Why We Need GOOD Strategic Plans

Originally written for Jonathan Rivard and the CANGO team.

The word strategic plan gets thrown around a lot in our communities, and yet we have no common definition or perspective on what these plans would/could/should look like. We do however know when we stumble onto a GOOD strategic plan (and a good process to get there). We know this when past obstacles begin to melt away and momentum strengthens as we move closer to our goals. A GOOD strategic plan can provide the necessary infrastructure and lens through which to accomplish broad social change, and challenge that “we have always done it this way” mantra.

I have heard many reasons and excuses for WHY community organizations do, or do not, have current and functioning strategic plans. Unfortunately many times these reasons centre on funding body requirements (i.e. “We are just doing this to show something to our funders”), or the archaic idea that we should create a quick fix, top down strategic plan that will most likely be put on a shelf to collect dust – wash, rinse, repeat in 5 years.

So I challenge organizations and our local and national funding bodies to understand WHY a good strategic plan can be powerful in building strong and healthy community organizations, and thus strong communities. In a previous CANGO post on program evaluation, Lindsay Buckingham-Rivard states that evaluation “gauges whether a program is meeting its goals”. The strategic plan is what helps us know what those goals are in the first place. And if the strategic planning is done in a participatory manner, including the voices of diverse stakeholders, these goals will be widely known, supported, and more easily monitored for impact.

There are a number of reasons for both funding bodies and other community organizations to go through a co-created and participatory strategic planning process; here are a few of those reasons:

1)   Strategically thinking about goals and action plans increases your ability to tackle complex problemsin our communities, thus making larger and more measurable impacts.

2)   Working together with your diverse stakeholders creates a positive and safe environment for staff, clients, funders and community partners to challenge and push the organization to grow and develop.

3)   Using a good planning process can spur creativity and bring new and innovative ideas to the table.

4)   When working with partners or looking to get grants, the plan can provide a foundation to find partners who are a good fit for your goals, rather than trying to fit into what is out there.

5)   Taking time away from service delivery for focused planning provides the time to ask, “Why do we do it this way? Is this way still working? How can we improve/change what we are doing to better accomplish our goals?”

Check out future posts on strategic planning to learn what questions to ask before starting your plan, when is a good time to do your plan, who should be involved in working on your plan, and what are some different ways to get from where you are to where you want to be.

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“There are many words to describe Natalie Brown – passionate, energetic, skilled, good-natured, committed, accountable – but when I think of my experience working with Natalie as we developed the Center for Community Research, Learning and Action at Wilfrid Laurier University, one word stands out: integrity. Natalie is of “sound construction”. She approaches community practice with honesty, solid principles, and a genuineness that is unmatched. She works hard, cares deeply about the work and she values relationships above all else. I could always count on her to get things done right and with care. I certainly wish there were two of Natalie so I could leave one in Kitchener-Waterloo and bring one to work with me at my new home at the University of Miami. She’s a fantastic community researcher and action partner and I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to replace her.”
by Dr. Scot Evans, Professor at the University of Miami