Planning is vital as it prevents wasted resources, haphazard developments and conflict. Planning is one of the main contributions a governing body will make to organisational success.

It has responsibility to:

  • Agree a strong mission and vision
  • From this, establish a focused strategic plan
  • Develop a credible and coherent business plan by adding operational and financial detail to the strategic plan
  • Assess and manage risks to the plan and to the organisation generally
  • Monitor, evaluate and review plan implementation and take appropriate action in response to the outcome of these processes.

Mission & Vision

As a first step, the governing body, in consultation with key stakeholders, should develop, refresh or reconfirm the organisation's mission statement as the lynchpin of the strategy. A good mission statement is short and clearly sets out why the organisation exists and what it is trying to achieve. It sometimes also incorporates a statement of the values or ethos of the organisation. Some organisations also find it helpful to develop a vision statement that sets out their ideal future; the circumstances in which the mission will be considered 'achieved'. A vision statement can help to crystallise the purpose of the organisation and inspire and motivate those involved with it.

A strong mission is vital to effectiveness as the organisation might otherwise lack identity, cohesion, a clear sense of its unique value and a sharp focus for its activities. It could, for example, try to work on too broad a front and become overstretched. Alternatively, it might be highly successful at opportunistic fundraising only to find it is driven by agendas other than its own (this is known as being 'funding-led'). The mission should therefore act as a clear and unambiguous reference point for setting and maintaining boundaries on organisational activity and establish an ultimate benchmark against which progress can be measured and performance assessed.

Strategic Planning
It is essential for the organisation to have a strategic plan that sets out how it intends to achieve its mission and vision. Proper planning will enable the organisation to:

  • Direct and coordinate people
  • Match resources to activities effectively and efficiently
  • Anticipate and deal with difficulties
  • Be clear and realistic
  • Instill confidence in the organisation among key stakeholders.

The governing body should identify a set of strategic aims (usually around five) that will help the organisation to achieve its overall mission. These aims will be statements about what the organisation wants to achieve over a given period of time. Setting strategic aims allows the organisation to prioritise the main areas for action and to monitor and review progress against them. For each aim there should be a series of specific objectives setting out in detail the activities that will be used to pursue the aims.

Objectives must meet 'SMART' criteria, that is, they must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Developing strategy involves making judgements about the future based on:

  • The needs of stakeholders
  • Current and past performance
  • Current and potential resources
  • Changes in the environment (political, economic, social, technological, natural)
  • Assumptions about the effect of various possible actions.

A strategic plan should be medium to long-term (for example, five years) and renewed on a rolling basis. The governing body will need to determine how far into the future it is possible to reliably predict the environment in which the organisation operates and set the timescale accordingly. Whilst responsibility for strategic planning lies with the governing body, it is important to involve others who will be key to delivery of the plan and who can provide governing body members with the information they will need to make strategic choices, such as senior staff and service users.

Holding an 'away day' led by an external facilitator can be an effective means of kick-starting the planning process...

If the organisation has employees, it can be useful for senior staff to attend. A wide range of participative tools are available to help focus thinking and make strategic choices. Using these will not only improve the quality of the strategy but can also make the planning experience an enjoyable and stimulating one.

Operational Planning

A business plan (alternatively called an operational plan) is likely to cover a shorter period (for example, three years), which in turn is applied through an annual plan and budget. Turning the strategic plan into a business plan involves the following additional stages:

  • Calculating the cost of implementation
  • Identifying how the organisation will meet that cost
  • Demonstrating that the organisation is capable of successful implementation
  • Setting out details of proposed activities and assigning tasks in a work plan.

The business plan should tell a plausible and coherent story that can be easily understood by someone with no prior knowledge of the organisation. Graphs, tables and other visual aids can be beneficial where these reinforce the text and are used selectively. Thorough editing is crucial to ensure that the document is clear, focused and at the right level of detail (usually around 15 or so sides of A4). A good layout, including a contents page and page numbering, will also be important. Including supporting information in appendices can help to reinforce messages in the plan without cluttering the body of the text, for example:

  • Governing body composition
  • Governing document
  • Details of key personnel
  • Supporting financial information such as the balance sheet and income and expenditure account
  • Testimonials and positive press coverage.

Once strategic and business plans are in place the governing body will have a continuing responsibility to ensure that the organisation follows them. There may, for example, be other strategic or policy documents that need to be altered to bring them into line with the overarching plan. A governing body review of strategic and policy documents might be necessary at this point. Any future documents will also need to be consistent.

Who Does What in the Planning Process?

Use the following table to figure out the responsibilities of different parties involved in the planning process:

 Governing bodyStaffJointly
Mission and vision statementDevelop/approveInformGoverning body consults staff
EvidenceAssessResearchGoverning body/staff 'away day'
Strategic aimsSetInformGoverning body/staff 'away day'
Strategic objectivesDevelop/approveDevelopGoverning body/staff working groups
Plan costingApproveDevelopTreasurer works with senior staff
Resources for planIdentityResearchStaff brief governing body
Capacity to deliverAssess/ensureAssessStaff brief governing body
Work planApproveDevelopStaff present to governing body

Risk Management

A risk is the chance, great or small, that the organisation will be damaged in some way as a result of a particular hazard. For example, a trailing cable is a hazard with a risk of employee injury, litigation and direct financial costs. Risk management is sometimes perceived as a highly complex and potentially overwhelming process. Whilst managing some risks can be complex, there are simple tools available to assist the process. Although governing bodies will need to apply time and care to risk management, they should not be put off by a concern that they might not get it 100% right.

A partially effective risk management strategy is infinitely better than none, and by virtue of going through a risk management process, you will gain valuable insight into the environment in which your organisation operates. Risk management is a cyclical process that involves identifying risks, analysing them, controlling them and monitoring them. Developing a strategy for managing risk, that includes seeking appropriate insurance cover, is essential. The risk strategy should correlate with the organisation's strategic and business plans and be reviewed when changes to these documents take place and where major changes in the operating environment become evident.

Monitoring, Evaluation & Review

A plan needs to be accompanied by mechanisms to review its implementation and determine whether it has had the intended impact. The planning cycle model demonstrates how and where review fits into the planning process.This is not something that can be bolted onto a plan in the final stages of implementation. To be effective it needs to be built into the plan at the outset and be grounded in the agreed aims and objectives.

It is recommended that governing bodies draw up an annual cycle of planning and review. The governing body has a responsibility to decide what information it requires in order to monitor, evaluate and review organisational performance. The governing body should decide the set of indicators against which the organisation measures its performance. Assessing performance in a commercial company is likely to be more straightforward as the indicators will primarily relate to financial performance.

With community and voluntary organisations, however, performance will be measured largely in terms of 'outcomes' (that is, the immediate changes that take place as a result of your work) and 'impacts' (the broader and more long-term changes that occur as a result of the work that your organisation does).

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