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Getting Strategic: Board and Staff Set the Course

Working with nonprofit clients to establish or update a Strategic Plan, the course should be set in a collaborative manner with staff working closely with Board on defining direction.
Once the Strategic Planning Committee has drafted Goals for the future (in three or five-year chunks) it’s time to craft a few objectives and strategies for accomplishing those objectives within each Goal.
Organizing working teams to craft the language including measurable outcomes (objectives) and person(s) responsible for achievement, a timeline should be included.
This work by small teams comes back to the committee for overall discussion and challenge…and language created to bring to the Board.
Ultimately, it’s the Board that approves the plan. But staff and volunteers need to feel the plan makes sense and is achievable.
In this way the organization develops a plan that has a good chance of being carried out. And not sitting on some proverbial shelf.

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The Strategic Board

I am working now with a Housing Authority on a strategic plan. The most interesting part of this work is helping a group determine what needs to be done that isn’t getting done now, what stuff that is getting done needs to be stopped, and who are the customers and stakeholders to listen to to sort all this out.
I look forward to speaking at the Tri-State Housing conference in Meredith NH in September to explore how a group that’s relied for decades on federal $ can explore initiatives that will attract new money sources that can help get new stuff on the agenda. And deliver new service to folks who need it.
Complicated issues. Like sorting out elderly housing needs from housing for disabled from housing for the single parent household dealing with severe poverty.
Other than that, life is but a dream.

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Psychology of Change and Implications for Nonprofits

Dan Gilbert gave a very popular TED talk: “The Psychology of Our Future”

He cites studies of how much people think they changed over the past 10 years, and how much they will change in the coming 10 years.

The findings are interesting: We actually change (including who is our best friend, what is our favorite music, what issues and nonprofits were/will be important to us) much more than we believe we will.

The psychology of this phenomenon is important to grasp when talking to clients of our nonprofit and supporters of our nonprofit. Change happens. And will continue to happen. Are we prepared at our organization to deal with what comes our way?

Nonprofit organizations go through strategic planning exercises. And then they think they are done. Planning is great at building a sense of shared values among a board and staff. But if we don’t also determine how we’ll implement the changes we just agreed to. And recognize that the constant going forward will be change…we won’t be ready to deal with what the future has in store for us.

Check out the link to the Dan Gilbert video. Think how that applies to you. And to your organization. And next board meeting, let’s consider the issue and how we can deal with life going forward.

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Strategic Meetings for the Strategic Board

Nonprofit boards struggle with quorum issues, which usually is an indicator of lack of motivation.
Board members want to use their precious time effectively.
Do they look forward to board meetings with eager anticipation? Or with foreboding?

Take a few steps that will inject a bit of energy into the process:
– Assure that each discussion item links to your strategic plan. How does it connect to where you’re going? If it doesn’t, why do you need to discuss it?
– Assure that each item you’re discussing leads to something the board will need to act on. Or if not act on, that it ties to a policy of the nonprofit that’s clearly in the purview of the board and comes under the auspices of the board.
– Executive, officer, and committee reports all should be submitted in writing a week prior to the board meeting so members have ample time to read them and bring any questions to the meeting. Member time should not be wasted by having members read reports that should have been read in advance of the meeting.
– Allow time for what Chait, Ryan, and Taylor call ‘Generative Discussion.” I recommend that this be conversation time. Not Roberts Rules of Order time. When a member can come with data on a trend related to one of your strategic goals, present to the board and there can be some thoughtful and fun discussion about what’s happening in the world that may be impacting your community and what you may need to do in the future to prepare for it. This can be very stimulating. Not recommended every meeting. But a good “charge the batteries” opportunity for the board.
The assumption should be that everyone’s time is too valuable to waste.
Meetings are held only when board action is essential.
Meetings start on time and only extend overtime with permission of those present.

Check out The Board Chair’s Handbook from Board Source:

Gayle Gifford’s blog post A Meeting Menu for the Board Chair on her website Cause & Effect

Make your meetings Strategic!


Applying Strategy to Operations: Nonprofit Change

A measure of nonprofit capacity to deliver service in a changing environment comes once the strategic plan has been updated.
We know it’s no easy task to bring in the consultant, set the course of a planning process, then get the Board members to carve out time to do the strategic plan work. Once that process is complete, leaders heave a sigh of relief and go on to what’s next on the agenda.
This is when strategic planning gets a bad name. Because there’s no thought to the Big Deal: Implementation.
The annual plan and budget cycle needs to reflect what came from the plan process.
If not, then why did you bother with all of that huffing and puffing in the first place?
Jumping off the implementation cliff is not easy. This is where a can of energy drink comes in handy to help get the group through what’s next. And there’s a simple way to approach it. To achieve some buy-in. And it goes like this:
What’s New? Staff bring to Board the new work that needs some attention. That clearly was a priority from the energy that was expended in the planning process.
What Has to Go? Can you afford to keep doing what you’ve been doing and take on the new? Prepare a recommendation with what will go so the new has room to breathe.
Do We Need New Resources? Is it going to cost us more? Do we need a new committee and added staff to get the new work done? How can we phase this in over time?
Bring Implementation Plan to Stakeholders Convene a group of Stakeholders. Those who work as partners on projects with you, who you need to engage as new partners, people who will benefit from the new work you’ll be doing. Convene them over breakfast or lunch. Lay out the plan. Mix the crowd up at various tables and give them some discussion points to work through.
Act On It. Bring a (now) more detailed action plan to the Board for approval.
Get Busy.

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