Dani Robbins

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Strategic Planning

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Strategic Plans on May 30, 2013 at 3:55 pm

“Strategic planning is a process in which the board, staff, and select constituents decide the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached. Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all levels of staff and board, and defines the path for the future of the organization. It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.” (Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives)

All organizations should have a strategic plan.  Strategic plans get everyone on same page as to where you are as an organization and where you are going.  They allow the group to decide the goals moving forward; create measurements to determine if you met your goals and assign responsibility and due dates for specific goals.

In the absence of a plan, there are still moving parts, but they’re not aligned. The absence of a plan sets the stage for people to do what they feel is best, sometimes without enough information, which may or may not be right for the organization.  It opens the door for one person’s vision to get implemented and others to feel unheard or unengaged.  The absence of a plan allows for major decisions to be made on the fly and for potentially mission driven decisions to be compromised.  As we all know, movement goes in other directions than forward.

Strategic Planning is a process that results in not only a document but also a shared understanding among key stakeholders.  The process – and the document – can be very long or very short.  (I have a new theory that the longer strategic plan is, the less likely it is to be used.)  It doesn’t have to be a huge, multi-level process that includes benchmarking and a community needs assessment, but it can be if you have the inclination and the resources. For some organizations, primarily larger ones or those just starting out, a community needs assessment may be critical.  I don’t generally recommend them for established social services agencies.  Most social service agencies are pretty clear on the need and there is ample documentation to support their assessment.  In those cases, an environmental scan, coupled with an issue exercise and/or a SWOT analysis may be sufficient.

Regardless of if you select to do benchmarking and have a needs assessment or not, Strategic Planning should include:

  1. Values, Mission and Vision setting or recommitment

I always start with values as I believe they set the tone for everything that follows.  What are your organizational values?  What words reflect the way your organization operates, and the way your team talks to and about your clients?  What words infuse and reflect your organizational culture?

The mission statement answers why your organizations exist.

A vision is a description of what the organization will look like at a specified time in the future. There are two minds in the field as to if a vision statements should be a utopian view such as “an end to hunger” or a more concrete view such as “to be the premier youth development organization.”  I lean toward the latter; I find it challenging to set goals to get to utopia

History of the organization, its footprint and current services, an environmental scan and additional information, as necessary

Planning should include some discussion of critical information regarding program and operations, organizational challenges, community landscape, technology, finances, budget, both human resource and resource development capacities and systems, and the processes and development of the Board of Directors.

Set Goals to meet the Vision

Discuss what has to happen to get you where you want to go.  What do you need to add, subtract or change to get there?  What has to happen to reach your goals?

Set Strategies to meet Goals

Strategies answer how we will get where we want to go – to close the gap between the current reality and our vision.  Strategies are broad-based statements that define the path for the organization (rather than the ongoing work of the organization).

Develop Goals into Work Plans with assignments and due dates

Create a plan to meet those goals by including who will do the work and by when.

Once the strategic plan is complete, create a reporting mechanism and discussion opportunities at future board meetings. Strategic planning is one of the 5 components of Board Governance. Board members should participate in the process and vote on the outcome.

The Board should also assign who will ensure the plan’s success. The options, in order of effectiveness, are the Strategic Planning Committee Chair, Board President, another board member or the Executive Director.  Executive Directors are traditionally tasked with implementing and stewarding the plan (and being evaluated as such) but they can’t always do it alone; it is helpful to have a board member also ensuring the plan’s implementation.

There are as many types of plan strategies, variations on those strategies and ranges of fees, as there are consultants offering the service.  You don’t have to hire a consultant, but I do recommend you have an outside objective facilitator to help you.

A strategic plan should be a living document that guides the organization and provides a point for ongoing programmatic and organizational evaluation.  It should not sit on a shelf.

What do you think?   As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

The Role of the Nonprofit CEO

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on May 18, 2013 at 11:56 am

I coach a lot of new CEOs, and quite a few not so new CEOs.  Leading an organization is a big job that looks much easier than it is.  In fact, like all leadership done well, it looks like nothing.

I’ve always said that if you asked a cross section of my staff over the years what I did when I was a CEO, they would tell you they didn’t really know all the details, but I went to lunch a lot.  And I did.  And while I was at lunch, I built the profile of the organization, raised significant money, and helped build our board to be the board of choice in our community.  You can do a lot at lunch.

What do nonprofit CEOs really do?

The CEO assists in building the board, both initially through encouraging an appropriate prospecting, vetting, and orientation process and on-going though Board education and evaluation.  Please note that I said “through encouraging” and not “by doing.”  It is the CEO’s role to support good board process, and the board development committee’s role to lead the process.

The CEO is the chief fund raiser, the chief cheerleader, and the leader in building a culture of philanthropy.  The development staff raises money independently and also supports the CEO and the board to fulfill their fund raising roles. As discussed in greater detail in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives  “Resource development functions most effectively in a culture of servant leadership and philanthropy among the board and leadership team, as well as an agency-wide commitment.  A community cannot and will not invest in an agency without the investment of the board and staff.  Development staff cannot raise money without the support of the CEO. CEOs cannot raise money without the support of the board. Resource development is a group effort, with everyone giving, and everyone moving toward the goal of a sustainable organization.”

The CEO is the face of the organization.  That means that everything they do, whether at work, at the store or elsewhere – both good and bad – will reflect on the organization.

The public pieces aren’t the sum total of the role, there’s internal work to be done as well.  That includes policy and plan development, staff leadership and system development, and program assessment, development, implementation, and evaluation.

It is your job to engage, inspire and ensure that your team in fulfilling their role and moving forward your mission. That means you have to set and hold people accountable to high standards; live, infuse and model your organization’s values; and make sure every day that your mission and your clients are paramount. It’s very easy to begin to think that donors, community leaders, politicians or the Board are the ones we exist to serve, yet they are not. Our agencies exist to serve our clients.

Finally- and this is what most people miss most- strategic thinking and planning will help you align your organization and change your community.

Good leaders get out of the trenches.  Crisis management is an option when necessary- and we all know it is occasionally necessary- but it cannot become the CEO’s default leadership style.  Good CEOs find the time to think, to assess, to challenge and to wonder if there isn’t a better way.

CEOs also encourage and support their board to do a strategic plan and then implement that plan.  “Strategic planning is a process in which the board, staff, and select constituents decide the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached. Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all levels of staff and board, and defines the path for the future of the organization. It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.”   (Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives )

At the end of the day, the job of the CEO is to ensure the organization is still standing tomorrow, and preferably thriving!  They understand the organization is the vehicle, but the focus is the mission and the clients.  CEOs inspire and engage everyone with whom they come into contact to work for the betterment of their clients and their community.

And you thought we just went to lunch.

As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

An Open Letter Board Members I have Known and Loved

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on May 11, 2013 at 9:14 am

The theme of the nonprofit blog carnival (which is a monthly collection of the best posts on a requested topic) this month is “Dear board volunteer . . .” The idea is to “write an anonymous letter to a nonprofit board about something they do that drives you crazy.”  As you might remember, following directions has not always been my strong suit and I am choosing instead to use this opportunity to say thank you.

Dear Board Members,

Thank you so much for volunteering to serve on my Boards over the years.

I know that for you, it was an “add on” to the many other things that you did, including your career, your family, other volunteer opportunities and your social life.  I appreciate that you were willing to serve and I hope I always valued your time and your input.  Some days you may have felt that more than others. Thank you for knowing it even on the days I failed to express it.

Thank you for knowing that for me, next to my family, my job as Executive Director was my life, my passion and a position I spent my entire career to reach.   It was the culmination of my undergraduate and graduate degrees, previous leadership positions, a variety of training programs, and ample time spent in the trenches.  It was my privilege and my honor; I appreciated that you knew and respected that.

Thank you for knowing that on any given day, I was juggling a multitude of things – programs, donors, staff, facility issues, other Board members, possibly legal issues, client problems, and whatever was going on in my personal life. I know you were thoughtful about the ideas and recommendations you suggested.

Thank you for taking my calls, talking me off ledges and helping me brain storm solutions.  Thank you for taking the time to govern our organization appropriately.

Thank you for not assigning work to my staff and instead working through me.  I know wasn’t always easy or convenient for you to do that and appreciate the respect you had of my leadership and the lines of authority in our organization.  I also am so grateful that when the staff didn’t agree with a decision I made or something I did, you referred them back to me instead of trying to manage the situation.   A lot of other Boards don’t do that (as evidenced by the very public battle between the Executive Director and the Board in one of our partner agencies) – and I appreciate that you did.  Thank you.

Thank you for bringing your passion, intellect, insight, experience and resources to the table. Thank you for challenging me and your fellow Board members. Thank you for not allowing things in our organization that you would not have allowed in your own.  I needed you, and I appreciate that you used all of your experience, skills, knowledge and education to move our organization forward.

Thank you for teaching me, for counseling me, and for holding me accountable.  Thank you letting me learn from my mistakes and creating a safe space for me to improve.  Thank you for giving me the tools to serve our clients, lead our organization and impact change in our community.

A special thank you to a few special board members – and you know who you are and in case you don’t I will send you this post- who individually and collectively impacted my life in ways I cannot express; I will always be grateful.  To each of you and the dozens of Board members with whom I have had the privilege to serve, thank you; thank you for your service, your loyalty, your leadership and your guidance.

I am the leader I am today because of the tools you gave me.  I promise to pay it forward.

Do you want to thank an individual board member? Please use the comment box below.  Upon notification, I will approve appropriate comments and you can forward the page to your board members.  If you are a blogger and would prefer to write an anonymous post, please click here to learn more. As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

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