It seems pretty basic, right? Do you have a “good idea” of the decision and actions each person in your organization is responsible for, including the board of directors? If not, the strategic road map for the organization is lacking.

We often talk about strategic planning but, semantically, if want to take it to the next level, building a strategic road map will not only guide the organization’s strategy but also its implementation. The biggest mistake a nonprofit can make is not having a road map to guide its future development and contribution to member value.

The challenges of implementation and planning

Strategic planning, in general, has been defined as a complex process that requires an inordinate amount of time and money to complete. For smaller organizations, the strategic plan — and the entire process — appears to be out of reach, but it doesn’t have to be if approached in an efficient way.

We conducted a survey of a nonprofit organization with 43 chapters across the globe and asked them what their three biggest challenges are in planning and implementation. On the planning front, we found the following challenges:

  1. Time and resources
  2. Setting ambitious, realistic and measurable goals aligned with core initiatives
  3. Delivering member value through the plan

On the implementation front, we found the following challenges:

  1. Time and commitment from volunteers to carry out the plan, specifically committees
  2. Tracking goals and progress
  3. Getting the plan operationalized and keeping it top of mind

4 ways to overcome these challenges

1. How do we start?

Here the six ways to get started on your strategic roadmap:

1. Determine the need for a plan

  • Reach consensus that a plan is essential for good governance in your organization
  • Discuss expectations for cost, attendees, location and desired outcomes

2. Select date and timeframe

  • Allow at least 60 days to plan
  • Deserves to be its own event
  • Typical board needs 7-8 hours over one or two days

3. Select the setting

  • Find a comfortable location with natural light and space to move around
  • Avoid long and narrow rooms
  • Avoid loud settings prone to interruptions
  • Set room in an open-U board table
  • Universities and business centers often offer low-cost or free meeting options

4. Find a facilitator

  • Facilitator keeps the meeting moving and ensures discussions/decisions achieved in set time frame
  • Facilitator involves everyone and can balance participants that dominate
  • Does not have to be a paid facilitator if budget doesn’t allow; it can be a current or past board member dedicated to keeping the meeting on track but has the qualifications to move a discussion along

5. Select the participants

  • Board of directors is responsible for setting the strategic direction as they have the ultimate fiduciary responsibility but can involve others, including members, in the data gathering process
  • Small boards can consider including committee chairs, past presidents and staff as well as others, including members

6. Survey attendees in advance to collect data

  • Helps establish common goals
  • Identifies potential issues, roadblocks or conversations that could potentially derail planning
  • Utilize free/low-cost tools such as Survey Monkey

2. Set key terminology

Once you have started the process, the need to set standard terminology as it relates to what is a goal, a strategy and a performance measure is important during the planning session in addition to understanding the high-level thinking during the planning process. This allows everyone to be speaking the same “language.”

  • Goals: Statements that represent where resources will be focused to achieve the mission
  • Strategies: Programs and projects to achieve the goals
  • Performance measures/metrics: “What” will be achieved and by “when”
  • 30,000-foot-level thinking: Staying out of the “weeds” is critical. Informing your planning group that staying at a high level is critical in order to set goals, strategies and performance metrics. A good rule of thumb is to let attendees know that if they are discussing the “how to” during a session, then the planning group is getting in the weeds.

3. Setting goals, strategies and performance metrics

Once you haven gotten started and set key terminology, the next step is how to effectively set SMART strategies — ones that are “specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-based.”

We have adapted our thinking to take this from “SMART goals” to SMART strategies so that you can identify, in your organization, how performance will be measured in each strategy to effectively gauge how effective your organization has been in achieving the overall goal through its respective strategies. The goal’s performance is then defined by the aggregate of the performance metrics in each strategy.

During the planning retreat, once the strategic goals have been identified and finalized, work with your planning group in breakouts where each group has a chance to work on each goal simultaneously and consecutively. What you will see is more focused input than if you were in one big group trying to set strategies and performance measures. Small groups are effective in analyzing and synthesizing strategies during a planning session.

4. Execution and awareness

Now that you gotten a fresh start, set key terminology and set goals, strategies and performance metrics, the next step is to focus on executing on the roadmap and building awareness around it. The following are the top 10 areas to focus as it relates to execution and awareness:

  1. Ensure you know who, beyond the board, will be assisting in the execution. Identify key contributors and educate them around the road map and how they can make a difference in the organization.
  2. Create an action plan; continue the momentum from the session by identifying the who, what, when and where elements.
  3. List the strategic goals on website and/or communicate to members via email so they know that their dues dollars are being focused on a road map that will directly contribute to the industry or the profession.
  4. Set quarterly tactics that will be accomplished and celebrated. It is essential to make small steps in progress that will add up to a big completion of a strategy. It is less daunting to take small steps in the execution.
  5. Set quarterly performance goals; make sure contributors that have made a commitment to execute follow through.
  6. Provide quarterly updates on progress towards goals to members. Keeping them informed keeps the road map top-of-mind all the time.
  7. Place goals on the back of name tents at meetings and on every agenda as a reminder of the strategic direction of the organization. Any board member can then pick up his/her name tent or agenda and say, “Does this align with our strategic goals that we set as a group?”
  8. Board agenda based on strategic goals. Tailor your agenda to the goals set by the organization. If there is an item on the agenda that doesn’t align to a goal, then should it be discussed?
  9. Keeping your plan refreshed annually is the key to ensuring continued buy-in.
  10. Starting fresh every three years is essential in incorporating any major movements in your profession or industry. But don’t wait three years if there is an emerging issue. Create a process to identify emerging issues and how they will be handled in your current plan.

The summer is over, and the leaves will soon be turning, signaling the New Year. It is not too late to work with your board of directors and other leaders in developing your organization’s strategic road map for 2016 and beyond.

We started out asking, does everyone in your organization have a good idea of the decisions and actions for which he or she is responsible? If we can’t answer this question affirmatively today, then steps need to be taken to ensure that not only a plan is in place but also execution is top of mind.

What will you do today to bring focused direction to your organization into the future?