Clearly worded mission essential for planning

NONPROFITS INC.

August 02, 1993|By LESTER A. PICKER

Planning is essential to the success of any organization. Without adequate planning, organizations are subject to the winds of fortune, and never seem to move their agenda forward or thrive.

I have seen many an organization with wonderful visions fade into second-rate status because they never booked sufficient planning time, either through fear or avoidance or both.

I'm not being facetious when I say that the first step in any planning process for a nonprofit organization is for key decision-makers to agree that they need to plan. There are an awful lot of reasons for key players to not want to plan. It takes time, and it will most probably change the status quo.

What, then, constitutes good planning? While the planning process for a large nonprofit may differ substantially from that of a small start-up, there are some key elements that should apply across the board.

Good planning begins with a good mission statement, clearly worded and specific enough for the most naive reader -- and the organization's various stakeholders -- to understand immediately. A solid mission statement at a minimum will tell a person what the organization does, what values it holds up as a beacon, and who the organization views as its constituency.

Next, the planning process assumes that the organization has a clear statement of vision, a destination which it aspires to reach. The mission and vision statements have received lots of attention in this column before, and for good reason. It is for essential functions like strategic planning that the efforts of developing these statements bear their first fruits.

The first challenge to the planning process usually arises when the CEO and board chair sit down to decide who else should be involved. Obvious choices are the board and senior staff and, in fact, far too often that is the end of the discussion. I have come to believe that by limiting the planning process to those most immediate to the workings of the charity, a capital opportunity is lost.

Consider this: If your organization is a good cause, with hard-working, well-meaning people, the planning process can be the best volunteer recruitment tool you have at your disposal. Why? Because planning, by definition, is time-limited and task-specific. You can ask a high-profile community member to serve for six weeks, for example, to help only with the external assessment part of the process.

Chances are better than even that the person will agree to serve. Then you have an opportunity to educate that person about your organization, your cause, and the people you help. You have a wonderful opportunity to recruit that person for future tasks and, perhaps, a board seat.

Other stakeholders to include? Certainly clients should be integrally involved in any planning process, as should funding sources, business and community leaders.

Their roles can vary from sitting for a 30-minute interview to chairing a planning subcommittee.

Once the players are selected, two major tasks await. First, the organization must honestly assess its strengths and weaknesses. Second, it must look outside to the various communities in which it operates and assess opportunities and threats. Some planners refer to this as doing an internal and external audit. Others call it an environmental analysis.

Simply conducting an internal assessment of strengths and weaknesses is not sufficient. Planning requires that the planners then develop a coherent, realistic strategy for remedying deficiencies and capitalizing on strengths.

In practice, the internal audit is bolstered by the external audit. By anticipating which emerging social trends might effect your organization, you will know where to best place your energies in terms of strengthening your internal capabilities. Knowing what external forces are threats to your success and which represent golden opportunities for advancing your work, you will know where to focus.

Next week we'll look at the "strategy" part of strategic planning.

(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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