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Bring Your Strategic Plan to Life

Step One: Review the past year

For many organizations a lot of effort is put into their annual strategic plan. The process begins by reflecting on the past; this includes big accomplishments, areas of opportunity, areas of weakness, outside factors, et cetera. With this information collected, alongside a reminder of the mission and vision of the organization, the direction into the future becomes clearer.

For Services in Action, strategic planning is an enjoyable experience, not an arduous task. It is an opportunity to reflect on what we have done.

A great way to get started is to review areas where information is collected or stored. Have a big pile of paper on your desk? Thumb through it. Keep a notebook or agenda? Flip through the pages. Personally, I like scrolling through sent messages and social media pages.

Being reminded of where we have been, what we have accomplished, and the lives we’ve impacted is hugely rewarding and inspiring; which is a great mindset for planning big, audacious goals for the year ahead.

In times of busyness and demanding schedules, work happens in a less structured way so it is easier to forget about all the accomplishments throughout the year. Especially true through the pandemic, there have been so many times where I’ve just gotten by -had a quick conversation rather than writing a lengthy report, worked on an unintentional project that didn’t get documented, or advised on a project without formality. I actually forgot about a book club that Services in Action hosted at the beginning of 2021. A BOOK CLUB!! How is that forgettable?

Here are some resources to help get your strategic planning process started:

Articles with embedded resources:

Like writing a research paper, uncover all of your evidence. Then turn to the future -what are your technical goals, big ideas, where do you want to be, and how will you get there?

Step Two: Reverse Engineering The Strategy

By knowing where you’ve come from -what has worked, what hasn’t, and what strides have been made- it is much easier to envision where your are going and how to get there.

With a clear direction forward, you may begin to set goals, and consequently set the route to achieving those goals.

This is the area where I need constant reminding. Goals don’t magically get achieved; it takes constant effort to move forward, to arrive at a destination. Nonprofits are so tightly constrained that putting out fires or attending to the squeakiest wheel can become the main focus. But that doesn’t move the organization further along.

Without a plan of action, a goal is just a wish. If, for example, your goal is to increase your donor base by 100 people, then you need a plan to work on a that consistently. Perhaps you have events or seasons when many people connect with your organization, and at other times very few people connect, your incremental goals should reflect that.

For example:

So, you want to grow your donor base. How does that happen? How do you connect with new or lapsed donors? How many phone calls do you need to make before someone makes a donation?

In this spreadsheet, it is easy to see how each week will take shape. The intention behind this method of planning is to focus on moving forward, not just getting things done. Download a copy of this spreadsheet.

Step Three: Make The Plan Readable And Usable

A fulsome strategic planning event takes time and effort. A lot goes into gathering all of the data points, information, and analysis, to fully discuss the opportunities, vision, and goals; and to put all if this together in one document.

But, then what happens to that document?

Strategic planning is only good if it becomes a usable tool. It is easy to end up with a hefty document that gets stored away until next time.

Part of the problem is the burden of reading the document. Any document that contains only text, without much formatting, latent with meaning, heavy in concept, creates a cognitive burden. A cognitive burden is when you have to work hard to understand something. The reason graphics are so popular in our feeds is because they take very little cognition to understand. Your strategic plan needs to go from an excel spreadsheet or word document, into an information-based graphic.

How is this accomplished?

  1. Identify the main areas of the plan
  2. In each area, highlight the main keywords or key goals
  3. Consider the action you will take regarding the keyword
  4. Place those keywords in a way that gives them context.
  5. Put pen (or marker, or mouse) to paper (or screen

Once you have a one-page document, go back to the strategic plan to check that all of the priorities and goals have been captured.

One year our plan became a tree with each branch representing different areas and sub areas. Another year the plan became a rainbow with concentric arches highlighting each area of growth. This year the plan is more geometric, there are six key blocks and two blocks in a sidebar.

The purpose of this format is to put the plan in a place that will be seen for frequently, reminding everyone of the key priorities and goals.

TIP: Canva is a great software service for creating graphics. There is a free version, an inexpensive pro version, and a nonprofit discount.