Is your organization considering embarking on a strategic planning process? If so, you might be tempted to assume that your chosen consultant will have all the strategic planning resources and tools handled.
That is, until you get to the end of the planning process and realize your strategic plan isn’t as useful as you’d hoped. Maybe, in the clear light of day, the strategies you agreed to don’t quite make sense. Or perhaps the gap between current reality and the hoped-for future in your strategic plan is simply too big. Or it could be that your plan focuses on an area of growth that doesn’t match your membership or constituency needs.
As leaders, we like to think that by investing in a strategic plan, we’re guaranteed results. But it’s simply not true.
A strategic plan is only as good as the strategy that goes into creating it—and the strategy that goes into implementing it.
Which is why, as a nonprofit or business leader, it’s worth taking the time to understand the strategic planning resources and tools available. That way, you can be sure the approach you take with your strategic planning consultant is comprehensive, tested, and tailored to your organization’s needs.
Different Tools Have Different Roles
Not every strategic planning resource suits every organization. But it’s worth understanding the roles different resources play in order to identify what will work best for you and your team.
A fun example of this comes from language learning. If you’ve studied languages recently, you’ve probably heard of the app Duolingo. Of the many language apps that have sprung up, Duolingo is the one most designed to feel like a game. It’s meant to keep you hooked while you learn vocabulary and see grammar concepts in action. But unfortunately, it’s limited in its utility when it comes to truly learning a language. The Guardian explains that “the more you want to learn, the more diverse your language learning should be.”
Duolingo may be fun and a useful tool, but unless you supplement it with other resources—like watching videos, reading books, or speaking in your target language—you’ll most likely end up knowing a few words but not being able to truly communicate.
Strategic planning resources are similar. No single tool can provide all the answers you need. But layered together, each tool can play a key role in setting your organization up for success.
Top Strategic Planning Resources and Tools to Know About
If you look up strategic planning tools, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by an ocean of acronyms. What’s better, a SWOT or a PESTLE or do you need both? Should you organize a visioning session or a board retreat? And how can you know if your strategic plan is even strategic?
Which is why we recommend taking a step back and thinking of strategic planning resources and tools based on what they are designed to help you accomplish.
The best strategic planning tools enable you to:
- Identify internal opportunities and challenges: This is where you’ll find tools like a SWOT analysis, which helps you assess internal organizational Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Here at Funding for Good, we also like to add a fifth category, Accomplishments, so we can document and understand organizational successes.
- Identify external opportunities and challenges: Tools like an environmental scan help you map external factors that could affect your organization and the types of decisions you will need to make now and in the future. A PESTLE or PESTEL is an environmental scanning technique which considers Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal, and Environmental factors.
- Gather input from key stakeholder groups: Before you start creating your strategic plan, you may also want to gather input from beyond your leadership team. Stakeholder surveys, interviews, or focus groups can glean insights from a wide range of stakeholders, including staff, volunteers, members, community partners, and even donors.
- Align your team around a vision for your organization’s future: If your staff and board leadership aren’t fully invested in your organization’s strategic plan, it will be difficult to implement. A strategic planning retreat with an outside facilitator helps organizations create the space needed for creativity, consensus building, and, ultimately, alignment.
- Define what success will look like for your organization: This is where OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) fit in. Other terms include SMART Goals, benchmarks, or impact reporting. The unifying theory is that, to demonstrate impact, it’s critical to articulate measurable objectives up front and ensure you have the tools in place to track progress.
- Detail what it will take to implement your strategic plan: Even the smartest strategic plan can stumble when it comes to implementation. As part of the strategic planning process, make sure you understand exactly what new and existing resources will be required for success. This could include financial, personnel, volunteer, board, and training resources. Your strategic planning consultant may also offer services to create implementation plans for the organization overall and by department.
Ideally, your strategic planning consultant will bring all of these categories of resources into your planning process together. But it’s always worth asking up front to be sure that you’ll end up with a plan that has the greatest chance of success.
Interested in More Strategic Planning Resources?
Check out Funding for Good’s catalogue of strategic planning resources on our blog, including: