Monday, March 4, 2013

The strategic (mini)plan

I have mentioned before that many of my clients have an aversion to strategic planning. While some board members and/or founders are simply not sufficiently committed to the organizational aspects of a nonprofit, many more simply see themselves as being too small to need one.  

There is some truth to that viewpoint. First, the plans take time and often money to develop. Second, they require ongoing review and maintenance. Third, there may literally not be enough people to do the plan while trying to accomplish the mission. Having been on the inside, and looking at the long-term effectiveness of some strategic plans, I can understand why they aren't a terribly popular topic around the boardroom table. From the outside looking in as a grant writer, I see the consequences of having no plan to accomplish the mission.
Strategic plans for nonprofits differ from business plans in that they are more vision oriented, versus profit or investor oriented.  Some nonprofits wouldn't pass the financial scrutiny of a first year finance student, but they somehow are very effective in accomplishing the mission. Others have all the right formulas in place but never seem to achieve the desired charitable results.

The strategic mini-plan provides a bridge between the two extremes. It provides a structural framework, without requiring an economist to understand and implement. In the last five years, no nonprofit I have ever developed a mini-plan for has ever said it was a waste of time.
The mini-plan simply puts down on paper the brainstorming sessions and identifies the obstacles as well as the successes toward mission achievement. The basic act of writing things down will often pinpoint areas that increase funding, while identifying programs, philosophies or shortcomings that are holding you back. It still has a financial component, but doesn't attempt to forecast five or ten years into the future.

One nonprofit I worked with had four programs, and each had its passionate supporters. All had worthwhile goals, but upon reviewing them, it was obvious that one was not pulling its own weight. It was vague in concept, required a very high financial input, results were hard to measure, grantors didn't understand it and wouldn't fund it, and most importantly, it wasn't helping the people it was supposed to help. By sitting down and actually putting all the pros and cons down on paper, even its supporters could see that it needed to be folded into one of the other programs. It became obvious why, despite having a pretty decent profit and loss statement, the nonprofit was struggling to pay its bills.
Another nonprofit did a mini-plan after initially being very hostile toward the idea. Three months after we finished it, the executive director left with no notice. By having a mini-plan, they were able to set goals and provide history for the new ED, and they hardly missed a beat. 
If a full-fledged plan isn't an option for your organization, the mini-plan may a reasonable alternative. 

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