The first step to achieving a dream is planning. This is just as true in the social-good sector as in any other industry or circumstance. Visionary leaders understand Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Creating a strategic plan can be both fun and rewarding as you dream up your organization’s potential impact. But a strategic plan is only part of the process. Success starts with a plan, but then you must implement it.
Many organizations work through the process of developing a quality plan. They dream big, assess where they are, and then set short and long-term goals to help them bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be. A nonprofit may even bring in consultants and industry experts to help them lay a solid foundation for the future. Then some time passes, the excitement wears off, and they find themselves in exactly the same place they started. They made a plan, but they did not follow through.
To make the most of your strategic plan, you need an implementation plan to help your social-good organization reach its goals. An implementation plan is a document that describes key steps and activities needed before and during implementation of a strategic plan. An implementation plan:
Explains how you will prepare to implement you strategic plan and build needed capacity
Identifies roles, responsibilities, timeframes, and milestones
Coordinates and sequences activities
Developing an implementation plan helps:
Provide a roadmap for the implementation team
Identify needs and anticipate challenges
Serve as a communication tool among team members, leadership, and stakeholders
Support decision-making and monitoring by leadership
You can start creating your implementation plan by asking two simple questions.
Who Will Make It Happen?
One of the most valuable skills of any leader is self-awareness. Different people have different strengths and weaknesses. You may be a fantastic motivator and a visionary leader but aren’t as good with the operational details. Or, perhaps you are a wonderful project manager. But do you have the time to manage the nitty-gritty details of a complex implementation along with your regular responsibilities?
Whether you are bringing in someone with a strength to balance your weakness, or simply adding capacity, delegating is often the best way to get an implementation project moving. Assign someone else to be in charge of making the strategic plan happen and then support them in every way possible.
How Can I Ensure My Team Has Bandwidth?
he best strategic plans will eventually make your nonprofit more efficient and more effective. But change takes time and focus, and your team may feel it already has its hands full providing essential services. Here are four recommendations for ensuring your team has the bandwidth to make your strategic plan a success.
1. Identify Existing Strengths and Weaknesses
Before building capacities, identify existing internal and external skills, structures, and resources. Effective capacity building will link partners who have subject matter expertise with the program. Assess gaps in capacity as areas for future development or use to identify new partners.
2. Develop Trust
Capacity building is supported by trust, mutual respect, and commitment. Staff need to know that leadership is committed to making them successful with the new strategic plan.
3. Tailor Strategies
Capacity building is an approach to development, not a set of pre-determined activities. For example, a newly established program will have different capacity building needs than an established one. Consider the maturity of your programs when planning capacity-building activities and tailor your strategy accordingly.
4. Develop integrated strategies
To be most effective, capacity building efforts should focus on a number of levels (e.g., individual, group, or organizations) and use a combination of strategies. These strategies may include training, technical assistance, leveraging resources, and mentoring. Strategies to enhance leadership, partnerships, data use, communication, evaluation, and planning are needed. As part of these integrated strategies, you may need to ask yourself “who do we need to hire either full or part-time to ensure we execute on our plan?”.
Once you’ve established who will take ownership and what resources you have at your disposal, you can create detailed implementation plans. Start with these three steps.
Set Measurable Objectives
Most strategic plans are too large to accomplish in one or two steps. You need to break down your overall vision into manageable pieces that can be achieved one step at a time. If your vision includes implementing a new program, you might break it down into research, fundraising, design, testing, and roll out. You can then break each piece down further into essential tasks.
Objectives must also be measurable. Abstract ideas are interesting to discuss but impossible to implement. You need concrete plans that you and your team can measure and then check off the list.
Set Clear, But Realistic Timelines
After developing objectives, you need deadlines. Most people require a target to aim for, otherwise they continue to find more immediate priorities. Timeliness must be clear, but the priorities also must be realistic.
Setting timeliness also allows for accountability. If you have agreed-upon objectives and timeliness for those objectives, you can hold leaders, team members, and the organization as a whole accountable for their commitments.
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” This can be especially true in the social-good sector, where circumstances are often fluid. Sudden changes in economic conditions, government regulations, or funder policies can completely upend your plans. Be prepared to pivot as necessary to find new ways to meet your strategic goals.
As a social-good leader, you are always looking for ways to increase the impact, sustainability, and growth of your organization. Creating and then implementing a strategic plan can help you achieve success now and in the future.
SureImpact is a purpose-built impact management platform that is designed for social-good providers by social-good providers. SureImpact provides the data collection and impact reporting infrastructure to meet the unique needs of social-good organizations as you develop, implement, and follow a data-driven strategy. SureImpact’s simple and collaborative case management and outcome tracking tools are designed to help nonprofits manage, measure, and communicate their social impact while also increasing data capacity for their team members and supporting a high-performing culture.
Check out our interactive tour of SureImpact Analytics to learn more.