We have been working with a number of organizations recently that are in the midst of a strategic planning process. I believe strongly in the importance of this type of planning. Without it, it seems to me that institutions have a very limited time horizon for decision-making.
Furthermore, planning gives the organization an opportunity to review and reconsider its mission, vision and values. Perhaps most importantly, particularly from a fundraising perspective, strategic planning affords the opportunity to engage key volunteers and board members in an absolutely vital institutional activity, to weigh-in on the organization’s future direction, and to “own” the final planning decisions right along with the in-house management team.
With all of the values of this type of planning, you would think that more non-profits would be jumping at the chance to get started. There are, unfortunately, downsides to undertaking the strategic planning process, and these downsides undoubtedly discourage some organizations. Time and resources are usually scarce, and planning requires both, although admittedly not nearly as much of the latter as the former.
A level of institutional transparency is required that scares off many non-profit executives–information about the organization must be made available and discussed openly. Management must be prepared to listen to and perhaps accept the ideas and directions of others. Once a plan is completed, it needs to be constantly reviewed and evaluated, and course correction may be required. Any or all of these may discourage some non-profit executives from getting a strategic planning process started in the first place.
There is really no question in my mind, however that the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to strategic planning for non-profit organizations. Solid planning is not only a valuable management tool, it engages your supporters and prospects in a way that few other activities can.
Good strategic planning is an extremely valuable management tool. The planning process allows individuals with a stake in the institution to investigate the purpose, status, and needs of the organization and determine the best course of action from each level of involvement.