This scenario might be familiar to some of our readers: a group of wise, talented people take time out of their busy lives, get together for a day or more, and think about an organization and its future. They create a strategic plan that is built on the best information they had available. The strategic plan is finalized and shared. Time passes, and some of those people are left wondering what happened –Was the plan ever used? Did the organization succeeded in the things it set out to do? In our work, I’ve seen several variations of this scenario. In some versions, the strategic plan wasn’t a very helpful document in guiding the organization in the first place. In others, the document was good, but there was no time set aside for really reviewing and implementing the identified strategies. In still other cases, the strategic plan turns out to be a great document that clearly laid out what ended up happening – even if no one ever referred to it again – because there was great buy-in and support developed during the planning process. In preparing this article, we touched base with several of our former clients, and interviewed Melissa Pfeiffer, the Operations Director at Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.  ILCM completed a strategic plan in 2009. Here are some helpful tips from organizations that did use their strategic plan – and really benefitted:
  • Don’t stop at a plan. Once the plan is developed, think about what else can help you be strategic: employee work plans that are focused on your strategies, a review system to see how your work lines up with the plan, etc. Melissa describes her process: “The Improve Group also assisted us in developing a simple but effective workplan for us that would 1) not overwhelm staff, 2) link individual activities to the organization's strategic goals, and 3) allow for benchmarking for program and staff evaluation and planning purposes. We are still in the midst of rolling out individual staff workplans using the format created. Our budgeting process and related development plan also absolutely reflect the goals outlined in the strategic plan. This is helpful in setting priorities related to how our general operations funding is allocated across activities.”
  • Assign people to hold parts of the plan in their mind, and advocate for specific strategies during meetings. For example, you may think the annual fundraising benefit and your plan are only related by the money that one brings in to support the other – wrong! During a benefit planning meeting, you might discover that you can use your benefit time to advance some of your strategies or gain support for some of your planned activities.
  • Set regular time on your schedule for reflection – either as an individual or a group. For example: Do you hold regular staff meetings? During one meeting each quarter, review the plan, nominate each other for successes related to the plan, and come up with ideas for the coming quarter. At Immigrant Law Center, Melissa says “We did a group check in with the strategic plan as part of our annual staff retreat. As part of this process, we asked staff to engage in a discussion of ‘How are we doing?’ and ‘What's next?’ related to our strategic plan. Because our programs align with the strategic plan, each time we evaluate individual programs or development initiatives, we are also documenting the progress on the strategic plan.”
  • When faced with a major organizational decision, refer to your strategic plan and what it suggests. Melissa describes a one such situation: “We had the interesting situation that as we were finalizing our strategic plan, we were presented with a possible merger situation from an organization that was closing its doors. Many of the decisions that were made regarding this issue were firmly rooted in our strategic plan. The plan informed the board in making a strategic decision to expand our services statewide--and to accept the most vulnerable of cases from the closing organization along with the funding stream that supported their services, rather than merging with that organization.”