You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. – Yogi Berra
Imagine a scene with me…You are on a plane and you strike up a conversation with the person seated next to you. After you spend some time talking about the weather, the discussion turns to your nonprofit. You excitedly talk about your mission and your various programs. Then, your new acquaintance asks about your 5-year plan. Five-year plan?! Your face involuntarily flushes a bit and you proceed to stumble around for the next few minutes attempting to fake your way through an answer that you are unprepared for.
Anything like that ever happened to you? And if it did, would you be able to answer the question? Many of us couldn’t…and in the spirit of full disclosure, 5 years would be a stretch for me, too. But what about 3 years? Or 2? Even 1?
It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind. We’ve all been there. For many companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, the last few years have been about simply living to fight another day. Who has time for planning when you are not sure if you can even make payroll on Friday? The current economic conditions may provide us all with plenty of excuses for putting off planning for a better day. The truth is, you cannot afford to short-circuit thoughtful planning. It’s like trying to steer a boat with no rudder. You may manage to get somewhere, but it won’t likely be where you want to go.
In May of this year, I was elected to the board of trustees of my daughter’s school, Donelson Christian Academy. My term began last month and includes me being assigned to the development committee. Any idea as to what a major component of that committee is? You guessed it…planning! Lots of planning! But the payoff is worth it. That payoff includes a leadership that knows where its going, a staff that has a solid structure within which to operate and stakeholders who can have confidence that they are involved with an organization worth investing into.
Let me leave you with 3 keys to effective planning:
Key #1. Make long-term planning an integral component of your governance. Embed it into your nonprofit’s DNA. It’s not enough to have a compelling mission or even a beloved program. You simply must compel your leadership to think strategically. If your organization has never really done this, start small. Don’t shoot for a 5-year plan right off the bat. Start with 1-2 years and build from there.
Key #2. Get the right people involved. This may be hard with your current board. Far too many nonprofits have weak governance, but at least start with what you have. Give the most responsibility to those who can handle it. As you seek new board members in the future, look for those who bring a skillset in strategic planning.
Key #3. Measure your results. This means setting goals and benchmarks. If you aren’t hitting your goals over time, revisit your plans and adjust accordingly.
Planning is key to effectiveness. Don’t let your nonprofit drift on a sea of circumstances. Be proactive and see what an impact thoughtful, strategic planning can create.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. – Proverbs 29:18