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The “Meet” of Strategic Planning

Over the past several weeks, we have started looking at a process and understanding of strategic planning and why it is important for nonprofits and ministries. Unfortunately, many board members will either inwardly or outwardly groan at the very mention of strategic planning. And, some will push back at the thought of spending a day in a retreat planning the future of the organization. Below are some tips to get board members on board and to engage them during the day of the retreat.

Getting board members on board—

The process of getting board members on board begins way before the mention of strategic planning. Board members need to be excited and motivated about the nonprofit or ministry and the work it is doing.  And while staff is actively engaged in the day to day work of the organization, board members often do not have an opportunity to connect with the mission.

  1. Connect board members to the work of the organization – This begins during the board recruitment process (which we will talk about another time) when board members truly understand the mission and vision of the organization. It continues during every interaction with board members through the sharing of stories and the work being done by the organization.
  2. Connect board members to the mission – Keep the mission front and center in all board work.  Use the mission as a tool to evaluate all decisions being made—-operational, programmatic and fiscal. Begin each board meeting with a “Mission Minute” where board members can learn about a program, meet a client or hear a success story.
  3. Connect board members to the future – Too often organizations spend board meetings focusing on the past. When you spend time at each board meeting looking forward, board members begin to understand that one of their primary roles is to look ahead, it becomes a more natural process.

The Strategic Planning Retreat –

Begin planning the retreat several months in advance. This will help ensure that the date gets marked on the calendar of all board members. Then, at the board meetings leading up to the retreat, a few minutes can be spent building the momentum for the day. Finally, one month before “retreat day” provide board members with an agenda.  Plan to hold the retreat off-site, in a location that is conducive to thinking and relaxation. Provide meals – be sure to ask about any dietary restrictions. Your goal is to make the event one that board members want to come to—one they won’t want to miss.

In preparation for the retreat, you are now building your agenda….. What to include? Begin the day by spending a short period of time looking at where the organization has been. Since the focus of the day is to look forward, this part of the agenda should not take a lot of time. Detailed information can be provided in advance of the retreat, here, the focus will be on the highlights.

Now spend some time looking at the trends and challenges happening externally that may influence the work of the organization. Again, this research will have been done in advance of the retreat.  Here, highlights will be shared. It may even be helpful to ask board members what they are seeing, what challenges they have identified, prior to providing them with the research.

Next, begin to ask questions!

What does the organization do well? What does it do not so well? What opportunities are there for growth?  Use interactive activities to get the group involved in answering these questions. It is often helpful to break the board into different groups throughout the day so they are not working with the same people and new ideas and thoughts will be generated.

Once the questions are asked, and the board generates thoughts and ideas, it is natural to take the information gathered and use it to look forward. Begin painting a picture of where you want to be in the next three years. Summarize the results for the group and tie the day together by getting thoughts from everyone present. The key is to have everyone leaving feeling that they contributed to the day and that their work will be used in developing the written plan. Before dismissal, provide board members with an understanding of what the next steps will be and the dates when they can expect information.

After the planning retreat, the consultant and the Executive Director will need to spend some time compiling all of the information gathered and developing a plan to bring back to the board.

Remember, “Without vision, the people will perish” Proverbs 29:18.  Creating a vision for the future is essential to the long term health of the organization.

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