Nathan Garber & Associates
Governance & Planning Support for the Not-for-Profit Sector

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What Is Strategic Planning

a help sheet from Nathan Garber & Associates 

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?" asked Alice. 

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don’t much care where – so long as I get somewhere," Alice added.

"Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk," answered the cat. "You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough."

 

The Purpose of Planning

Strategic planning is intended to accomplish three important tasks:

  •  to clarify the outcomes that an organization wishes to achieve;

  • to select the broad strategies that will enable the organization to achieve those outcomes;

  • to identify ways to measure progress

In addition, many organizations use the process to affirm their links to important stakeholders by involving them in the creation of the plan.

There are many possible approaches to strategic planning. Our preferred approach takes into account current thinking concerning the importance of “outcome-based” planning and evaluation. In other words, our starting point is the impact your organization will have on your clients and community. Who will be affected by your programs and services and how will they benefit?

 In general, we will guide you through a process of asking and answering  four sets of questions about your organization:

  • What do you want your organization to accomplish? What will be the impact of your organization if it is successful?

  • Where is your organization today? What are the characteristics of your organization and the environment in which it operates? 

  • On what strategies will you focus your energy and resources? 

  • How will you monitor and evaluate your progress?

 What do you want to accomplish?

Our approach to strategic planning begins with the development of what we call the “framework policies” of mission, vision, and values  and the goals that that will direct all organizational activities during the period covered by the plan. This is usually done in a facilitated retreat, involving the Board of Directors and CEO. Many boards invite selected staff and other stakeholders to participate. It generally takes a full day for the group to create the mission, vision, values and goals statements.

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Where is your organization today?

In order to plan for the future, an organization must know where it currently stands and what factors might influence its future. Early in the planning process, therefore, the organization must consider its current strengths and weaknesses and to examine its environment for potential opportunities and problems. Some planners call this a situation analysis or environmental scan. Nathan Garber & Associates will help you select an approach to appropriate to your organization’s specific needs. These might include:

·        Critical Issues Review: an analysis of the issues most important to the future of the organization;

·        SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats): an analysis and evaluation of internal conditions and external factors that affect the organization;

·        Force Field Analysis: an analysis of the forces propelling an organization forward and those holding it back;

·        Customer/Stakeholder/Competitor Analysis: identification of those directly or indirectly affected by the agency's actions.

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What strategies will help you to succeed?

The point of strategic planning is to develop long-term strategies that use organizational strengths and take advantage of opportunities so that the organization can achieve its goals. Based upon the strategies, short-term operational plans are developed, consisting of measurable, time-limited objectives and the activities necessary to achieve them. Operational plans are normally developed by agency staff. The budget process allocates resources according to the priorities set by the Board of Directors. Strategies and operational plans are the most flexible element of strategic planning and  may be adjusted throughout the period covered by the plan in order to respond to changing conditions. Many organizations are now using the "program logic model" approach to develop their strategies. For information about logic models, see below.

Nathan Garber & Associates can provide a structured facilitation process to help with the development of strategies and operational plans.

How will you monitor your progress?

A key element of outcome-based planning is the identification of performance measures or indicators of success (benchmarks or standards to measure progress). Often, these can be difficult to define, particularly for social service organizations and programs aimed at prevention or social change. It is important, however, that consideration be given to measurement and evaluation throughout the planning process. Monitoring of performance is an important part of the Board’s role and funders are increasingly requiring performance measures as a condition of funding.  In the strategic planning process, performance measures are normally established by staff, sometimes with the assistance of experts in evaluation.

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The Role of the Consultant

Long experience with strategic planning has taught us that no single model of strategic planning that will work for every organization. Accordingly, our goal as consultants is to assist our clients to determine the shortest, most efficient and most economical approach to producing and implementing a strategic plan:  Our assistance may take different forms including:
·        providing guidance and training on the planning process;
·        designing surveys and interviews;
·        gathering background information through surveys, interviews and focus groups;
·        facilitating planning meetings and retreats;
·        preparing and presenting interim reports;
·        drafting the strategic planning document;
·        providing an impartial perspective on the planning process.

 Nathan Garber & Associates believes in  a flexible approach, enabling the process to be modified  at key decision-points as required to produce the most meaningful results.

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For More Information

There are dozens of helpful websites and books devoted to the process of strategic planning.  Use your favourite search engine to find some. Here are a few that I particularly like.

The Kellogg foundation publishes two excellent manuals on evaluation based upon the Program Logic Model. They can be downloaded from the website or ordered online. They are free of charge. http://www.wkkf.org

The Nonprofit Genie http://www.genie.org/ . The website of the California Management Assistance Partnership, a consortium of 14 regional, nonprofit support organizations.

The information centre of the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy includes many links, articles, and online reviews. http://www.ccp.ca/information/index.html

CharityChannel publishes book reviews and hosts online discussion groups where you can post questions and get many points of view on strategic planning issues. Their archives can be searched for previous discussions.  http://charitychannel.com

Carter McNamara’s nonprofit management library http://www.mapnp.org/library/ includes many links and planning forms.

BoardSource (formerly the National Center for Nonprofit Boards) lists a number of publications on strategic planning. http://www.boardsource.org

 A good manual is Strategic Planning Workbook published and sold by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. They have a new workbook  called Crafting Effective Mission and Vision Statements. I haven’t read it yet. For details, browse to http://www.wilder.org/pubs/.

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Nathan Garber & Associates
Training and Consulting for the Nonprofit Sector
1071 Richmond Street, London, Ontario, Canada  N6A 3K1
tel: (519) 670-4256  skype: nathan.garber

Nathan@GarberConsulting.com