mission statements that I think are particularly useful from three different clients. Mission Statements is another webinar I do. I didn’t list the webinar here, only the Critical Issues article, but there is another webinar in the 4Good archives on mission statements.
A mission statement should give you a sense of direction for a strategy of the organization and tell you whether you succeed. I won’t go in detail into these concise mission statements, but you can see with the first two that there is a brief mission statement and then more information about philosophy, values and means we do this by, but that is not part of the mission statement itself. The mission statement is meant to be concise and actionable and help you guide your strategic plan. The more focused it is and the more differentiated it is from other organizations, the more you are likely to drive a good program plan and to drive a good strategic plan.
A program plan will have your mission-based goals and it will have the context of the organization. We are talking about a document that maybe you are submitting to the board for their understanding of the organization and perhaps even their approval. You have the context of what your organization does, how it does it, how it sits in the world of its need and other organizations, the internal organizational structure, a description of your programs, the objectives that you have for your programs, the strategies for implementation and perhaps then as maybe you move it into a strategic planning, document, along with those strategies come specific measurable action items. We’ll be talking about them in a minute.
Also, you will have the resources you need to do what you need to do. A good program plan should, of course, discuss things that are well beyond your current resources to do and talk about prioritizing them. That’s the way you retire.
Business planning again intersects the other elements or forms of integrated planning in assessment — we’ll see some examples of that in a moment — because you’re looking at the organization in context in terms of its market and its understanding by the community, who you can reach out to, who you should be attending to and what the trends are that affect whether you will be effective. As I said, we’ll look at that in a moment. Assessment is a big element of intersection and then again, the business plan if being done at the same time as a strategic plan can intersect with the strategic and program planning in the plan development and implementation.
Again, business planning is focusing down at resources, activities and outputs, not concerning itself necessarily with the outcomes. Those outcomes of the strategies, goals and missions have come through the business planning from your strategic plan and from your program plan and business planning is talking about how to make those things happen.
Business planning can look at a market analysis, which is also quite potentially useful for program planning and even strategic planning. These are various kinds of mapping you can do . . . looking at median household income and then compare that to something to do with your stakeholder group, looking at the area you serve, looking at your identity as projected in your facilities. These are two facilities that I commissioned for clients that really project the character of the organization in a way that’s really very important to convey it and to make it understandable both to the people you want to be users of your organization and certainly to prospective donors.
You want to look at attendance and attendance trends if you are, say, a museum, a performing arts organization or other organization. How is your user base, your membership, your attendance or whatever tracking over time? What is affecting its ups and downs? How does it compare to other similar organizations? That’s really important to look at to understand, certainly for business planning, but also for program planning and strategic planning. What would you need to do to change one of those lines to be more favorable? How could you change your attendance to be more favorable or any other trend of this sort?
The first thing you need to do is to see what facts are and begin to understand them. Without doing this research and putting it down on paper, your senior staff and your individual board members may all have very different ideas about what they think the facts are. I’ve come across this quite often, but when they look at the same set of facts, they can be much more effective in talking together about what to do.
Here’s more documentary data in terms of your facilities and in terms of what you pay your staff. These are about the resources you need to do what you do.
Organizational structure is part of the business plan. It’s very important — especially if you are a new organization and expecting to grow — to lay out the organizational structure of where you intend to be because of your strategic plan in five years and then figure out how to get from where you are with perhaps just one paid staff member to a much more complex organization. What are the most effective steps to get there? That really requires thinking sequentially and strategically about doing what will allow the next larger step to happen.
Then all kinds of financial things in the business plan that I won’t get into, but there are some people who can look at various kinds of finance documents and really understand a lot about the organization just from those. If you don’t have those people, you have to communicate in different ways, but that is an essential base of information in business planning.
Let me just go back one. All of this information is the business planning. I think you can see this is not necessarily presented as such the kind of thing that you want a larger stakeholder group in a strategic planning discussion to try to sort through. These are pragmatic tools to get your organization where it needs to be and that’s what the business plan does. It is not about the larger guidance and that’s why it’s so important to keep business planning separate from the others.
Now we get to strategic planning, again, a very quick overview. This is part of a free webinar sequence of just talking about and skimming the surface of strategic planning, but I think to get you to have a much better sense of what strategic planning does, this will give you a good start.
Again, engagement is the biggest factor as far as I’m concerned in strategic planning. It’s the most important thing to do to make it effective both in terms of strategy and in terms of making yourself a healthier, more robust organization, but obviously, all the other pieces don’t fade into unimportance. It’s just that engagement is often the least stressed. Strategic planning covers the core of all of this other planning activity and you need to understand how you can supplement it with program planning done by the right people and business planning done by the right people.
A good strategic plan, and this was in the diagrams, but let me talk about it in a little different focus. A good strategic program always starts with mission, has broad, mission-based goals and more specific strategies or supporting objectives, not necessarily anything measurable yet, but strategies of how you achieve your goals and then, at the lowest level, clear, specific action items, measurable results, a timeline for resources required and who is responsible for them. Again, I have plenty of samples of strategic plans in some of these documents that I’m showing you.
Even with this similar structure, I’ve done strategic plans with organizations that have taken a year or 18 months, because it was a complex organization that could sustain that period of time of working through a strategic planning process. I’ve also worked on a strategic plan with an organization in somewhat dire straits and really needing to figure out what to do to make it self-sustainable. I’ve done that over the course of a retreat during a weekend and come up with a plan that would get the organization from then to six months from then, at which point they can think about a more detailed strategic plan to carry them further forward.
There’s a lot in between those two extremes, but what is important to note is all of them require this focus on mission, working down from mission to what you need to do and for anything you say you need to do in these measurable actions, being able to make sure that the measurable action is important to the strategy, the strategies are necessary and sufficient to achieve the goals and the goals are necessary and sufficient to achieve the mission. There are lots of different ways of looking at it, pursuing the process and developing it, but this is the backbone of a strategic planning process.
Here is just more detail on various aspects of the strategic planning in these archived webinars that were good.
I’ve talked about how important a mission is to drive the organization, drive the strategic plan and create the identity of the organization. Here’s another mission statement that’s different from the ones I showed you before. I show you the mission statement and then in the left-hand column, the elements of that mission statement, not always exactly in the same order, but all the important words in that mission statement should be in the mission elements and if they’re not important enough to be in the elements, maybe they shouldn’t be there.
This is what you’re trying to do. These are the elements of that mission. You’re working with building and communities. You’re transforming the way they’re designed, built and operated. You’re enabling an environment that is environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous and you are trying to improve quality of life.
On the right-hand side, this is not a one-to-one thing, but here are the committees and functions. This is a volunteer organization. There’s one paid staff. These are the various program committees. These are the various infrastructure functions and committees that will need to pay attention to these mission elements and figure out how they can serve them. That again could go into more detail, but pulling apart the way you’re thinking about the organization, thinking about it strategically and putting it back together is really very important.
Here’s just an example within a strategic plan, Developmental Framework for Governance in Accordance with Principles of Good Practice. A goal is really a broad, generic statement. It’s really saying, “This is the way governance serves the mission of the organization.” They will sometimes seem to fall a little flat, because they are almost platitudes, but then at the next level down, how do you develop that framework? Well, one of these objectives, in this case, Objective 2, is “Formalize and support development practices.” Here are a bunch of actions, measurable results, start date, stop date, resources required and responsibility. That is a level of detail that is utterly required in order for you to be able to be effective in implementing your strategic plan.
Here a just a couple of slides about implementation. Here is a monitoring checklist for the organization that I just showed you that last mission statement for. Here are the goals and strategies, or what I call them in this one, supporting objectives as the various action items on our monitoring checklist, so assembling the committee is supposed to happen in this stage. Various things are shown in this chart and then you can use that chart to keep track of whether you are on pace with the strategic planning. You can use that to report to the board. Even in a very simplified situation, you can report these things to the board which has checkmarks on this to show that you’ve gotten to it.
Alternatively, you can use dashboards to track plans and this is program plans, business plans, strategic plans and advancement plans. With any kind of planning you can have these dashboards that show program results, as you can see, finance, key performance indicators, facilities issues, if you have facilities issues and fundraising record. There are various ways of doing this, all kinds of simple or complex, but in both of these cases, colors are flagging whether something is on target, above goal, lagging or a problem. When you use this kind of dashboard and submit it to your board at every board meeting with an update, they can see how you’re doing and what they really need to ask questions about and discuss rather than getting tied up in things that don’t really need lots of discussion.
I’m getting toward the end of the presentation and want to leave time for questions, because I see there are some excellent questions being asked, so let me just kind of whip through these peripheral areas of integrated planning. Let me just say in terms of organizational development that in the majority of planning that I’ve done for small to medium size organizations, whether or not the organization mentioned that at the beginning of the process, board issues in terms of board effectiveness have been part of the strategic planning process. Even when there’s been an excellent board, there have been some effectiveness issues that somehow have turned out to be central to organizational need.
In medium to larger organizations, I’ve often found that empowerment issues for staff are an utterly essential aspect of what we do in strategic planning, so that’s some of the ways those are connected. As I said, everything should be about mission. Institutional identity is framing everything to support the understanding and perception of mission. As you can see, there are some references in the upper right-hand corner of other places you can look for further thoughts of mine.
I see that someone asked a question about where fundraising planning lives. It lives separately from integrated planning and it lives separately from strategic planning, but that’s again where I talked about assessment and engagement as particularly planned development and implementation are ways that they are linked together. What I often talk about in these subsidy areas of planning, fundraising planning, development planning, communication planning, human resource planning and technology planning. All of these things can be part of an annual plan that is put together by the people who are the department that is serving these purposes, if there is a department, or by the individual responsible.
Annually, it can be plugged in as the action items in the strategic plan in that area, so there are lots of different ways of linking it. It may be separate especially for large-scale things like fundraising assessments and capital campaign planning, but on an ongoing basis, your development goals and your communication goals may very well be integral parts of your strategic plan.
I’m just going to go quickly. I’m not going to talk about these things, because I’d like to get to your questions.
Facility planning, I just point this out because next week in the 4Good series I’m doing a facility planning webinar. If any of you are coming across the need for new facilities or renovation, it’s a free webinar next week from 4Good on some of the pitfalls and possibilities of facility planning.
I’m going to wrap it up now with just a couple of quick comments and then turn it back to Steven, so he can help me through the questions that have been asked. Here are some more of the titles that go along with the links that I’ve shown you throughout. They’re 2 to 4-page essays, critical issues for nonprofits and webinars, mostly archived ones from 4Good. There are other ongoing webinars, so take a look there.
I also wanted to mention a special offer on a service that has been very useful to many organizations all around the country from New England to Florida to California. They found it very helpful to get some slight bit of advice from an expert, even if they’re running a strategic planning process internally or if they’re a startup and need to find their way through things and to essentially buy a half day or four hours of consulting time and use it in 5, 10 and 15-minute intervals through email and phone calls over the course of weeks or months just to keep them fine tuned. We won’t get into details. I won’t talk about it now, but I’m offering you a very special, substantially reduced rate if you are interested in that kind of booster to your strategic planning.
Now, I would like to turn it back to Steven for his help in the Q&A.
Steven: Yeah, awesome. Thanks, Sam. That was great, and do check out these resources, especially on 4Good. There are lots of really great webinars there and most of the time they’re free, which is good. That’s a generous offer from Sam, too, so I hope some of you reach out to him if that interests you as well.
Sam, we’ve got a lot of questions here. I’m just going to kind of roll through them from the top, but please do send in any questions if you were sitting on your hands over the last 40 minutes or so. We’ve got probably about eight or nine minutes so we can get to some questions here.
Sam: Let me ask you one question before we get started, Steven. Will I get a copy of these questions along with the report?
Steven: Yeah, I can do that.
Sam: What questions we don’t get to, I will go through what I’m sent and I will at least try to communicate some of these thoughts to you if we don’t get to them. Now let’s see how quickly I can answer with meaningful answers.
Steven: Yeah, I hope you took your vitamins because there are some good ones here. Diane is wondering, “How would you involve constituents in this process when you have lots of different people – adult volunteers, children, staff, the board and obviously donors?” How do you involve all those stakeholders? Should you involve them? Is there a limit? How would you navigate those waters?
Sam: I would say you want to involve as many of your stakeholders as you possibly can because that will make them understand that they’re valued by the organization and their perspectives. Even small children’s perspectives can be incredibly useful in unexpected ways, so there are lots of ways to involve them. There’s not one way to involve them. The people you are closest to, certainly your staff, your board and maybe significant, very important volunteers or volunteer leadership, you can talk to and bring together in meetings or retreats. If you’re an organization that serves small children, you can have some child-friendly discussion that brings out some things that they understand that maybe you don’t about the organization.
If you look in the upper right-hand corner of this slide, there’s an essay I wrote called “The Secret Life of Surveys.” I saw in that question there was a mention of 8,000 constituents across many counties. Especially if you have email addresses for people, if you can send out a brief survey — and there’s a lot for how to put together a survey — and actually do it in some way or other on a regular basis once a year, you will get people responding to you. You may find that they have some good thoughts. You may also find out what they misunderstand about your organization and give you an opportunity to create more of a 2-way conversation, even with this remote set of people. The answer to that question is lots of different ways and I would say as much of your constituency as possible.
Steven: Yeah, because feedback is good, right? You can never get too much feedback.
Sam: Exactly. I have had people worry about getting people pushing you around on your mission. You don’t want everybody weighing in on what your mission should be. This is not a democratic process I’m talking about. It’s a participatory, inclusive, transparent process and any questions you ask and answers you get, whether they’re positive or negative, you can use that information to make your organization stronger.
Steven: Right. I love it. Here’s one from Bethany. Bethany is wondering if you have any advice or insights on incorporating succession planning into the strategic plan and is that something that should be mentioned when the founder or the current AD is going to depart and just having a plan for that? Is there a place for that in this process?
Sam: It’s interesting. There is a place for that in the strategic planning process, but what I have told a number of organizations is that the best succession plan is a strategic plan.
I was approached by an organization that wanted me to help them. This was on a volunteer basis. My neighbor is the executive director, but it’s an important organization. She is getting pretty old and she is the founder. They’ve wanted to do succession planning and I said, “Well, what you really need to do is a strategic plan to strengthen your organization and what it knows about itself. Strengthen the roles of the board, clarify the roles of the staff and put yourself into a position to be able to think more effectively about succession based on who you are and all the strengths you bring to the table.” Yes, there can be elements of succession planning within the strategic plan, but when people mention succession planning, often they are doing so without the support of a really detailed and effective organizational plan, strategic plan and program plan.
Steven: Sam, we’ve had a lot of people ask a similar question, so I’m going to kind of lump them into one and I’ll say it like this. Small shops who are very new, very young organizations, when should they start thinking about this? Is there a good time for when they should have this strategic plan up and running? At what point should an organization have that on their radar if they are maybe a year old or less than a year old?
Sam: Well, I would say it is very difficult to make your way as a new organization if you don’t have a strategy. I’m not talking about doing a 6-month strategic planning process or perhaps even a formal strategic planning process if you have a very new startup organization, but you need a strategy and you need strategic thinking by whoever is involved. Even if it’s just a board with no staff, you need to have a strategic planning discussion that thinks through the sequence of vision to activities and works it out. Whether it’s a series of meetings, a weekend meeting or on up the scale, you need to think of that at the beginning, because without a road map, as Alice in Wonderland said, “You can take any road if you don’t care where you get to,” but if you do, you need a plan.
Steven: We’ve probably got time for one more. I don’t want to keep people too long, especially if they haven’t eaten lunch. Here’s one from Alexis. Alexis is wondering about empowerment. Should language or policies that directly relate to employee empowerment and perhaps employee growth and upward mobility and things like that be mentioned in the plan? Is there a place for it there somewhere?
Sam: It’s often been a very prominent part of strategic plans that I’ve worked with, because it’s often something incredibly important and under attended to in an organization. There are two different kinds of empowerment, really. One is the kind of empowerment that you plan strategically to put the staff in an effective position to be able to do their work most effectively.
Another is empowering them to have a role within the strategy of the organization and it is incredibly important to start there by listening. In many organizations I’ve worked with, I’ve been told that the staff was a little sour about the process because they had put in their two cents here and there and the other where and nobody was listening to them. The organization was run without consideration for their wisdom and all that. The process itself, well put together, will address that empowerment issue from the start and it creates wondrous results.
Steven: I love it. Well, I think we can end it there. Sam, do you have any last words for folks? How can folks get a hold of you? I’ll send you the questions we didn’t get to for sure, but folks can email you I think there right on your screen, right?
Sam: Yes. My email is in a couple spots right at the bottom of this screen. I would be happy to hear from any of you. If you want to ask your question directly, feel free to email me. I will be taking a look at the report from the webinar. I’ll take a look at the questions and I’ll try to send out a larger message, but it may take me a few days to get to that. If you have anything more specific and want to get in touch with me whether or not you’re interested in that half-day-of-consulting offer, I’d be very happy to have a conversation with you about where you are, what you need to do and help you think that through.
Steven: Cool. It’s a little hard to cover all of strategic planning in 50 minutes, but I thought it was a pretty good introduction. Thank you.
Sam: Yeah, if you don’t talk about it too fast and not be able to hear anything. In any case, Steven, I thank you so much for this opportunity to talk to your constituency. I really enjoyed it and I hope everyone else has too.
Steven: Yeah and thanks to all of you for hanging out for an hour or so. We’re getting close to yearend and you’re probably getting pretty busy, so thanks for hanging out. Check out 4Good. Check out more about Synthesis Partnership and please do email Sam any additional questions.
There are lots of great resources on our website as well, including this webinar series every Thursday at 1:00 p.m. We’ve got a great one coming up one week from today. It’s almost special-event season, of course, and you’re probably already planning maybe your yearend event, your signature event or gala. Check this one out. This is going to be focusing on story for that big appeal that you probably make toward the end of that dinner or event. Kristin Steele is our guest. She’s super sharp. It’s going to be a really good one. It’s one week from today at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
If that one doesn’t interest you; if you’re not an event-type person — although I bet most of you are — do still check out our webinar page, because there are some great ones there that you can register for all throughout the end of the year. We’d love to see you again on another webinar.
Thanks again for hanging out. Thanks to Sam and I’ll be sending the recording as well as the slides, so look for that this afternoon and hopefully we will see you again on another webinar. Have a great rest of your afternoon, have a great weekend and we’ll see you again soon.
Sam: Thanks. So long.