When did you do your last strategic plan? Is it an active, operating document that guides your organization’s daily work – or is it collecting dust on the shelf?
“Everyone has a strategic plan, but it often winds up in the drawer,” says Marlene Ferber, a former marketing executive and consultant for the National Executive Service Corps who has assisted many organizations with planning. “Too often people start them but don’t finish them.”
A plan that just “goes in the drawer is useless,” according to Norman Tenzer, an NESC expert on strategic planning. He believes strategic plans must contain action items and timetables that drive your organization’s daily work. So if your organization hasn’t done a strategic plan in several years, or the last one is no longer relevant, now may be the right time to do a new one – and NESC’s experts can assist. Tenzer and Ferber are two members of a team of strategic planning consultants at NESC who gathered recently to share their expertise.
NESC assist nonprofits to create and update strategic plans, to sharpen organizational focus and establish intermediate and long-range goals. Effective strategic plans set priorities, allocate resources, identify new opportunities, and establish action plans with timetables for reaching each strategic objective.“Strategic planning helps prepare your organization for the next 5-10 years,” says Ferber.
Alan B. McDougall, a former Exxon executive and NESC consultant, calls strategic planning “an organization-building process.” It is an effective way of “getting definition – of identifying issues that an organization faces.”The benefits are many. According to Tenzer, strategic plans help you to:
- manage your organization successfully in a changing world
- improve understanding of your external environment
- communicate your organization’s purpose more effectively
- manage risk and change
- maximize opportunities
They can also help you raise money and marshal additional resources by building confidence among funders and other stakeholders, says Sergio Sedita, a former Chemical Bank executive who has led several strategic planning processes for NESC clients. And “the risk of not doing a strategic plan is failure,” says Sedita. Organizations that operate without a strategy may no longer have relevant missions and may not be positioned strongly to confront future challenges.
“If you don’t have a strategic plan, now is the time to start,” he says.
Tenzer agrees. “Don’t wait until you’re in trouble,” he says. Organizations already in trouble should concentrate first on “putting out the fire.”
NESC consultants can guide nonprofits to figure out if now is the right time to do a strategic plan. The process usually begins with an organizational assessment – of internal capabilities and the external environment.
A team of NESC consultants interviews senior staff, board members and other relevant stakeholders to assess the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and to examine competitive threats and opportunities.
This process usually uncovers key issues facing the organization – and then the strategy-building process begins. NESC consultants work with the organization’s board and staff to develop strategies and the tactics to realize them.
The final written report includes an implementation plan, with action items, clearly defined responsibilities, timetables and tangible ways to measure progress.
What is unique about NESC’s approach is that it will “scale the process, so that it fits the size of the organization,” says Arthur Iger, a former executive in the financial sector who now volunteers as an NESC consultant.
“Planning is not a one-size fits all,” he says. “We’ve got the shoe that will fit your foot.” And the fee structure, Iger says, is “extraordinarily competitive.”
Moreover, unlike some large, private consulting firms, which assign “newly minted MBAs” to nonprofit planning projects, NESC’s consultants are all former senior executives, with significant strategic planning experience, says Iger.
There is “careful matching of consultants with clients” says Sedita. NESC has over 225 consultants, with varying backgrounds, in the tri-state area, and works to find the right fit for each nonprofit client.
To explore whether doing a new strategic plan is right for your organization, click here.