Get Through Tough Times: Plan Ahead!
When hard times hit, contingency plans should go into effect. Of course, you have to have a contingency plan for that to occur. Developing such plans is the work of the good times. It is the work of an engaged board that is or becomes knowledgeable about an organization's mission, programs, and funding.
Much of the "prep work" to deal with crisis is accomplished by regular and thorough strategic planning, according to Sr. Paulette LoMonaco, executive director of Good Shepherd Services.
Her organization conducts a thorough strategic planning process every 4 years. During the process, achievement of past goals is assessed and new goals set for the next 4 years. Much of the input for the plan comes from program and mid-level managers rather than being imposed from the top-down.
Strategic planning is a process that guides an organization; it is not a concrete box. A good strategic plan allows an organization to respond quickly to changes in external or internal factors, both opportunities, such as a new funding option, or challenges, such as an economic crisis.
Good strategic planning means the board knows where each program fits within the mission of the organization, and the real costs and benefits of each program. When cost-cutting is necessary, it can be done in a way that maintains the core mission.
Because Good Shepherd Services has a strategic plan, the organization responded efficiently and effectively to the prospect of less funding and more demand for its programs. Cost cuts maintained the core mission and contingency plan for emergency funding from reserves was put in place quickly.
LoMonaco is a veteran of strategic planning and has succinct suggestions for those less experienced in the process:
- Be clear about your mission.
- Enlist resources, such as consultants, as needed.
- Establish a Strategic Planning sub-committee of the board to work with staff and consultants.
- Designate a point person on staff to oversee the process and serve as liaison with both the board and any consultants.
- Review the goals of the prior plan, if any, and evaluate how well they were met.
- Start with the grass-roots. If you have never done a strategic plan, get input from all stakeholders, including staff and clients, through focus groups.
- Set aside multiple board meetings and, ideally, a full board retreat for strategic planning.
- Present it to the staff in detail and in person, with all the whys and wherefores.
LoMonaco has words of caution as well. Selecting the right consultant is critical, she says, so interview several to make sure you find one that understands the culture of your organization and is appropriate to the task at hand: working with an organization of your size, in your field.
She also emphasizes that a good plan sets up processes to regularly gather information and ideas from below, from the people who deliver services.
The benefits are many, LoMonaco says, whether times are good or bad.
- Clear goals allow everyone to see progress.
- Regular meetings for stakeholders elicit ideas from those closest to the programs.
- Staff involvement in planning can build morale.
- Changing needs can be seen and addressed.
- Resources can be allocated where really needed.
- Crises can be better managed because board and staff are well-informed about mission and resources.
The toughest part is, of course, finding a funder who understands that planning isn't unnecessary overhead: It's fundamental to good governance.
"We would never be where we are today without funders who funded infrastructure development," LoMonaco says. "Funders need to understand the importance of building an organization's infrastructure and provide support for that task. Direct service cannot be provided if indirect costs, such as strategic planning, are not covered."