Environmental Scan – Part 1 of Strategic Planning Series

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Nonprofit Strategic Planning

 

Why Strategic Planning ?

As a nonprofit leader it is important to periodically check in on where your organization is going, why your services matter and whether you have the right operations and processes in place. Sometimes these answers become somewhat vague over the years. Shifts are occurring more rapidly with massive societal change. For instance the global pandemic, climate change and the new spotlights on racial discrimination and economic inequality are rapidly shifting client needs, donor interests and public policy. Luckily, strategic planning can help us affirm our role, where we want to go and get us on track to that destination.

Data on Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Shared Vision Across Stakeholders

Likelihood of Nonprofit Having a Formal Process for Measuring Leadership Performance Due to Having Recent Strategic Plan

Research on nonprofit leadership conducted by the Concord Leadership Group, LLC revealed: 

77% of nonprofits with a written strategic plan agreed their nonprofit had a vision understood and shared across stakeholders, only 47% of nonprofits without a plan agreed a unifying vision existed. 

Nonprofits with a strategic plan more likely to have a formal process for measuring leadership effectiveness (75% vs. 50%).

Source:  The Concord Leadership Group LLC. (2016). Home | The Concord Leadership Group. https://concordleadershipgroup.com

The strategic plan explores basic questions such as: 

Why do we exist?

What do we do (day to day)?

How do we do it ?

Are we doing it well? 

How much does it cost and how do we fund it?

Who do we engage in implementing the strategic plan and how?

In a series of upcoming posts we will provide a snap shot of our approach to strategic planning including from the environmental scan to the implementation plan. 

Contact us to learn more about our work with nonprofit organizations and mission-based businesses. We would love to hear from you. 

Part 1: The Environmental Scan: Gathering context, internal and external

After initial meetings with executives, board and key staff to learn about the organization and what they hope to get out of the strategic planning process, we begin diving into the environmental scan.  Environmental scans are instrumental in planning an organization or program’s future priorities, it can be particularly relevant to strategic planning projects. The Environmental Scan helps us project out in to the future with the following questions in mind: What does the future hold and how prepared are we? 

There are several frameworks that are often used to help with this task. One of the most well-known is the SWOT analysis which stands for Strengths and Weaknesses (internal to your organization), and Opportunities and Threats (external to your organization). A twist on SWOT is SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results. which focuses on leveraging organizational strengths . A third framework for environmental is PESTLE, which refers to Political, Economic, Social, and Technology, Legal and Environmental issues. 

We use a combination of frameworks depending on the organization and their needs. 

Major questions we investigate during the environmental scan include:

  • What’s going on in your sector. How are best practices changing? What are the new benchmarks? What technological changes should we be aware of? 
  • What data is available and what is it telling ?what are the trends (over 3-5 years)? Are you producing the outcomes we want to achieve? Where are your clients coming from? How are you doing with fundraising and donor retention? 
  • Demographic, economic, and social changes. What are the impacts of rapidly evolving issues such as pandemics, climate change, racial injustice and gentrification impacting the communities we serve. What demographics are most vulnerable? What is the impact on your donors and strategic partners? 
  • Opportunities. Are there unmet needs we can address? Are there new funding streams or Partnerships we can tap. Are there policy changes coming down the pike that will benefit organizations you can take advantage of?
  • Threats.  How will cuts public funding impact your work? How will problems with public infrastructure make it harder to serve  your clients? 
  • Is there overlap between your program and other similar programs? Does this create competition for donors and clients?. Is there an opportunity to partner and offer complimentary services?
  • Impact. What kind of change do you want to make?  Do your beneficiaries and stakeholders share this vision? To what extent have we been successful? 
  • Capacity and resources. What do you need to improve your operations, in terms of competencies and experience, technology, and processes?

Use these questions to guide your approach for conducting interviewing  beneficiaries, board, staff, donors, volunteers, partners and other stakeholders. gathering data and establishing benchmarks. 

Interviewees for Environmental Scan 

Interviewee 

Perspective 

Beneficiaries 

Impact of your organization on their lives, services provided by other programs and unmet needs. 

Quality of client engagement and communication at your organization. 

Stories of engagement with your organization that can provide insight on impact, strengths and weakness in service delivery.

Personal experience changes in access to public subsidies, rising costs of food, medicine or housing – insights on demographic, policy and social trends. 

Board 

Level of board engagement and competencies.

Insight on organizational leadership, fiscal health, and overall capacity.

Staff

Insight on strengths and weaknesses in operations and process. 

Insight on demographic and social trends, knowledge of emerging regulatory issues.

Access to data on client intake and outcomes, donor engagement and costs.

Donors 

Organization’s readiness / capacity to adapt to trends in the sector, changes in funding and policy coming down the pike. 

Partners 

Knowledge of trends in your sector and concomitant sectors  that could indirectly impact your organization’s operations.

Volunteers

Insight on the quality of volunteer engagement at your organization and untapped social capital.  

After conducting interviews we work with organizational leaders to prioritize some of the issues raised and generate a list of additional research questions and types of data we want to explore. This information is synthesized into a report and presented to leadership and board. This report will help set the stage for the next step in the strategic planning process – the planning retreat. 

In our  next post, Strategic Planning part 2 we dive into our approach in prepping and facilitating the planning retreat. 

In the meantime, take a look at our other posts and please send your comments. We would love to hear from you. 

If you’re interested in discussing opportunities to work with us, contact us today! ##

5 Pillars of Capacity Building

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Capacity-building strategies facilitate the development of organizational infrastructure and assets needed to efficiently and effectively advance an organization’s mission long-term. Capacity building is not a short-term process. It is future-focused and ensures the organization can continue to generate social value and produce positive community outcomes well into the future. 

Capacity-building efforts can include the following five focus areas: 

Personnel development which equips all members of the team with the training and resources needed to complete their tasks. Building team capacity also includes leadership succession planning to explore the organization’s future needs and begin mapping out a strategy to prepare current staff or recruit new staff to fulfill these roles. 

Technological development ensures that the organization has access to the hardware and software available to serve their community, measure program impact, and report the results through multiple channels of communication. 

Community engagement can be a powerful, multi-faceted capacity-building tool to ensure that the organization maximizes social and human capital. Often nonprofit leaders overlook untapped talent in our communities such as senior residents with valuable knowledge and life experience or professionals that offer quality pro bono services. Community engagement can also create a future board or workforce pipeline and create opportunities for grooming future leaders and team members of the organization.

Board development can ensure that each board member has a specific role that is clearly defined and aligned with their talent, resources, and interests. Each board member should have a performance rubric for tracking and progress reports. 

Finally, as the pandemic and other recent crises have demonstrated, capacity building strategies must include disaster resilience.  Any organization serving vulnerable populations such as low-income families, seniors, or special needs communities should assess organizations capacity scenarios during pandemics, cyberattacks and natural disaster emergency operations. This preparation might include using your facilities as a shelter or staging area for emergency personnel, preparing non-perishable foods for distribution or purchasing generators or solar panels as back up during power failures. Obtain access to multiple buildings and vehicles across a wide radius in case your main facilities are inundated or compromised during a significant storm event or other natural disaster. Coordinate with other organizations, businesses, and building owners in the area to ensure access to multiple locations for sheltering displaced populations and for, storing and staging food.

Based on our experience, these are five of the essential capacity building focus areas that organizations must consider. Depending on your organization -the people you, serve as well as emerging trends in politics and demographics – there may be variations on the strategies presented here. 

Capacity building efforts should begin with a meeting with your team, your core constituency and key stakeholders to discuss concerns about the present and future needs of your community.