Over the past month, the MA House & Senate have been duking it out over the budget. As usual. This year, as I’ve watched the battle unfold, I’ve been thinking about the precarious nature of being too dependent on state funding, the need to expand our individual donor programs in order to reduce our vulnerability & the need to motivate our communities to support us – with their time, their treasures and their talent.
One of the best way to attract & retain donors, volunteers & board members is to articulate your vision, mission & goals to people in a way that inspires & excites them. What I’ve noticed, however, is that many nonprofits aren’t able to do this, because they have not carved out a strategic direction or plan.
I know that it can feel overwhelming to think about adding a strategic planning process to our already-overloaded plates. BUT — strategic planning does not have to take a tremendous amount of time or effort to be effective. In fact, if we take the time to set up the systems ahead of time, it’s possible to engage in a participatory strategic planning process on an annual basis so that strategic thinking & planning become as easy as breathing. Here’s how:
1. Start by asking your staff & board which questions they need answered — and by whom – in order to gather the kind of feedback they need to improve their program & the agency.
Most of the time, these questions are going to include the following:
- Name, address, email (all optional, so people can remain anonymous if they so choose), Relationship to agency (client, volunteer, board member, staff, agency partner, etc.)
- Length of association with agency
- Other demographic information that’s important to you
- What do you like best/least about the program/agency?
- What does Agency X do best?
- Where could we stand to improve (ask them to be as specific as possible)?
- What other comments or suggestions do you have?
As long as you ensure their confidentiality, most people will be honest with you (for better or worse! 😉
You can set up this survey online, using a tool like Survey Monkey, which is free & will tabulate your quantitative results for you. You may also want to make paper surveys available for those who do not have access to a computer, or who are sitting in your waiting room. You might also need to translate these into other languages.
You’ll need to broadcast the fact that you’re collecting feedback – consider sending out an email blast, posting it to Facebook or other social media channels and/or sending out a postcard so that you get a good cross-section of respondents. Give everyone a deadline by which to respond – we usually find that a two-week period is sufficient. Be sure to send out reminders, though – people often need a bit of prodding to get these done!
If you want, you can also run a few focus groups or conduct key informant interviews with subjects who might be too busy or might not otherwise pay attention to a survey (e.g., school principal).
You’ll need to put a person – or small team — in charge of collecting & tabulating all the data you collect. You don’t need to collect 1,000 surveys before you start to see themes emerging. In fact, we have gathered a sufficient amount of valuable information with just 75 surveys!
It might take a little while to set up these tools & systems, but once you do, you can use them year after year!
2. Gather together your board & staff – preferably at a retreat – and spend some time dreaming. What would great outcomes look like for your clients? What would it take to deliver great outcomes? Consistently? Write all of this down, because this is now the end point from which you will reverse engineer!
Next, take a look at the data you’ve collected & discuss what it means in terms of your programming, the agency & how things are run – on both a staff & board level. If you’ve got a large agency, this might be best achieved by breaking out into small groups.
Write down the top 10 things you need/want to change in order to (a) address the issues raised through the feedback you’ve gathered, and (b) start to lead you in the direction of great client outcomes on a consistent basis.
Next, chart out some goals for the coming year. These should be attainable, yet lead you in the direction of great client outcomes. If you’ve got some long-range goals (ex: hire 2 more staff), then write down what you’ll need to do in the next year to make that happen.
Write down the specific steps you’ll need to achieve each goal, assign someone to that task, as well as a timeline or deadline. At the end of your retreat, you should have a year-long organizational work plan!
This work plan should be reviewed in its entirety by both the staff & board to make sure it’s realistic & attainable – many times, we have such a long list of goals that we have to break them down into Year One and Year Two goals. Once the work plan is finalize, it must be voted on by the board.
3. Implement! Both the board & staff should revisit the plan on a monthly basis to chart progress, note challenges & make adjustments as needed. Ten months after the plan goes into effect, start the process all over again! If your fiscal year starts on January 1, I recommend starting this process in September. If it starts on July 1, I suggest starting it in February.
When the board & staff are galvanized around a set of straightforward, agreed-upon goals, it sets your whole organization on fire – and who doesn’t like to cozy up around a bonfire?!
If you need help implementing a strategic planning process, contact us today!