The Planners ARE the Doers: Engaging Board and Staff in Strategic Planning

Success in nonprofit organizations means different things to different people. I categorize success as having a fully engaged culture and supports, making a difference in the lives of people in the community, and attracting sufficient revenue to fully achieve the organization’s mission. Accomplishing success on any level requires a fully implemented well-defined strategy. Success is achieved by integrating strategy and performance.

It’s essential that the board be fully engaged in strategic planning and active in the implementation of the tactics to accomplish the goals outlined in the strategy. We at SynerVision Leadership Foundation have created our unique Solution Map planning process and template over 30+ years of working with organizations of all types. It’s a strategy for getting the organization where it wants to be. This is specifically designed for charities: the board is fully engaged and the process is inclusive and interactive. The board then owns the strategy and is invested in the outcomes, participating joyfully in a peer-to-peer accountability relationship. The process takes skill to implement, so here’s a step-by-step guide.

Meet with a 3-person planning team to structure the process

  • Define the meeting time(s)
  • Develop the deliverables for the session
  • Develop the communication plan
  • Get buy-in for attendance

Hold the first off-site planning day (see Traps, below)

  • Find a place to focus without interruptions from daily activities
  • Plan the day’s sequence
  • Define the session deliverables
  • Facilitate the session
  • Set the next date for action items

Report the results

  • Appoint the scribe
  • Send notes to everyone within 24 hours
  • Remind members of the next session

Pre-planning is the key to a successful planning event. For best results, spend 2-3 times the effort and time to plan the planning session. Leaders constantly say that they don’t have the time for this step. But with worthy work and important people, why wouldn’t you want to get the best results, rather than waste time? The reason so many clergy and nonprofit executives are facing burnout is that they don’t engage in meaningful work. Presenting the strategy to the board is a formula for failure: it’s your plan, not theirs, so they will never feel ownership of the plan and will typically only give it lip service while doing little or nothing to make it happen.

In the pre-planning meeting, the group defines how the session will work and how to engage the other board members pre-, during, and post-planning. The next key item is to avoid attempting to do too much in one session. Do the budget and marketing plan in a second session. Capture the notes from the session where everyone can see them. Appoint a scribe (NOT you!) to transcribe the notes and send them out within 24 hours. Ask everyone to bring a calendar in order to set the date for the next session.


1. Don’t do too much in one session: Set the action items and assign a champion. Don’t try to define details.

2. Define what to cover in the first session and sequence for the next sessions:

  • Create core items in Session 1
    • Vision
    • Mission
    • Unique Value Proposition
    • Problem
    • Solution
    • Long-Term Objectives
    • Short-Term GoalsAction Plan with champion and dates for each item
  • Schedule Session 2 Deliverables
    • Create a Marketing Plan
    • Develop Budget for goals
    • Assign action items to individuals and/or committees

3. Don’t volunteer for any task that someone else can do:

  • Over-functioning creates under-functioning; don’t do it!
  • If nobody steps up to champion a task, then say it won’t happen

Planning is not an event. Planning is a process. Evaluate the plan at least twice each year. Update the plan and then commit to the revision. Then there will always be a long-term plan that’s current and is migrated over time.

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