Grasp of social, demographic trends key element in planning


August 16, 1993|By LESTER A. PICKER

With the planning committee well under way, and the initial assessment of your constituents now completed, the planning process has accomplished the basics.

You have examined your internal strengths and weaknesses by involving a wide swath of your work force and reviewing constituent compliments and complaints. You have thoroughly investigated the external environment to determine possible opportunities for your organization and potential barriers to implementing your plan. You have even identified possible competing organizations and programs.

With these critical functions of the planning committee completed, the next step is to sort out the mass of rich, and often conflicting, data. While data are a fine thing to have at your disposal, information that makes sense is infinitely better -- and more useful.

The first thing I like to recommend is that the committee gain an understanding of social, geographic and demographic trends that may, even in obscure ways, have an impact on future operations. There are a number of sources available on this topic, including works by Faith Popcorn, John Nesbitt and others. Nesbitt's organization now has a monthly newsletter that studies and reports on trends in a variety of business and social areas (I'll review this publication later this summer).

Locally, Lester Salomon and the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies regularly report on studies of the nonprofit sector, providing insights into current practices. Coupled with other data gathered during the planning process, charities should determine how their plans compare with current practice and how well they anticipate future trends.

All the pains of internal and external assessment constitute only the basic platform upon which the whole planning process takes place. Without a good assessment process all else is meaningless. But, the real work begins once the bulk of the assessment is completed.

The committee must now ask some hard questions related to positioning the organization for the future. With statements of mission and vision in hand, substantive discussions should begin on where the organization wants to be positioned three and five years out. Does it want to be known as the leader in its field? If so, in which specific areas? What does it want to accomplish in customer service? How about diversified resources?

Consultants recommend different approaches to applying strategies to positioning goals. Some recommend the critical issues approach, in which those external and internal issues that have been identified as germane to the organization are tackled individually. Good consultants will then weave the strategies together.

Another approach is the scenario approach. The committee discusses several possible scenarios and matches strategies to those scenarios. As time and events unfold, predeveloped strategies are rolled out for implementation.

I personally prefer the goals approach to strategic planning. With positioning statements in place, the committee defines a series of goals for each major area. These are, by definition, long-range goals, perhaps three or four years out.

Then, each of the goals has two or three objectives attached to it.

Objectives, in this case, should be short term, no more than three to 12 months away. They should be measurable and include the desired level of achievement. The organization then has a clear idea of when the objectives have been attained, which opens the door for the next round of goal setting to move the nonprofit forward.

Another advantage of the goal-driven approach is its flexibility. I find this approach easier to implement in the real world of constantly changing scenarios and critical issues.

Obviously, the staff will be the ones charged with implementing the plan. Yardsticks should be in place to gauge progress toward success. To that end, an evaluation plan is essential. Evaluation is good. Far, far too many nonprofits see evaluation in negative terms.

For evaluation to be successful, it must first be designed to be useful. Among other things, that means having interim monitoring points, so fine tuning can be applied to the programs as needed. Assessment also provides the organization a superb opportunity to involve outside resources to suggest ways to improve client services. These resources will see that you are serious about improving performance and nailing your long-term organizational goals.

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

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