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Setting a Strategic Roadmap

February 21, 2018

by Roger D. Ali

Roger AliAs an experienced leadership volunteer, I am often asked what is crucial to the success of an organization. In my opinion, well-run organizations have a compelling vision, a clear mission and a current strategic plan. I have been involved in developing a number of strategic plans, both as a volunteer and senior staff leader, and in my experience, the single most important element for success is alignment with the mission and vision of the organization.

A strategic plan is essential to anchoring an organization around a set of key priorities that outlines what you do while providing a framework for how you are going to do it. Most often, the board of directors and an organization's senior leadership develop the strategic plan.

A well-structured strategic planning process identifies the strategies that will best enable an organization to advance its mission. The road to an effective strategic planning process begins with a board of directors who understand their roles and responsibilities. Primarily in large organizations, the role of the board includes oversight of the creation of the strategic plan and then providing final approval. In smaller organizations, it may be the board or a sub-committee that is more heavily involved. Consistently, it should be the organization's senior leadership that executes the development of the plan though stakeholder engagement, and then presents the strategic framework to the board.

The strategic planning process can be categorized in the following phases:

Phase 1 - Environmental Scan: There is a lot of pre-work that can be done by staff or a consultant and/or board. This is often done through a board sub- or ad-hoc committee charged with strategic planning. It starts with a review of the environment, internal and external, and a set of key questions.

Phase 2 - SWOT Analysis: (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats): The SWOT analysis is part of an organization's strategic planning process that connects its objectives and strategies to actionable tactics. The senior leadership team and/or a consultant and perhaps the board sub-committee may perform the SWOT analysis.

Phase 3 - Vision/Mission: Board and staff leadership work together on refining vision, mission and strategic direction using information collected in phases 1 and 2. In larger organizations, senior leadership and staff review the mission and vision of the organization and determine strategic goals to ensure they line up. This leads to further discussion and an understanding of what is to be accomplished in the next three to five years.

Phase 4 - Review: Senior leadership and staff review current plans, budgets and establish objectives and tactics to deliver on the proposed goals. Questions are asked about what needs to be put in place to achieve these goals, determining the funding needed and defining measurable outcomes. The CEO and leadership engage staff in the process and get buy-in through planning and consultation.

Phase 5 - Approval: The board sub-committee receives the strategic plan and discusses the goals, objectives and risks and alignment with the organization's mission and vision. Ultimately, the board is responsible for approving the plan for use in developing operational and business plans and budgets. The strategic plan should also be communicated to key stakeholders in order to build community interest and support for the organization's programs and activities.

Once the strategic plan is put into action, it is the responsibility of senior leadership to provide regular status reports against the goals and objectives to the board. On a regular basis, the board should monitor progress of the key strategies and goals against measurable outcomes. This continuous evaluation and analysis will help to assess whether additional plans need to be developed to achieve the organization's long-term goals, or to accommodate new organizational goals.

Ultimately, a strategic roadmap will help to build organizational capacity, maximize resources, ensure the organizations remains true to mission, and deliver high-quality programs and services. From my leadership experience, this process is critically important to ensure a clear, powerful direction that will guide an organization for years to come.

Roger D. Ali, CFRE is president and CEO of Niagara Health Foundation and chair (volunteer) of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Foundation for Philanthropy - Canada.

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