Before You Start Strategic Planning

Becky’s Blog, Developed for Clients and Friends of Rebecca Schueller Training & Consulting, LLC

Invest in the most important step to your strategic planning success.  Over the past 30 years, I’ve participated in strategic planning for my workplace, my volunteer passions, and occasionally for external organizations that were looking for broader community input into their own planning process. I’ve been impressed with a number of different facilitators, tools, and approaches.

But nonprofit work is challenging. Our clients needs are more complicated than ever…poverty, complex trauma, racism, mental health, addictions, and the growing divide in our country between rich and poor, which I think of as “the opportunity gap” as college becomes increasingly unaffordable. Bureaucracy, regulation, and reporting requirements are also increasing exponentially for organizations, which saps energy for both staff and board members. In this context, Strategic Planning sometimes beckons as “salvation” or can seem like an enormous chore on your already over-full plate.

Before making a decision to engage in planning, it’s extremely helpful for Executive Directors and Board Members, especially the Board Chair, to do some research. This research doesn’t start with finding your consultant, although that’s also important! Your research needs to start with your understanding about the purpose and process of strategic planning. This will help you decide what you want. If you’re going to invest a few thousand dollars (or more!) in an outside facilitator, food, meeting space, etc., it’s important to know what you want on the front end.

My #1 recommendation: Before you go to the effort to hire a consultant to help you with strategic planning, wait 30 days. During this time, give yourself permission to take 2 retreat days. These are like a day-long coffee date with yourself…off-site with no cell phone or email or human interruptions. You can bring your laptop…if you must…but leave email off…not minimized…off. (Hint: Don’t do this at your favorite coffee shop or lots of people you know will come over to chat.)

I’m recommending that you bring two books with you to your day-long coffee dates. Mission Control by Liana Downey and The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution by David LaPiana (FYI – LaPiana is about to release a new edition of his book in August 2018). These are the two of the most useful books I’ve read in a long time. You’re going to ask, “If I just have time for one, which one should I get?” Get both – it’s important to consider different perspectives. Each book has some similarities but also different areas of emphasis and different tools…you want to think about what will be most helpful for your organization.

Warning: This is going to annoy you. If you don’t have the time to take two days to retreat and review these books, you don’t have the time for strategic planning! Yep – strategic planning takes time. Check these books out on Amazon and choose a “like new” used copy. You’ll pay under $50 for both books. Your agency should pick up the tab…buy two copies – for you and your board chair.  This is much cheaper than the cost any other two-day training you’d attend.  (Note: I do not receive affiliate benefits of any kind from Amazon or either author, and I have no relationship to either author.)

Both books have highly useful exercises that your organization should consider undertaking as part of strategic planning. If you don’t make the time to do some of these exercises, you will be frustrated during your planning process…and will end up with the proverbial door-stop (a strategic plan that warms a shelf in your office but doesn’t actually make your clients lives better or help your staff and board work more strategically). These exercises can be consultant-led or internally led by a volunteer or staff member who has strong group process skills and the time to do some follow-up. Yes, novel idea here. Consider using your internal staff and volunteer resources for planning. Do note: Some organizations are able to do this process internally and some really appreciate using an outside facilitator. If you’re having challenges with your board and/or staff, consider using an outside facilitator. But…do your “process” research first and then decide which is the right fit for your organization.

You’ll realize a couple of things after you read these books: 1) you probably know many of the answers to your challenges…you just need to put the information together in the right way; 2) there are things you haven’t been doing that you probably need to do…reminding yourself of these things is one of the reasons for the retreat time; and 3) there are other strategies besides SWOT…although, in fairness, a good SWOT process uses some of the tools identified by Downey and LaPiana.

Get together with your Board Chair after you’ve both read the books and compare notes. See if you’re on the same page…or nearing a “thought merger” on the direction you think will be most helpful for your organization. Talk about whether there is someone internally within your agency who can lead the process. Ideally, this individual shouldn’t be the Executive Director or the Board Chair. If you don’t have an internal facilitator or don’t think that’s the best use of time, discuss and agree on a rough budget range for your planning. Ask a few other agency directors who have completed planning recently what they paid.

And, you might decide you don’t need a full blown strategic planning process. Maybe you just need to do a few of the exercises recommended by Downey and LaPiana. Or, maybe getting some outside problem-solving expertise is enough.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to move forward with planning, you’ll be better prepared to tell your consultant what you want. And, even if you decide you don’t actually need a full strategic planning process right away, your board chair will think you’re really smart! The conversations you have about the ideas in the books may also improve your working relationship with your chair by giving you a common language and helping develop some “common thinking” about what your organization needs.

Understandably, you may have an initial reaction of: I do NOT have time for these steps. This is a typical stress reaction to an overly full plate! After you get over feeling overwhelmed, I strongly believe you will feel more hopeful. And, in the busy-ness of our fast-paced world, we can all use a boost to our strategic thinking.

Happy Reading!

P.S. If you like the idea of a retreat date with yourself, consider doing it once a month. The next book I recommend is Good to Great by Jim Collins and his companion booklet on Good to Great for the Social Sector. I have re-read chapters many times and always pick up something new. Have a book to recommend that’s been helpful to your work? Share the title and author in a comment…and set a coffee date to re-read your favorite chapters.

Becky Schueller consults, coaches, and trains through her business, Rebecca Schueller Training & Consulting. She works with boards, managers, and staff in nonprofits, counties and cities, tribes, schools, and businesses. Contact Becky to schedule board development training, train your board or staff on basic goals and tools for strategic planning, or for other training or facilitation needs. Visit her webpage at www.bemidjiconsulting.com, follow her business Facebook page, or contact her at Becky@bemidjiconsulting.com to discuss your needs. Initial consultations are always free.

Before You Start Strategic Planning

Invest in the most important step to your strategic planning success

Over the past 30 years, I’ve participated in strategic planning for my workplace, my volunteer passions, and occasionally for external organizations that were looking for broader community input into their own planning process. I’ve been impressed with a number of different facilitators, tools, and approaches.

But nonprofit work is challenging. Our clients needs are more complicated…poverty, complex trauma, racism, mental health, addictions, and the growing divide in our country between rich and poor, which I think of as “the opportunity gap” as college becomes increasingly unaffordable. Bureaucracy, regulation, and reporting requirements are increasing for organizations, which saps energy for both staff and board members. In this context, Strategic Planning sometimes beckons as “salvation” or can seem like an enormous chore on your already over-full plate.

Before making a decision to engage in planning, it’s extremely helpful for Executive Directors and Board Members, especially the Board Chair, to do some research. This research doesn’t start with finding your consultant, although that’s also important! Your research needs to start with your understanding about the purpose and process of strategic planning. This will help you decide what you want. If you’re going to invest a few thousand dollars (or more!) in an outside facilitator, food, meeting space, etc., it’s important to know what you want on the front end.

My #1 recommendation: Before you go to the effort to hire a consultant to help you with strategic planning, wait 30 days. During this time, give yourself permission to take 2 retreat days. These are like a day-long coffee date with yourself…off-site with no cell phone or email or human interruptions. You can bring your laptop…if you must…but leave email off…not minimized…off. (Hint: Don’t do this at your favorite coffee shop or lots of people you know will come over to chat.)

I’m recommending that you bring two books with you to your day-long coffee dates. Mission Control by Liana Downey and The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution by David LaPiana (FYI – LaPiana is about to release a new edition of his book in August 2018). These are the two of the most useful books I’ve read in a long time. You’re going to ask, “If I just have time for one, which one should I get?” Get both – it’s important to consider different perspectives. Each book has some similarities but also different areas of emphasis and different tools…you want to think about what will be most helpful for your organization.

Warning: This is going to annoy you. If you don’t have the time to take two days to retreat and review these books, you don’t have the time for strategic planning! Yep – strategic planning takes time. Check these books out on Amazon and choose a “like new” used copy. You’ll pay under $50 for both books. Your agency should pick up the tab…buy two copies – for you and your board chair. (Note: I do not receive affiliate benefits of any kind from Amazon or either author, and I have no relationship to either author.)

Both books have highly useful exercises that your organization should consider undertaking as part of strategic planning. If you don’t make the time to do some of these exercises, you will be frustrated during your planning process…and will end up with the proverbial door-stop (a strategic plan that warms a shelf in your office but doesn’t actually make your clients lives better or help your staff and board work more strategically). These exercises can be consultant-led or internally led by a volunteer or staff member who has strong group process skills and the time to do some follow-up. Yes, novel idea here. Consider using your internal staff and volunteer resources for planning. Do note: Some organizations are able to do this process internally and some really appreciate using an outside facilitator. If you’re having challenges with your board and/or staff, consider using an outside facilitator. But…do your “process” research first and then decide which is the right fit for your organization.

You’ll realize a couple of things after you read these books: 1) you probably know many of the answers to your challenges…you just need to put the information together in the right way; 2) there are things you haven’t been doing that you probably need to do…reminding yourself of these things is one of the reasons for the retreat time; and 3) there are other strategies besides SWOT…although, in fairness, a good SWOT process uses some of the tools identified by Downey and LaPiana.

Get together with your Board Chair after you’ve both read the books and compare notes. See if you’re on the same page…or nearing a “thought merger” on the direction you think will be most helpful for your organization. Talk about whether there is someone internally within your agency who can lead the process. Ideally, this individual shouldn’t be the Executive Director or the Board Chair. If you don’t have an internal facilitator or don’t think that’s the best use of time, discuss and agree on a rough budget range for your planning. Ask a few other agency directors who have completed planning recently what they paid.

And, you might decide you don’t need a full blown strategic planning process. Maybe you just need to do a few of the exercises recommended by Downey and LaPiana. Or, maybe getting some outside problem-solving expertise is enough.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to move forward with planning, you’ll be better prepared to tell your consultant what you want. And, even if you decide you don’t actually need a full strategic planning process right away, your board chair will think you’re really smart! The conversations you have about the ideas in the books may also improve your working relationship with your chair by giving you a common language and helping develop some “common thinking” about what your organization needs.

Understandably, you may have an initial reaction of: “I do NOT have time for these steps!” This is a typical stress reaction to an overly full plate! After you get over feeling overwhelmed, I strongly believe you will feel more hopeful. And, in the busy-ness of our fast-paced world, we can all use a boost to our strategic thinking.

Happy Reading!

P.S. If you like the idea of a retreat date with yourself, consider doing it once a month. The next book I recommend is Good to Great by Jim Collins and his companion booklet on Good to Great for the Social Sector. I have re-read chapters many times and always pick up something new. Have a book to recommend that’s been helpful to your work? Share the title and author in a comment…and set a coffee date to re-read your favorite chapters.

Becky Schueller consults, coaches, and trains through her business, Rebecca Schueller Training & Consulting. She works with boards, managers, and staff in nonprofits, counties and cities, tribes, schools, and businesses. Contact Becky to schedule board development training, train your board or staff on basic goals and tools for strategic planning, or for other training or facilitation needs. Visit her webpage at www.bemidjiconsulting.com, follow her business Facebook page, or contact her at Becky@bemidjiconsulting.com to discuss your needs. Initial consultations are always free.

The Board Chair’s Job Description

Becky’s Blog, Developed for Clients and Friends of Rebecca Schueller Training & Consulting, LLC

Thanks to all the highly committed Board Chairs who play such a vitally important role in the nonprofit sector. When organizations achieve great accomplishments over a prolonged period of time, it’s usually because there’s a strong board in place that has attracted a high quality executive director (ED) and staff.

The board chair role is unique. It can be time-consuming, is high profile, and involves a unique mix of skills that are usually honed through experience. And, the board chair role requires a lot of COURAGE. The Board Chair is responsible for leading the board to govern the organization so that it meets its mission and creates impact for constituents, follows applicable laws and regulations, and provides a healthy workplace for employees and meaningful roles for volunteers.

The board chair oversees the organization’s strategic plan to maximize organizational impact, ensuring that the board monitors ongoing progress and leads the “Call to Action” when it is time to consider a new strategic planning process.

The board chair leads an annual performance appraisal of the ED, focused on highlights of performance in the past year and goals for the coming year, as well as addressing any areas of concern regarding performance. The board chair ensures that compensation is discussed, recommended, and implemented during the process. The board chair also leads an annual Board self-assessment in which each board member evaluates their own role on the board and the collective accomplishments of the board.

The board chair oversees the organization’s financial health and legal compliance issues by ensuring that the board a. approves an annual organizational budget; b. reviews financial statements (revenue & expense and a balance sheet) monthly; c. conducts an annual audit (or financial review if the board is too small to meet audit threshold requirements); d. reviews, approves, and sends in the annual 990 Form within 4.5 months following the end of the fiscal year or to ensure an extension was requested (i.e. usually by May 15 if your year starts Jan. 1).

The board chair creates a sense of “community” among the board at meetings, sets healthy boundaries and standards for how board members interact with each other, with the ED, and with agency staff and other volunteers. When behavior is not in accordance with agreed upon standards or violates agency by-laws or other legal requirements, the board chair leads the “exit process” for board members.

The board chair sets the expectation for board giving. One option is to tell a story at the beginning of a board meeting about her/his thought process in deciding upon his/her personal contribution to the agency and hopes for the programs/services/impact the gift makes possible.

Here are the “nuggets” that make up the leadership role of the board chair. Your job is:

To be a “Thought Partner” for the ED and meet regularly with the ED. When asked for advice, ask “strategic and exploratory” questions and help the ED clarify concerns, issues, and opportunities rather than giving advice. (This is from Consultant Joan Gary)To plan board meeting agendas with the ED

“To remember to let the ED manage the staff…all the staff…all the time.” (This is from Consultant Joan Garry)

To lead the board member recruitment and orientation process (but invite the ED to be part of it)

To lead the ED hiring, annual evaluation, and exit process (if needed)

To make the “call to action” for strategic planning

To encourage other board members to give to the organization

To know how to tell the Organization’s story to donors, volunteers, partners, and other audiences

To role model “good board behavior” for other members

To interrupt inappropriate behavior by other board members

To lead the process to “fire” board members when necessary

If you found reflecting on these roles helpful, you might enjoy blogs by Joan Garry and Simone Joyaux. Check out www.joangarry.com and www.simonejoyaux.com.

Becky Schueller consults, coaches, and trains boards, managers and staff in nonprofits, counties and cities, tribes, schools, and sometimes businesses. Do your supervisors need training to supervise effectively and conduct annual performance appraisals? Contact Becky to schedule training on Supervision & Performance Appraisal for your managers, supervisors, and HR team. Follow Becky’s business Facebook page (Rebecca Schueller Training & Consulting), visit her webpage at www.bemidjiconsulting.com, or contact her at Becky@bemidjiconsulting.com to discuss your needs. Initial consultations are always free.