Philosophically, we believe that strategic planning is a fundamental responsibility of nonprofit board governance, and that it should be a collaborative effort led by the board and chief executive. We also believe that the process should be informed by the perceptions and opinions of external stakeholders — not driven by them.
What does that mean?
We refer to it as inside out rather than outside in.
Inside: The process begins with either affirming or rewriting the organization’s mission, vision, and values statements.
We wrote an article about the five questions to guide strategic planning, which begins with mission. BoardSource lists “determine mission and purpose, and advocate for them” as the first and most important role and responsibility of nonprofit boards.
It’s the first step of strategic planning, too, according to Peter Drucker.
To do this important work, we must deeply engage the board and staff to ensure we understand the organization’s current state and its guiding purpose. We survey or interview the board and staff early on to ensure that they are involved in the process and that the final result is reflective of their wisdom and expertise.
Outside: To fully understand all the factors that make up an organization’s current state, we must ask key community stakeholders their thoughts on the organization and the environment in which it operates.
These stakeholders can be major donors, former board members, local elected officials, peer nonprofits, civic leaders, and beneficiaries of the organization’s mission. Asking for their insight is always illustrative, but it is just that — it illustrates opinion, which the organization must take into account but not let it completely determine the vision.
A primary role of board governance is to determine the strategic direction of the organization, and to allow voices outside the organization to dictate in which direction it should focus is to abdicate responsibility. But, those stakeholder voices should inform the process, because to chart a path forward without fully understanding the community is to operate in a vacuum.
Once that input is gathered through surveys or interviews, we bring the findings of that process back to the internal leadership. When the data is fully analyzed, the leadership can then articulate strategic pillars, goals, and outcomes.
We have seen, time and again, the powerful insight gained by external voices. However, we have also seen boards engaged and chief executives empowered when their voices lead the charge by first gaining clarity on mission, vision, and values.
Strategic planning is vitally important as it creates an opportunity for boards and chief executives to elevate out of the day to day and dream within the scope of their why. When that happens, the chief executive and senior staff members have a clear direction to focus their efforts day in and day out.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO