3 Ways to Prepare Your Board for Planning

In Governance, Leadership, Strategic Planning by Karen Buck

A new client asked me a great question the other day: What can my board do now to get the most out of our strategic planning process next year?

Our talk reminded me that for many nonprofits there is a lag between making the decision to engage in planning and starting the process. A lot can happen in those intervening 2 or 3 (or more) months:

  • A board’s enthusiasm for planning can wane (Why did we think we needed a new a plan?
  • Momentum can come to a screeching halt (So I guess our planning committee should go on hiatus until spring?)
  • The temptation to ‘plan prematurely’ can take hold (I rewrote our strategic plan over the weekend. Want to read it?)

Sound familiar? If your organization intends to do some planning next year, here are three ideas that will not only help your board of directors get ready to do the work, but also help members get into a healthy mindset for planning – holistic, strategic, and forward-thinking.

1. Take Stock

The first way to help your board get ready to plan is to take stock of the organization’s planning “fitness.” In much the same way you’re supposed to talk to your doctor before embarking on a new exercise program, it’s useful to seeing which planning “muscles” are strong and which need some work.

For example, any kind of planning means change. So a board conversation about the organization’s history of adapting to change can be useful. What changes have gone smoothly and when has change been a challenge? Or ask the board to reflect on how they monitored progress towards the goals of the organization’s last plan. What helped them measure and track success? How do they want to do that with the next plan?

2. Do Some Housekeeping

Organization-wide planning processes offer natural inflection points when it can seem more appropriate to tackle certain topics. Taking advantage of this dynamic and suggest the board take a step back and consider how it wants to operate in the future is the second way to help your board get ready to plan.

Review best practices of governance. Review bylaws and committee job descriptions and highlight anything that might need to be adapted after the plan is complete. Encourage board leaders to have one-on-one conversations with members to deepen relationships and address any outstanding issues. Or finally do that board self-evaluation you’ve been putting off for awhile!

3. Invite the Neighbors Over

Any planning process suffers when it is based solely on the input and expertise of those internal to the organization. All mission-driven organizations have constituents, and failing to tap their knowledge, ideas, and opinions is a big mistake.

The third way to help your board get ready to plan is to involve them in figuring out what external input is most helpful and it gathering it. Ask the board or an appropriate board committee who they need to hear from (such as donors, members, clients, or someone from that industry they keep talking about engaging) to inform their planning. Then they can use their expertise to reach out to those you have identified and ask for input, perhaps using a listening assignment strategy:

I hope you are as inspired by my forward-thinking new client as I am and take advantage of the lag time between deciding to plan and starting to plan! Just a little extra thought and effort can build momentum and enthusiasm, keep members engaged in the process, and even address some of the issues that hindered successful implementation in the past.

Image credit: Daniel West