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Planning to Plan: What Will You Celebrate This Time Next Year?

Posted by Sonia Torress on January 11th, 2022
Posted in Blog, Independent Schools, Strategic Planning   

Come January 2023, what achievements would you like your organization to be celebrating? If there are commitments that you need to make to better deliver on your mission, now is the time to plan for them.

We help our clients create inspired and actionable strategic plans that dramatically further their mission and organizational goals, while galvanizing enthusiasm from staff, to faculty, to boards of directors, donors, and volunteers. Doing so requires taking the time to plan well for the development of a strategic plan that’s engaging and impactful instead of ho-hum and expected.

To create a strategic plan your stakeholders will never forget, the first thing to know is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Your organization will need a carefully curated approach to developing your strategic plan that meets the moment. Don’t just dust off your last plan and update the goals. 

Here are five ways to ensure your next strategic plan will be cause for celebration:

1. Study the Context in Which Your Organization Exists Today

So many organizations rush into strategic planning without studying the universe in which they exist. They dig out their old SWOT analysis, add some incremental insights and call it a new plan. Rather, a well-designed plan should start with a clear view of today’s realities.

First, ask yourselves: What did we do well as part of our last strategic plan? It’s important not to forget how and what got you to this point in order to build on those strengths.

You should also be looking at the culture of your organization. If any significant change is to happen, culture needs to lead the charge. What are the attitudes of your people, and are your organizational values understood and shared by everyone?

2. Ask the Hard Questions

Instead of thinking about what strategic initiatives you may need to invest in, start first by asking yourselves what outcomes you’re trying to achieve. An inspired plan will focus on the people (or cause) you serve and how to do so with powerful and clear results. That’s quite different than simply planning to renovate a building or expanding your endowment. Consider, instead, what audacious outcomes you want to accomplish. A great way to start this conversation is with a provocative question: If our organization did not exist today, would it be needed?

3. Engage Your Community Appropriately

Time and budget will dictate how deeply you can engage community members yet understand this: The more you engage your community in developing a plan, the greater their enthusiasm and buy-in will be for implementing your completed strategic plan.

However, beware: engaging your stakeholders doesn’t mean asking them what your organizational priorities should be. That only leads to suggestions for how to fix what they view as broken. That’s backwards-looking, not visionary. Instead, consider the future you want to create and decide what role your organization can and should play in that world. Then ask your community to help you brainstorm how to do just that.

4. Don’t Try to Do it All

Your organization can’t be everything to everyone; too often a strategic plan is overly broad or ambitious. Prioritizing what’s most important within a given period of time takes discipline. You’ll need to determine what kind of impact you are seeking to have, and in what time frame. Answering those key questions will help lead to a plan that is tangible, exciting, and measurable with realistic goals.

5. Put Your Mission at the Center of It All

One of the profound flaws of most strategic plans is that they fail to address the core function of your organization. If you’re a school or college access organization your students must be at the center of your plan. If you’re an arts organization your patrons must be at the center. If your focus is a specific cause—for example, climate change—then the people who can affect positive change must be at the center of your plan.

Yet, the plans we’ve commonly seen are about everything else: facilities, finance, fundraising, and board development, with a little focus on programming. Operational effectiveness is not a strategy. Instead, keep your mission at the center and watch how much more visionary your plan can become.

6. Embrace What’s Unique About Your Organization

This may be the most important point to remember. Despite similarities, no two organizations are the same and thus no two strategic plans should be either. Your plan should double down on what only your organization can and will achieve. Doing so allows you to emerge with a focused plan for the next 3-5 years that will differentiate your organization and strengthen your brand, thereby attracting more interest and support than ever before.

Make 2022 your year for thinking big and audaciously. Then develop a great plan to reach your strategic goals.

If you have any questions on how to do this well, reach out or comment bellow and our team of skilled strategic planning experts will get back to your shortly!

Photograph by @ambreenhasan

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As Director of Strategic Planning Sonia Torres leads our strategic planning practice to develop actionable plans that provide direction and focus to organizations working to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

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