Strategic Planning

Reasons for planning

Planning is vital, yet people find all sorts of reasons for not doing it! If there are new demands on organisations (for example, pressure on resources, awareness of unmet needs, political or legislative changes) many try to respond immediately.

Do not assume that there will be agreement on where the organisation should head in the future

This can lead to wasted energies, haphazard developments and conflict. Even when plans are made, they are sometimes not implemented, or the impact of the plans is not evaluated. Remember that planning is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

There are numerous reasons why you might create a plan, both internal and external:

Internal reasons:

  • Need to stop drifting
  • Need to know when to say ‘no’ to ideas
  • Need to create unity within the organisation
  • Need for a rethink.


External reasons:

  • Need to look professional
  • Being demanded by a current funder
  • As a tool for raising funds from other potential funders
  • Need to make a case for an idea that you want to turn into a reality.

There are all types of plans going by different names, including strategic plans, development plans, business plans, action plans, project plans, day-to-day plans and contingency plans. Time scales range from long-term (5 years or more) to short-term (right down to daily plans) and everything else in between. Although the products may differ, the principles remain broadly similar at whatever level you plan. The main focus here is on strategic planning, for if you get this right, it should be possible to undertake other types of planning without too much difficulty.

The process is as important as the product and involves these broad stages:

Assessing context  Where have we come from?
Developing/confirming vision/mission What are we about?
Information gathering/analysis Where are we now?
Identifying key assumptions/choice What are our options?
Developing a realistic strategy Where do we want to be?
Ensuring feasibility What do we need to get there?
Providing evidence of competence How can we persuade others?
Implementation How can put the plan into action?
Monitoring and evaluation How are we doing?

It is vital that all those who will be affected by the plan (staff, volunteers, members, users, partners, etc) have some sort of input into its development process. Do not presume that everybody has a basic understanding of what the organisation has been/is about, and do not assume that there will be agreement on where the organisation should head in the future – this is very unlikely to be the case. The planning process will depend very much on the size of the organisation and is likely to be simpler and shorter for smaller and newer groups than for large, established and complex organisations. You can do all of the work internally, or you engage an external facilitator for part of the process. Although quite a lot of work may be involved that will obviously take time, once you begin, try to maintain momentum and finish the process relatively quickly.

Swat up on SWOT

A very useful planning tool is the SWOT analysis in which people have to identify and map the organisation’s Strengths and Weaknesses (internal factors) and what Opportunities and Threats it faces (external factors). Predicting future trends is difficult – the following headings may assist you:

  • Changes in available resources
  • Changes in the way you work
  • Changes in demands and needs
  • Political and economic changes
  • ‘Market’ changes (cooperation or competition with other organisations, etc).

It is crucial that you set solid aims, from which follow operational objectives that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound).

This is where your activities come in, be they advocacy/campaigning, provision of services or facilities, production of materials, etc. You need to make clear the full costs, organisational implications and potential risks (with contingencies) of your proposals and show that your organisation has the capacity to deliver the plan.

Implementing the Plan

Once finalised, the plan must be implemented. You do this by linking the strategic plan to the organisation’s working operational plan and to the work plans of teams and individuals. The plan should not gather dust on a shelf, but be a living breathing document.

You can do this by:

  • Ensuring that the plan is discussed regularly at meetings (you could consider making it a standing agenda item)
  • Ensuring that all staff and volunteers use the plan as the basis for their own work plans
  • Making sure new people (committee members, staff, etc) receive a copy of the plan
  • Using the plan to focus and prioritise when good ideas or urgent opportunities arise, as they inevitably will
  • Highlighting successes, both internally and externally, when milestones in the plan have been reached
  • Setting aside annual review sessions for the plan
  • Ensuring policies and procedures exist which support the implementation of the plan.

Monitor the Plan

You must check periodically whether you are indeed meeting your goals. You should consider this process in terms of a continuum: Inputs / Outputs / Outcomes / Impacts.

  • The inputs are the resources that you need to implement your plans.
  • The outputs are the activities that you undertake and (related to your objectives).
  • The outcomes are the changes that take place as a result of your work (and related to your aims).
  • The impacts are the broader longer-term changes your organisation is having related to your mission and vision.

For each of the outputs, outcomes and impacts, you can develop key performance indicators to measure how you are progressing towards achieving your objectives. These are criteria or clues on which you can base your judgements about the progress or success of your plans. Try
to limit them to a manageable number. You must then decide what relevant monitoring data needs to be collected. This can include amounts of funding raised and number of web pages viewed, personal accounts from service users or information about changes to government policy; you will need to specify them for your own particular situation. Once you have collected your information, this needs to be analysed and reviewed either by the organisation itself (you may wish to set up a monitoring and evaluation subcommittee for this purpose), or externally (for example, a funder may wish to inspect how you are operating). Learn from the results of evaluation and make available the results to your stakeholders.