Lynne T. Dean
Strategic Planning: Developing a Common Vision
Close your eyes and try to imagine the differing ideas and perspectives that various stakeholders have about your organization’s future. Does your board think about the future the same way your staff thinks about it? What about your clients and consumers? And, what do your funders, supporters, and even potential funders have to say about your future?
We have good news for you. Your completed strategic plan can integrate these diverse perspectives into a well-crafted vision of your organization’s future. No matter how large the differences may seem among your various stakeholders, you will find that this diverse group can play a significant, even vital role in your planning process. They will have an opportunity to be heard. They will bring differing perspectives and ideas on everything from organizational resources to potential obstacles to priority action areas. And, believe it or not, your organization will benefit by listening and working through these widely varying viewpoints.
For example, we see organizations struggling with board members who have different ideas than staff members. Rather than limit the planning process to only board members or only staff members, most organizations find it helpful and refreshing to bring everyone together, recognize differences, and even incorporate some of these varying views into the process.
The end product—or your shared vision—will reflect the culmination of your work together throughout the planning process and will enable each contributor to “have ownership” and feel a part of its creation. Another benefit of this inclusive approach is that you and your stakeholders may discover an exciting energy and enthusiasm for moving forward on identifying the path to achieving that desired future.
Strategic planning often lays the groundwork for development planning and these two levels of planning have a major impact on the sustainability of an organization. Before we go any further, though, we want to emphasize that your strategic plan should not simply say what your funders want you to say to get funding or be a response to an item in a grant application. Remember the importance of diverse perspectives we talked about earlier?
We all agree that funding has significant impact on sustainability. And a successful development plan will generally start with the strategic plan and then add such elements as the case for support and an outline of how donors will be identified, cultivated, and asked to give.
But sustainability really includes more than organizational funding. Sustainability also relates to the programs and services your nonprofit provides or seeks to provide. Throughout the planning process, your organization and your stakeholders have the opportunity to look at what you do, or its particular service niche, as well as funding strategies for ensuring that you can manage and operate those services.
In addition to closely reviewing your organization’s current areas of service, the participants in your planning process may also identify areas of service that can be changed if funds are lacking. They may also pinpoint service areas that might benefit if more funding becomes available. You can thus directly connect strategic planning to sustainability in programs and services and have more clarity as you make critical decisions in the future.
So, yes, you can certainly develop and include information required on grant applications and proposals about planning. But this information really shouldn’t be a substitute for the strategic planning process. You will need a case for support, but often the case can be developed by building on the strategic plan.
Maybe your organizational budget includes restricted funds that are tied to a specific donor’s requirements. These restrictions, however, should not define or be part of your overall strategy. We emphasize here and throughout this workbook that strategic planning is a process. And, yes, that process is different for different organizations.