Basic steps to a strategic planning process

—adapted from the Alliance for Nonprofit Management

Strategic Planning Model

Many books and articles describe how best to do strategic planning, and many go to much greater lengths than this planning response sheet, but our purpose here is to present the fundamental steps that must be taken in the strategic planning process. Below is a brief description of the five steps in the process. These steps are a recommendation, but not the only recipe for creating a strategic plan; other sources may recommend entirely different steps or variations of these steps. However, the steps outlined below describe the basic work that needs to be done and the typical products of the process. Thoughtful and creative planners will add spice to the mix or elegance to the presentation in order to develop a strategic plan that best suits their organization!

Step One - Getting Ready
Step Two - Articulating Mission and Vision
Step Three - Assessing the Situation
Step Four - Developing Strategies, Goals, and Objectives
Step Five - Completing the Written Plan

Step One - Getting Ready

To get ready for strategic planning, an organization must first assess if it is ready. While a number of issues must be addressed in assessing readiness, the determination essentially comes down to whether an organization's leaders are truly committed to the effort, and whether they are able to devote the necessary attention to the "big picture". For example, if a funding crisis looms, the founder is about to depart, or the environment is turbulent, then it does not make sense to take time out for strategic planning effort at that time.

An organization that determines it is indeed ready to begin strategic planning must perform five tasks to pave the way for an organized process:

  • identify specific issues or choices that the planning process should address
  • clarify roles (who does what in the process)
  • create a Planning Committee
  • develop an organizational profile
  • identify the information that must be collected to help make sound decisions.

The product developed at the end of the Step One is a Workplan.

Step Two - Articulating Mission and Vision

A mission statement is like an introductory paragraph: it lets the reader know where the writer is going, and it also shows that the writer knows where he or she is going. Likewise, a mission statement must communicates the essence of an organization to the reader. An organization's ability to articulate its mission indicates its focus and purposefulness. A mission statement typically describes an organization in terms of its:
  • Purpose - why the organization exists, and what it seeks to accomplish
  • Business - the main method or activity through which the organization tries it fulfill this purpose
  • Values - the principles or beliefs that guide an organization's members as they pursue the organization's purpose

Whereas the mission statement summarizes the what, how, and why of an organization's work, a vision statement presents an image of what success will look like. For example, the mission statement of the Support Centers of America is as follows:

The mission of the Support Centers of America is to increase the effectiveness of the nonprofit sector by providing management consulting, training and research. Our guiding principles are: promote client independence, expand cultural proficiency, collaborate with others, ensure our own competence, act as one organization.

We envision an ever increasing global movement to restore and revitalize the quality of life in local communities. The Support Centers of America will be a recognized contributor and leader in that movement.

With mission and vision statements in hand, an organization has taken an important step towards creating a shared, coherent idea of what it is strategically planning for.

At the end of Step Two, a draft mission statement and a draft vision statement is developed.

Step Three - Assessing the Situation

Once an organization has committed to why it exists and what it does, it must take a clear-eyed look at its current situation. Remember, that part of strategic planning, thinking, and management is an awareness of resources and an eye to the future environment, so that an organization can successfully respond to changes in the environment. Situation assessment, therefore, means obtaining current information about the organization's strengths, weaknesses, and performance - information that will highlight the critical issues that the organization faces and that its strategic plan must address. These could include a variety of primary concerns, such as funding issues, new program opportunities, changing regulations or changing needs in the client population, and so on. The point is to choose the most important issues to address. The Planning Committee should agree on no more than five to ten critical issues around which to organize the strategic plan.

The products of Step Three include: a data base of quality information that can be used to make decisions; and a list of critical issues which demand a response from the organization - the most important issues the organization needs to deal with.

Step Four - Developing Strategies, Goals, and Objectives

Once an organization's mission has been affirmed and its critical issues identified, it is time to figure out what to do about them: the broad approaches to be taken (strategies), and the general and specific results to be sought (the goals and objectives). Strategies, goals, and objectives may come from individual inspiration, group discussion, formal decision-making techniques, and so on - but the bottom line is that, in the end, the leadership agrees on how to address the critical issues.

This can take considerable time and flexibility: discussions at this stage frequently will require additional information or a reevaluation of conclusions reached during the situation assessment. It is even possible that new insights will emerge which change the thrust of the mission statement. It is important that planners are not afraid to go back to an earlier step in the process and take advantage of available information to create the best possible plan.

The product of Step Four is an outline of the organization's strategic directions - the general strategies, long-range goals, and specific objectives of its response to critical issues.

Step Five - Completing the Written Plan

The mission has been articulated, the critical issues identified, and the goals and strategies agreed upon. This step essentially involves putting all that down on paper. Usually one member of the Planning Committee, the executive director, or even a planning consultant will draft a final planning document and submit it for review to all key decision makers (usually the board and senior staff). This is also the time to consult with senior staff to determine whether the document can be translated into operating plans (the subsequent detailed action plans for accomplishing the goals proposed by the strategic plan) and to ensure that the plan answers key questions about priorities and directions in sufficient detail to serve as a guide. Revisions should not be dragged out for months, but action should be taken to answer any important questions that are raised at this step. It would certainly be a mistake to bury conflict at this step just to wrap up the process more quickly, because the conflict, if serious, will inevitably undermine the potency of the strategic directions chosen by the planning committee.

The product of Step Five is a strategic plan!



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If so, send your updated info to Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz at aggie [at] namac [dot] org!