Strategic Planning Process: Guidelines and Tips

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1 Overview of the Strategic Planning Process Strategic Planning Process: Guidelines and Tips While there are various strategic planning approaches and no one way is right, an overall strategic planning process generally entails three phases: 1. Data gathering and analysis; 2. Creating a vision; and 3. Developing the plan. The phases often include many of the following activities and components: 1 Phase I: Data Gathering and Analysis Strategic Planning Process Kick-off with some homework to get to know your organization and to further define the scope of work, especially to identify key internal and external stakeholders to be involved in the process. External scan to understand the realities your organization faces now and potentially will face in the future. Organizational assessment to understand your strengths and challenges, both programmatic and operational. Analysis of external scan and internal assessments that summarizes the data gathered, which may include key questions, logic models, and/or future scenarios. Phase II: Creation of an Organizational Vision Meeting or retreat(s) to discuss where your organization is currently at, and its strengths and challenges and options for the future. This is a process of turning data into knowledge synthesizing the data collected in order to present key findings and to develop key questions, scenarios or recommendations. The outcome of these meetings/retreats should be to turn knowledge into strategy from the thorough discussion of the implications of the data, the goal is to improve the organizational vision and direction for the next 3 to 4 years. Phase III: Creation of your Plan Plan development, which may include convening sub-committees to determine specific goals, objectives, and strategies. You may find that you need additional research, etc. The plan should address key areas such as mission and values; program strategy; and operational issues such as leadership, governance, staff/volunteer capacity, finance/fundraising (funding needs/sources), infrastructure supports (such as technology), etc. The plan should always be clear on the ties between activities and the ultimate success of the mission and the organizational programs/services. Plan refinement and approval. The written plan should include the refined/confirmed mission statement, vision statement, values statement, goals and objectives, and strategies and tactics for the next 2 to 4 years (typical plans focus on 3 years). Implementation Plan development and approval, which should reflect steps to live the strategic plan and to make the strategy actionable, including a timeline and personnel responsibilities and steps for check-ins (potentially ongoing coaching), and benchmarks of success. Implementation plans should at least detail the first one to two years of proposed actions and be revisited and updated regularly. 1 We provide TCC Group s briefing paper Driving Strategy for Social Impact only as a guide Page 1

2 Strategic Planning Process: Tips To help guide the NJHI CACE grantees through defining a strategic planning process for their organization, TCC is also providing its 10 Keys to Successful Strategic Planning briefing paper as well as this document that provides additional details and tips to some of the keys. To maximize the use of your CACE capacity-building investment, remember that the suggested activities can be conducted by your staff, your volunteers, your partners such as universities or other community organizations, your consultant or in some combination thereof. As always, your CACE team (NJHI and TCC Group) is available to assist you with any questions or further guidance, especially to establish the consulting budget for a request for proposal process. Getting Organized Ideally your consultant/consultant group has worked with organizations similar to your organization in some way (in size, service-type/ breadth, location, etc.) but regardless will need some time to understand who you are and what you do and will need access to information such as previous strategic plan, annual reports, financial audits, organizational chart, mission/vision (or organizational logic model), program overviews and logic models, information on organizational history and major events (both positive and challenging), board structure and minutes, recent organization assessments (provide access to your full CCAT), etc. They should learn who are your key stakeholder groups (internal and external) and help identify the right questions to ask and to further refine the data gathering process. As they get to know you, finalize the scope of work and especially to clarify roles and responsibilities between the consultant and your staff/volunteers. Key 1: A clear and comprehensive grasp of external opportunities and challenges (current realities) social, political and economic trends continually impact the demand for nonprofit services in your field and your location, such as changes in demographics, impacts of technology, policy and funding streams, availability of services from other providers, etc. Potential activities to support this area: Access, review and analysis of recent data and reports (i.e., market research, literature review), such as from local/regional government agencies, Census information, local/regional funders, United Ways, universities, etc. Understanding of most current practices (if relevant). Benchmarking or competitive analysis of similar organizations in your field and/or your location (understanding their trends, best practices, etc.). Interviews or survey with representation of key external stakeholders knowledgeable of current community trends. Key 2: A realistic and comprehensive assessment of the organization s strengths and limitations In order to move forward, an organization must understand ( warts and all ) its strengths and limitations from multiple perspectives, including staff, board, clients, community leaders, funders and partner organizations, among others. Set clear expectations related to confidentiality up front with all stakeholders. Potential activities to support this key: Beyond your CCAT, consider going deeper in critical areas, such as board governance, finance, HR, legal, communications, technology, program evaluation, facilities, volunteer coordination, etc. (See TCC s Capacity-Building Resource Tools document for assessment ideas.) Key 3: An inclusive approach As noted in Key 2, information should be gathered from multiple stakeholder groups; this does not mean, however, that all stakeholder groups will participate in all phases of the strategic Page 2

3 planning process. You should understand and identify who and when to include at each major step of the data collection and the development of the plan in order to ensure your final strategic plan is a result of multiple perspectives and appropriate buy-in both internally and externally. Share your CCAT results and key points from your debrief discussion(s) with staff and board with your consultant, as well as any other organizational/departmental assessments (such as board, finance, HR, technology, facilities, staff performance, and program evaluations). Survey or interviews (individual or focus groups) with key stakeholders. Meeting(s) or retreat(s) to share analysis opportunity to focus on results and to brainstorm on solutions and next steps. Depending on your organizational culture, you may consider a separate staff and board retreat pre or post a group retreat (including at least key staff and board members). Key 4: An empowered planning committee; Key 5: Involvement of senior leadership; Key 6: Sharing of responsibility by board and staff members The plan is not the consultant s plan but that of the organization; as such, active participation and buy-in of a cross-cutting group of organizational leaders and stakeholders is critical. Similar to Key 3, the strategic planning process should be spearheaded by an inclusive group of organizational leaders comprised of approximately 5-10 staff and board leaders. While a consultant can assist in helping to define a strategic planning process most appropriate for your needs, you should have a general sense in mind to develop your request for proposal (RFP) and a planning committee is ideal to drive that process (developing the RFP, selecting candidates, interviewing candidates and hiring/managing the consultant). Overall, the strategic planning process should drive buy-in for the development of the plan, but, most importantly, the implementation of that plan. Key 7: Learning from best practices and from others and not recreating the wheel! The underlying organizational components of nonprofits are generally the same. Every organization deals with challenges related to leadership, technology, fundraising, HR, governance, leadership development/succession, client services, etc. and it is possible to learn from the successes, failures and mistakes of others. As noted in other sections above, potential activities to support learning from others may include: Benchmarking of similar organizations in your field and/or your location or same budget size or structure, especially through surveys and/or interviews. Literature review of best practices. Your participation in CACE also provides you with a cohort that you can leverage to learn about the strategies, successes, and challenges that they have experienced. Key 8: Clear priorities and an implementation plan TCC s deep work in capacity building as well as evaluating capacity-building activities emphasizes the need to make the strategic plan real and actionable and that organizations should budget for implementation of priority areas. Given the breadth of support from NJHI, CACE grantees can identify priority areas and make the case for additional grant support based on strategic planning priorities. Key 9: Patience and Key 10: A commitment to change Your involvement in the CACE initiative has already acknowledged these two areas but it is critical to remind your team of these keys. As you implement change, it is important to think through how it will impact individual and team dynamics and to socialize the change on an ongoing basis. By involving stakeholders upfront in the strategic planning process, implementation will be smoother, but not without challenges. Your ongoing commitment to change (especially by revisiting and adapting your implementation plan) and to addressing by-products of change (especially need for staff development) will further improve your success. Page 3

4 Guidelines About Cost A 2011 benchmarking study commissioned by The Forbes Funds (reflecting conversations with more than 20 leaders in philanthropy and capacity building, including TCC Group) found that average strategic planning processes for nonprofits range between $25 to $30k (with ranges between $12,500 to $40,000 depending on the consulting group and their interpretation of minimum requirements for a strategic plan and their rates). Hiring a consultant An outside facilitator (paid or volunteer) should be unbiased, a knowledgeable strategic planner (knowledgeable about various strategic planning techniques and help you customize an approach for your organization), experienced facilitator (able to balance the various personalities in the room), help unearth critical issues, ask pointed questions (not afraid to ask about the elephant in the room) and excellent process manager (keep to timelines where necessary but knows when more time is needed and is flexible where needed). Be sure to speak with more than one candidate and be sure to check references! Ask your references what it was like to work with the consultant you re considering; how well the consultant got their organization; and the extent to which their plan was implemented, and why. When you re ready to hire your consultant, be sure to use a contract that your organization s lawyers have approved. The contract should clearly state price, expectations regarding payment, activities to be conducted, deliverables, and timeline. It should also state expectations related to confidentiality and the process for ending the engagement, if necessary. Refer to the CACE Consultant RFP Template for additional tips. Page 4

5 Budget Guide Strategic Plan Core Components Pre-work External scan Organization assessment Meeting or retreat(s) Plan development Implementation Plan development Follow-on support Ongoing project management Core Budget Factors How much consultant already knows org, your field, etc. How extensive research is and level of direct data collection (interviews, survey, focus groups) and analysis How extensive research is and level of direct data collection (interviews, survey, focus groups) and analysis How many meetings and/or retreats and length of each as well as location and number of attendees (costs for both consultant and organization should be estimated for your CACE budget) How much is drafted by organization s strategic planning committee and meetings to finalize How much is drafted by organization s strategic planning committee and number of meetings to finalize How many facilitated check-ins to assess progress and updates to implementation plan How much assistance needed to schedule (such as interviews, meetings, etc.) as well as regularity of check-ins on progress Approximate Total Cost Range Estimated Level of Effort (budget depends on rates).5 to 1 day 2 to 5 days 5 to 12 days 2 to 3 days 1 to 2 days Up to 35 days of consulting time* X Daily Rate * While this provides general guidelines around estimated days of consulting time for budgeting purposes (8 hour/day x Daily Rate), the entire strategic planning process generally takes 2 or more months depending on the level of complexity as well as availability of stakeholders to participate in the various activities. The strategic planning process should be a learning process for all those involved, and the consensus building process is critical to the buy-in and success of the strategic direction, the strategic plan and implementation plan. Page 5

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