Strategic Planning

With two decades experience as a consultant and board member in the nonprofit sector I have seen, and been guilty of helping create, some god-awful strategic plans. This is what I have learned.

It is important to remember your strategic plan is an umbrella document, a directional framework. Do not confuse your strategic plan with an operational plan. They are different.

A strategic plan – created by the Board or Committee – sets out the vision, key strategies, milestones and impact. That’s all. Your operational plan – created by the management group – sets out the key actions to be taken by managers to ensure the strategic goals are met.

A strategic plan does not have to be a complex document. If you are hiring a consultant to guide the process and judging the consultant’s worth by the number of words generated in the strategic plan then you are hiring the wrong person for the wrong reasons.

The CEO or Director should be able to present to the Board or Committee the key activities undertaken or outcomes achieved by employees that show the organisation is on track to achieve the strategic impact.

Yes, as a part of a strategic planning process you may engage in SWOT analysis or apply any number of tools you may feel are appropriate. These are designed to help you identify and prioritise the strategic goals and impact.

A common mistake is for the Board or Committee is to try to achieve too many things. This is dangerous for small arts organisations simply as they don’t have unlimited resources. Restrict your strategic goals to the 3-4 most important impacts and focus all your resources on achieving those.

Very few Boards or Committees have a standing agenda item to discuss progress towards meeting strategic goals. If the board fails to have this conversation then it isn’t holding he CEO or Director accountable. It also places the organisation at risk.

One of the most effective strategic plans I have seen recently comprised no more than 5 pages of large, illustrative type, a selection of images, four strategic direction goals and 4-5 bullet point key impacts for each strategic goal. That plan was created five years ago and is due to be reviewed by the Board. During that five years the organisation has moved from disaster to stability to growth – with the strategic plan, front and centre.

When it comes time to review your strategic plan take time to explore goals and impact. Avoid conversations that wander into operational details. Avoid long to do lists. Provide your management group with an overview, provide them with the tools and resources to achieve the goals and hold the CEO or Director accountable for doing so.

John Coxon is founder of art4u.australia. We provide advice and guidance to arts organisations. John is a creative, with art event management experience and more than two decades experiences working with nonprofit organisation as a consultant and executive manager. Email John on for a complimentary, no-obligation chat.

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