Monday, January 18, 2010

Planning as Cultivation

On Wednesday (1:00 EST) we’ll be offering our next Wednesday Webinar, Cultivating Stakeholders, which makes the case for an inclusive strategic planning process in nonprofits.

There are lots of good reasons for planning in nonprofits, including
  • external pressures (such as changing circumstances that require new ways of thinking or perhaps a need to build a compelling case for fundraising) and
  • operational improvements (for instance, focusing efforts on mission or developing measurable goals).
In the typical nonprofit experience, though, the most compelling benefits often come from developing the strength of internal resources.

Trustees, volunteers, staff, and other stakeholders all know the organization in a different way. Their limited individual perspectives offer both strengths and weaknesses. The strengths involve the value that comes from challenging assumptions. The obvious is often wrong, even if it started out right in different circumstances. Getting everyone out of their comfort zones to consider different points of view can lead to important changes in goals or means.

The vulnerability of a nonprofit comes from its reliance on many individuals deciding to support it with their time, money and influence, and the need to sustain that support. My favorite definition of strategic planning for nonprofits is the development of consensus around mission. This distinguishes strategic planning in the nonprofit world from the process of the same name in business. Nonprofit board members often have a knowledge of business planning that can distort their understanding of its purpose and power in the nonprofit world. In nonprofits, success comes not through the economic self interest of employees and customers, but through the voluntary efforts of trustees, volunteers, donors, and other constituents. With many competing worthy causes, a nonprofit’s success hinges on the degree of engagement it inspires in its stakeholders.

An inclusive planning process builds connection and enthusiasm, enhances self-awareness and mutual understanding, and develops strategic thinking and informed leadership. In the webinar we’ll look at the basic structure of an effective planning process, ways of adapting it for individual organizations, the roles of various stakeholders and how to engage them, and some specific tools to use in planning.

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