You have probably heard some nerd talking about a strategic plan and how important it is for your business or social enterprise. Did you just simply roll your eyes and move on? After all, you are doing well with your little operation, and you have the odd client walk through your doors every now and then. You have convinced yourself that you simply need to do a little more advertising and maybe boost a post or two on Facebook and everything will fall into place. Oh, good old word of mouth is working as well. So the big guns can sweat about strategic planning, but not a small fish like you, right? Wrong. A strategic plan is probably as essential for your venture as was that first brilliant idea that spurred you to create what you have today.
You need more than a good idea
If you manage a social enterprise or nonprofit, there is a good chance that you got this far on passion. You launched out because you wanted to do good in the world and it seems to be working. Yet, every time you read a business book, you realize that there are a few things you could do differently. The truth is that founders of non-profit ventures need to consider themselves (social) entrepreneurs and adopt similar practices as those that apply in business. It is not enough to have a good idea, social sector leaders need to operate more formally with the same expectations and demands of a business in order to reap the same rewards.
So what has strategic planning got to do with this? In simple terms, just as much as a great outline helps a writer get the most out of an essay – you can start without one, but you’ll likely realize halfway through that you should have taken the time to get it right. Strategic planning saves you time in the long run and gives you guidance through the journey. A strategic plan helps you develop roots before launching branches. It challenges you to invest in the underlying framework of what you plan to achieve with your venture and how.
Strategic planning is more than strategy
There is a very good chance that you already have a strategy, and it might not even be documented. Perhaps you plan to support students in under-resourced schools with additional tutoring by university students who are seeking volunteer opportunities. That simple plan addresses two needs at once and it seems to be working. Maybe you decided to deploy your artistic knowledge into a two-pronged approach of commissioning art projects and organizing trainings – two streams of income for one knowledge base. Or perhaps your approach is seeking donations of food parcels from neighbours to support the various orphanages in your city. These are all solid plans which form the beginnings of a strategy. However, a strategy is always focused on the long term, not day-to-day operations. It has been defined by one scholar as “an organized pattern of behaviour toward an end”.
What is a strategic plan?
A strategic plan is a framework that defines a strategy and points the way to implementing it. In their 2005 book, Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations, Michael Allison and Jude Kaye define strategic planning as a “systematic process through which an organization agrees on – and builds commitment among key stakeholders to – priorities that are essential to its mission and are responsive to the environment”. Another author, John Bryson defines it as “a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization…is, what it does, and why it exists”. In essence, a strategic plan is super important. It aligns everyone in the organization around a common purpose and a defined pathway.
Some organizations only develop their first strategic plan after a few years of operation. Some others develop a strategic plan before commencing operations. In either case, you must always start with the vision of the organization. The next step is to project some potential ways of implementing that vision. Building on that, you can frame a captivating mission statement that clearly answers the question “how”. Finally, you need to outline a few key strategic questions/issues that will be addressed in your work. Your strategic plan will then point the way forward. For leaders of organizations, John Bryson’s advice in his 2004 book, Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations is poignant. He said: “strategic thinking, acting and learning are more important than any particular approach to strategic planning”.
So how is your organization doing? Do you have a strategic plan in place? Are you thinking of creating one? Let us help you get it right.