Planning for the future of your organization

Reviewing your mission statement will help identify and focus important tasks for your organization to tackle.

You have certainly heard this statement, “When you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Many organizations choose to review their annual goals late in the calendar year. This annual wrap up usually focuses on completing unfinished tasks and identifying where to focus efforts for the coming year. Board members are regularly asked to suggest issues and projects they believe are important to work on.

According to John M. Bryson, professor of Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and author of “Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations,” “Planning is a combination of dreaming and carefully predicting the future based on knowledge of the community, actual and potential customers, the organization itself, and the outside forces that affect the organization. Planning should not be something that a board does when there is nothing else to fill the agenda.”

Long-term planning, or strategic planning, is essential to assure the success of any organization. A good long-term plan ensures that the organization is on a clear course to support the reason for which it was established.

Who should be involved in the planning process? You, as a member of the board and all board members! It is the responsibility of the full board in collaboration with the executive director to write the long-term plan (two to five years) for the organization. Once the plan is written, it is the board’s responsibility to annually review the plan, make necessary modifications and approve the plan of work for the organization and board over the next year.

Board member terms may expire, staff members may change, funding and programs may be modified, but the direction for the group is clear when there is a well thought-through plan.

Additionally, a short-term plan – those important duties that need to happen in the next 12 months – should, with the assistance of the executive director and other staff, if available, simultaneously guide the organization towards success with the long-term plan.

How should groups begin to develop a plan? Start by writing (or reviewing) the mission statement of the organization. What is the purpose of the group, why does it exist, where is the targeted effort on a day-to-day basis?

A good mission statement will keep the board focused as decisions are made. Boards cannot take up every cause that makes the local headlines. Instead, focus where those causes are directly related to the organization’s mission. If the cause is not related to the mission, the board should not get directly involved; success with those issues will be nearly impossible – and board members will become very frustrated! Finally, develop results-oriented action based objectives that will help accomplish the organization’s mission. What groups of people will be served? What programs will be offered? What staff and facilities will be needed to offer the programs? How will programs, staff and facilities be financed? Who will be responsible to make sure each critical step happens? What timeline will be established to measure success?

Michigan State University Extension offers educational programs and assistance to organizations in areas of strategic planning, board member professional development, conflict resolution and many other topics! To learn more about these programs, contact an expert in your area.

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