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Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times: Rx (Roundtable Exchange) Program Summary

October 16, 2009

(This entry was originally posted on the Foundation Center's Philanthropy Front and Center-Cleveland blog.)

Jigsawpuzzle In August, a small, engaged group of nonprofit leaders joined K.C. Henry, Principal, Transitions Unlimited, at the Foundation Center-Cleveland for Rx: Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times. Rx (Roundtable Exchange), a free peer-support group for development professionals or leaders from any type of nonprofit organization, is designed for those with at least five years of experience and is limited to twenty nonprofit representatives who come ready to participate and actively contribute questions, answers, and ideas to the group. It is presented in partnership with the Nonprofit Consultants Forum. Walter Duvall, the reporter for this session, provided these notes.

The roundtable began with an exercise to identify the most pressing questions participants had regarding strategic planning. Here's a summary of the discussion:

  1. Is there a right or wrong way to do strategic planning?
    The right way to create a strategic plan for an organization is the way that produces the best result. The process will vary according to the organization's experiences, resources, culture, and needs. Working through the process of assessment (SWOT is a basic technique), goal setting, developing SMART (specific, measurable, realistic, and time-bound) objectives, and reviewing the organization's mission and vision is difficult if done in a piecemeal fashion. Kicking off the process with a planning retreat is generally a good idea and can be accomplished in as little as 6 - 8 hours.

    The planning process can be initiated and led by either the board or staff, and both groups should be involved. When board members lead, their focus should be on mission, core values, organizational objectives, and key strategies. Staff should always be involved in putting the plan into operation, implementation, and creating functional work plans, staffing and resource plans, and detailed budgets.

  2. When do we know that the time is right to hire a consultant to lead our organization through a strategic planning process?
    Before hiring a consultant, you need to know why the organization is undertaking a strategic planning process and what you hope the end result will be. Knowing answers to those questions will help you determine exactly what you want a consultant to do. Another question to ask is whether the organization will benefit from an outside, objective opinion? Do you need someone who can say things that perhaps an internal group would hesitate to bring up? Do you need a fresh perspective that a consultant can bring to the table? On a more practical level, would your organization's strategic planning effort benefit from some managerial assistance in gathering data, scheduling and facilitating meetings, convening volunteers and other key stakeholders for input, and other tasks that the organization is not resourced to perform?

For more information about strategic planning, take a look at these resources:

  • Designing Your Future: Key Trends, Challenges, and Choices Facing Association and Nonprofit Leaders. Washington, DC: American Society of Association Executives, 2008. This analysis begins with a listing of fifty key trends that will impact society over the next decade and then delves into the challenges they pose for nonprofit leaders. The book concludes with a framework for decision-making, both in the short term and over several years.
  • "Tactical Mapping: How Nonprofits Can Identify the Levers of Change," Nonprofit Quarterly, Summer 2009. Discusses tactical mapping as a method for nonprofits to survey the terrain of the issues their groups address; the article focuses specifically on the area of human rights. Through tactical mapping, which visualizes the relationships and institutions surrounding an issue, nonprofits can better assess how to confront the issue and create change. Includes several diagrams to illustrate how the mapping process works.
  • Jeri Eckhart-Queenan and Elizabeth Bibb. "Tapping Into the Board's Talents". Board Member, September-October 2008, p. 8-11. The authors discuss how nonprofits can make use of their board members' expertise during the strategic planning process. Includes a list of questions that organizations should ask themselves while formulating a business plan.
  • Jay W. Vogt. "Grounded Visioning: A Quick Way To Create Shared Visions". Nonprofit World, July-August 2008, p. 12-4. A consultant offers six steps for developing a shared vision among staff members of the organization's future. Emphasizes the need for a vision to be inspiring yet practical.

Do you have other resources you can recommend? Feel free to share them in the comments section....

-- Cynthia Bailie

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