Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Currently I am advising a client on how to do a strategic plan internally, with only the most minimal involvement from me, the external consultant. It’s an approach that I greatly enjoy, because it is an especially good way to transfer of knowledge and experience, leaving the client in a much better position to work strategically on their own in the future. Yesterday we got to the point of discussing how to develop measurable action items for the plan. Here's the overview of my response:

Once you have agreed on Mission-Based Goals and Supporting Objectives, it’s time to develop measurable action items.

Since you want the implementation of the plan to be the work of everyone in the organization, the best way to assemble a preliminary list of action items is to ask everyone working within in the organization to participate in identifying what need to be done. This involves the people who actually know what is and isn’t being done already, and what might be most effective. Beyond this purely operational dimension, an inclusive process also focuses everyone’s attention on the strategic goals and objectives. Getting people’s attention is the first step in breaking old habits and thinking strategically about new possibilities.

All staff groups and board committees (and other volunteer categories, if they exist) should be asked to come up with action items not only for the objectives that are clearly theirs, but for all of the objectives they think they can contribute to. By ignoring narrow definitions of direct responsibility, this approach strengthens both the plan and the organization directly with a sense of common purpose.

There are different ways to handle this request for action items from staff. Each department could get together and brainstorm, or the manager responsible could start a list and ask for elaboration, or cross-departmental discussion groups could be assembled so that staff can stimulate, encourage and challenge each other.

Of course, the planning committee and/or senior staff, and perhaps the board (for their own action items, not the staff’s), need to review and edit the action items for relevance and effectiveness. They will also likely have to add in some action items; confirm the timing, assign responsibility and project resource requirements; and prioritize them to reflect affordability and achievability.

Whatever method is used to gather ideas from staff, it is important to convey to the participants that they shouldn’t worry that anything they mention will simply be added to their responsibilities. At the end of the process, once the action items are finalized, job descriptions should be reviewed to make sure that they reflect strategic priorities, both by including new tasks and by eliminating less important things. In most nonprofits staff is already working to capacity. The idea is to work smarter, not harder.

Typically a strategic plan is thought of as having a three- to five-year life span. That should be true of the goals and objectives; in fact many of them may endure much longer than that. The action items, however, need to be reviewed every year, as part of annual planning. Once a full year of actions has been accomplished, the situation and needs of the organizations may have changed. The remaining actions may no longer be the top priority. A clear process of renewal through annual planning should be articulated as part of the implementation plan.

Finally, it is often valuable to assemble a plan in two versions, one with the action items, for internal use; the other with just descriptions of the goals and objectives, for public consumption. An extra benefit of this approach is that each version can be refined with reference to the other. Are the action items necessary and sufficient to accomplish the objective as described? Does the description of the objective correspond to the action items identified? This can be a very effective check on the completeness plan.

Monday, March 19, 2012

NonprofitWebinars: Season 10

The spring 2012 season of Wednesday Webinars will launch this week. Since January 2010 we have offered free weekly professional development presentations for staff and trustees of nonprofits. Over that time we have had more than 30,000 registrations, including attendees from all 50 states and 6 continents. In their evaluations attendees frequently volunteer that the webinar was one of the best they have attended, free or not.

Webinars are offered every Wednesday at 1:00 Eastern / 10:00 Pacific & 3:00 Eastern / noon Pacific. For more information or to register for any of the webinars, go to http://bit.ly/SyPwebinars.

This season we have an even split between new presenters and veterans (about a dozen of each), and a lot of new topics, especially in the area of organizational development. While we are still finalizing a few of the late May sessions, here’s what we have to date:

March 21
So You Want To Be A Social Entrepreneur? (Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Social Media for Nonprofits)
Collaborating with Partners on Joint Grants (Dalya F. Massachi, Writing for Community Success)

March 28
Recognizing and Cultivating Trust in Networks (Kate Pugh, AlignConsulting)
Everything You Wanted to Know about Face-to-Face Solicitation but Were Afraid to Ask (David Mersky, Mersky, Jaffe Associates)

A Business Paradigm for Social Impact (Jon Firger, Newton Community Service Center)
Before You Hire an Architect—& Then How to Do It (Sam Frank, Synthesis Partnership)
Appreciative Governance: Engagement and Innovation Throughout The Organization (Bernard Mohr, Innovation Partners International & Neil Samuels, Profound Conversations)
After the Gift: Build A Satisfied, Loyal Donor Base (Tina Cincotti, Funding Change)
Nonprofit Advocacy: Lobbying & Election-Related Activities for 501(c)(3)s (Emily Chan & Gene Takagi, NEO Law Group)
Social Media Fundraising: Past Present and Future (Ehren Foss, HelpAttack!)
Structuring Meetings to Get Work Done (Rick Lent, Meeting for Results)
Generating Corporate Support (Lewis Flax, Flax Associates)

Building Real Teams: A Leadership Perspective (Bob Greene, Bob Greene Coaching and Consulting)
Video: YouTube & Facebook (Roberto Mighty, Celestial Media)
Managing Disruptive Employee Behaviors (Jamie Resker, Employee Performance Solutions)
How to Get Out of the Muck & Back Into Your Mission (Kirsten M. Bullock, Bullock Consulting Inc.)
Building Your Marketing Communications Team (Michele Levy, Brand Strategy Consultant)
Mediation Skills for Managers (Claudette Rowley, Metavoice)
Grant Writing 102 (Hillel Bromberg, FUEL)

Managing Stress (Gil Lazan, Amauta International)
Cultural Competency (Judy Freiwirth, Nonprofit Solutions)
Liars, Cheats, & Thieves: Practical Internal Control Solutions for Nonprofits (Susan Hammond, scHammond Advisors)
Engaging Every Generation (Emily Davis, EDA Consulting)