At work I have been furiously engaged in strategic planning in advance of some major grant-writing. This process is a continuation from some vine-withered efforts my coworker and I had made last fall, but due to some changing circumstances—a better understanding of the existing processes at play and increased authority to manage the outcomes—this most recent effort is bearing more fruit.

Perhaps the largest set-back to our strategic planning projects has been the planning of our strategic planning. Without having to recurse infinitely backwards, perhaps the most important things I’ve learned are:

  • Strategic planning relies on individuals. Strategic planning usually requires the actions of a single, or a small handful of individuals that not only are motivated, but have the resources and authority (or the full backing of someone with authority) to proceed. This is not to diminish the value of SWOT or SMART, but to reaffirm that strategic planning relies upon someone to begin the process, facilitate it, and ensure that its outcomes are useful.

  • Strategic planning should build on your strengths. There is a tendency to relegate strategic planning activities to weak periods or to use it to shore up areas that are perceived lacking. This often means that you aren’t able to properly recognize what led to successful periods or why certain components succeeded.

  • Define goals by need, not by resources or activities. Perhaps due to the tendency to use strategic planning to shore up weaknesses, goals are often defined narrowly out of current activities. Rather, goals should be widest effect you hope to enact. Just because a program’s goals are narrow does not mean that an organization cannot hope to affect a broader mission; or that a program cannot target only a single need within a much larger issue.

These three pieces come from my own experience with strategic planning, but I do like that they tie in nicely with much broader advice on philanthropy from Peter Drucker (via The World We Want):

  1. Fund extraordinary people, not institutions.

  2. Build on islands of health, not problems to be solved.

  3. Get big or get gone. Scale up to the size of the need, not down to the resources available.

(I’m always looking this quote up for a variety of reasons, so for simplicities sake I figure I should just post it here.)