Strategic planning for the coming year

Judy Chambers





We’ve been hearing a lot about the ‘new normal’ – the idea that things will never go back to the way they were pre-pandemic. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most organizations made major changes in operations last year: changes in reaching clients, delivering services, maintaining staff through budget shortfalls, and in short, learning new ways to meet the mission. Some of those changes are Band-Aid approaches, immediate solutions that are intended to be short-term. But some of the changes your organization has made may be worth holding onto.



No doubt we’ll be dealing with pandemic conditions for at least a few more months. How will your organization adapt once we can all interact safely in person? Instead of defaulting to old ways of doing business, spend a little time thinking about the changes you’ve made and which ones are worth keeping.



What’s working? If you were starting your organization from scratch, what would service delivery look like? How would you work with clients, partners, staff, volunteers, and your governing board? One way to approach this is by evaluating your operations for the past year in terms of effectiveness in meeting your mission. Take Zoom meetings. Sure, there’s a downside to not being able to meet in person, but is there an upside to virtual meetings too? For instance, are your board and committee members more available for meetings? Does your business get done faster? Is there a role for distance meetings in combination with meeting in-person?


Evaluate the services your organization provides. The pandemic may have caused significant increases in demand, or made it harder to reach your clients. In addition to identifying the challenges you faced, look for the changes you made that improved your effectiveness. For instance, some food banks have found that curbside delivery of food to their clients has worked well, and are considering continuing that even when it is no longer necessary. Other organizations have increased their use of social media and are finding it an effective way to communicate.


Re-think the role of volunteers. Many volunteers, especially seniors, were unable to continue their duties safely during the pandemic. Were there other roles these folks took on? Perhaps they assisted with distance outreach, social media, assembling items for curbside pickup, or other behind-the scenes tasks. And whom did your organization call on to fill the gap in volunteers? These temporary helpers might become a steady source of assistance and provide a meaningful way for more members of the community to participate in working for your mission.


Make a wish list. Right now, what do you wish for? What would make your organization better able to meet the mission? Be specific – sure, more funding would certainly help, but identify the ways you would use it. It’s a wish list, so put everything on it. Then think about which items are likely to be needed long-term and which will be less critical post-pandemic.


Think ahead. Tempting as it may be to assume that soon you won’t need masks, gloves or hand sanitizer, if we have learned one thing in the past year, it is to anticipate the unexpected (some would say the unimaginable). So hold onto the things you might need again.


Embrace data. Many organizations found themselves scrambling for data to include in applications for funding, while others were required to track data in new ways. Instead of shredding all those reports when they’re no longer needed, take a good look at the data you’ve been collecting. What does it tell you about your service delivery? Is it useful for your governing body? If your data collection methods have changed, you may have new ways to paint a picture of your organization for funders and potential funders in the future.



You’re probably thinking you haven’t got time to dream big while running yourself ragged. Maybe a chance to dream is exactly what you need. A skilled facilitator can help you work through the process by providing adequate time to vent while focusing on organizational strengths. If your organization already has a strategic plan, this would be a great opportunity to update it to reflect the ways the world – and your organization – have changed. If you don’t have a strategic plan in place, your organization can start small. For instance, instead of using a process that fully engages community stakeholders – clients, volunteers, and partners – your organization can work on a basic plan with board and staff, and revisit the plan in the next few years when more time is available.



Start with the mission. It’s always a good idea to revisit your organization’s mission to make sure everyone is on the same page, and that you haven’t strayed from your purpose. The vision statement comes next, which essentially defines what success looks like. If you were able to accomplish your mission, how would your clients and your community be different? A strong mission and vision not only set your destination but explain why it’s important to get there. You and your board can use the mission and vision as a tool for considering changes in the organization. When a new opportunity arises, will pursuing it bring you closer to achieving your mission and vision? If not, perhaps you shouldn’t pursue it.



A word about change – sometimes an organization’s mission changes in response to a changing environment. This is rare and most organizations never experience a change in mission. The current pandemic is a case in point: your organization’s methods and operations may have changed significantly in the last year, but your mission probably hasn’t changed at all. You are still committed to revitalizing your downtown, strengthening your community, addressing food insecurity, improving health, or preventing suicides. It’s the way you are approaching this that has changed, not the mission. That’s why making a plan for the coming year is so important. Most of us didn’t have time to think or plan for the changes we saw in 2020, but we can be strategic in anticipating the end of the pandemic. The strategic plan can be as basic as a mission statement, vision and a few goals with action steps. Putting it all on paper helps the organization to set priorities and institute change in an organized and orderly fashion. When you and your board recognize that you can’t do it all at once, you can be strategic about what changes first. Maybe you’ll decide to ease out of curbside delivery gradually instead of all at once. Your board might choose to use both Zoom and in-person meetings. You might need to bring laid-off employees back in phases. Stable funding may take precedence over an expanded volunteer base – or vice versa. It truly depends on your organization’s mission and priorities. So, have you got just a few hours to dream big and make a plan for 2021? A small investment can yield big rewards. It’s like building your own roadmap: you may not be a mapmaker, but you know where you want to go. The strategic plan will help you get there.

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