If planning is such a “no-brainer,” why don’t nonprofits do it?

Thu, Nov 27, 2008 at 12:20PM

Hardy Smith, Nonprofit Consultant & Speaker

I continue to be amazed at the results when my audiences are surveyed to find out how many organizations do strategic planning, have an annual action plan, or even make time to plan out their projects and activities which are critical for their success.

Not many do.

There are always plenty of excuses given and of course one of the most frequently used is “everyone is just too busy.”

With all of the challenges nonprofits face, time for planning should be a top priority. Don’t we all want ways to reduce pressure, alleviate stress, save money, get more done in less time with fewer people, and find solutions to a seemingly never ending list of other problems?

The benefits of planning are unlimited. Structure and focus are created. Solutions to potential problems are identified, time is saved, and measurable goals with specific strategies for achieving them are established. Desired performance levels are set which allows for evaluation and accountability.

I understand many will consider this advice to be a no-brainer, but again my point is while most recognize its importance, not many organizations actually take action regarding planning.

It is hard to believe but there are organizations that own real estate, operate businesses, and provide services with substantial amounts of money involved, yet don’t operate with developed plans for what they are doing, where they are going, or have any direction on how they will get to where they want to be.

If your organization is one of those that is just too busy to plan, you are pretty much just winging it and should not be surprised at your inability to do as well as you would like.

If knowing that devoting time to planning means ensuring success, I would challenge your organization’s true commitment to its purpose if planning is an activity that isn’t a regular exercise.

Planning doesn’t have to be difficult or overly time consuming. Commit to writing about who you are, what your purpose is and what it is you want to achieve. Your goals should be measurable. List specific strategies and timelines for realizing your goals. Include what the cost will be for implementing your plan and identify where the needed funds are coming from. Recognize any obstacles that may keep you from being successful and their needed solutions. Who is going to do what tasks should be also included.

Plans don’t have to be perfect. Once written, plans can be revised and updated.

Get others involved with planning development; the more ideas the better and an added benefit from expanded participation is you create buy-in.

If you are in a leadership role as either professional staff or as a volunteer, it is your responsibility to make sure attention is given to this simple and effective tool which is critical for realizing the success your organization says its wants to achieve.


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