Nonprofit strategic planning: where to involve your board. Part 2.
Previously, I asked this question:
I shared six factors that I find essential to successful strategic planning:
- Personal investment
- Data collection
- Stakeholder support
- A planning process that adds value
You can read more about these six factors in part 1 of this post.
Based on advancing those six factors, here are opportunities for you to engage your board and its members in strategic planning.
From the very start
Personal investment starts when your board endorses and sees value in developing a strategic plan. Your full board can and should endorse the process that will be used to develop the plan, regardless if it’s staff led, recommended by a planning committee, outside counsel, or some other way. At the start, your board can help frame the strategic questions it wants answered.
In the data gathering and future predictions stages
While your staff may be the most knowledgeable about your industry, your directors also have knowledge or access to knowledge about your community, about the economy, the political landscape or more. Whether you are developing your initial assessment at the staff level or in a strategic planning team, it is wise to ensure that knowledge is shared with your key decision-makers and other stakeholders (staff too).
When willing, I like to send directors out with a set of strategic questions to interview key stakeholders or other critical informants. I find this process to be very valuable in building personal investment in the plan, in developing stakeholder support, and in creating other value for your organization such as deepening essential relationships and increasing director knowledge.
It’s hard to be terribly strategic if you don’t have a good sense of the size and shape of your ultimate goals. Once you have data and predictions in hand, it helps to build ownership by creating a shared story or vision of the community impact you wish to have.
(A caution though about timing of this conversation … don’t let your “big hairy audacious vision” be impaired by financial reality right at the beginning. The reality check will come into play when you develop goals and strategies that both recognize financial limitations but also seek to work around them.)
In middle and end stages of planning
As you move forward, consider how much feedback and involvement from your directors it will take to build strong agreement about your strategic direction. The greater support you have, the more personal investment you will build. If you use a planning committee, it helps to have a variety of perspectives deliberating together.
You may wish to take recommendations back to the board in stages – perhaps buying them into the theory of change and strategies in an interim phase. Or maybe the plan doesn’t really hold together well until you have married your impact and strategies with financial projections and capacity investments.
You may also wish to take your plan to your key stakeholders and community supporters in stages as well – whether through one-on-one meetings or in larger gatherings. This is another place where directors not only can be involved, but their presence helps to build community support, more informed decision-making and higher personal investment in the plan.
Need I say more here? No matter the level of involvement, an organization’s strategic plan is ultimately “owned” by the board of directors.
Disseminating and championing
Hopefully you’ve already built a lot of stakeholder support as you’ve moved through the planning process. Regardless, directors should be champions of the plan moving forward.
Monitoring and adjusting plan implementation
More and more boards are aligning their meeting content and even their committees or working groups to ensure a living strategic plan. What progress are you making? Where are the stumbling blocks? Are core assumptions still accurate? If not, how must the strategy be adjusted?
Your ultimate goal is to embed the disciplines of strategic thinking and planning deeply into your board and organizational culture. Strategic thinking should be something you do every day, not something you only consider every few years.
Whatever approach you use to create your strategic plan, your board and directors need to be sufficiently involved to ensure their understanding, ownership and ability to champion a plan that increases your impact on your community.