Consider this scenario: You are a relatively new board member. At the last meeting, a long-time board member suggests it is time for a new strategic plan.
You’re intrigued and begin to silently ask yourself the following questions:
- Has the organization done planning in the past and, if so, how did it turn out? Was it successful? Why or why not?
- Will the organization do this on its own or might it need an outside consultant? If the latter, do we have a budget for that?
- By when do we need the plan?
You look around the board table and realize there is an even more fundamental question: Do we have a board with the skills and experience required to lead a planning project and implement the plan or framework that results?
BoardSource states that one of the ten basic responsibilities of a nonprofit board is to “ensure effective planning.” However, doing so is not a simple task. Before committing to a strategic planning project, boards need to ask themselves some important questions.
Readiness is essential to success and, often, organizations begin planning only to learn too late that the board is ill-equipped to guide the planning.
Consider what boards customarily do when deciding whether to initiate a capital campaign. They undertake a formal assessment to determine if they are ready for such an endeavor. Campaign consultants are hired, board members and major donors are interviewed, and staff capacity is assessed.
Boards should apply a similar, well-structured process prior to a strategic planning effort. They must assess their readiness by asking and then answering these questions:
- Are we knowledgeable about the organization’s programs, operating environment, and financial condition?
- Do we have the energy, enthusiasm, time, and willingness to oversee the process?
- Is there a commitment from key board members to lead the process?
- Do we have board members willing to make a larger time commitment and serve on a planning committee?
- Are we prepared to hear and learn things about the organization that might be negative?
- Are we open to making potentially difficult decisions?
- Do we have a process for addressing risks and conflict issues that often emerge during planning?
- Are we open to implementing organizational changes that a new plan or framework might call for?
While there is no magic bullet to determine an organization’s readiness, TCC Group’s experience dictates that positive and clear answers to these questions are essential before moving ahead. If there are a significant number of “No’s” or “Don’t Knows,” a board should reconsider the decision to plan.