To Plan or Not to Plan?

People sitting around table

While traditional nonprofit theories suggest that every organization must have a strategic plan, there are several that don’t have one, in place. I have interviewed several leaders of NGOs in the past five years, who have run successful organizations, without a strategic plan. While they have a mission and vision statement – that is communicated clearly, these leaders have not considered planning a priority. Some others think that strategic planning is over-rated and doesn’t capture or take into account the millions of diversions, adjustments that one has to make, in the day to day functioning of one’s organization. Despite this, strategic planning has stayed relevant. There are die-hard fans of planning and those who swear by its effectiveness.

So, should you – as an NGO manager, leader or founder – plan for your organization?  Despite the success of these organizations, that don’t have a plan, I would suggest that one needs to have a plan, even if it is a schematic of where you want to go.

Here are five reasons you should have a strategic plan. While there are a lot more, I hope these will illustrate the importance of having a plan that will help guide your path to success.

  • Planning helps you motivate your team: While this is almost common-sense, many leaders of NGOs don’t realize that planning can help motivate the team and keep them inspired. Having clarity on the expected outputs, outcomes can also help bring ‘meaning’ to one’s work. Instead of just having a survivalist mind-set or keeping the status quo, planning can help motivate your team to push themselves to achieve more.

As Heather Gowdy points out, the strategic planning process can be painful and often not followed. But having a plan can be a driver of ‘knowing oneself’ and of positive change.

  • Planning can help clarify your mission: This may seem counter-intuitive, but having a strategic plan can help clarify your mission. The process of questioning your work, your clients, the value that you are creating in the world and the change that is being produced can help clarify the mission of the organization. If a clear mission does not exist, then the planning process can help you develop that and perhaps even refine it.
  • Planning process can help envision new possibilities: While this is an unexpected outcome in most cases, the planning process can help your team envision your future and the possibilities that come with it.
  • Planning can help you keep on track: For those who use the logic frame and its components of outputs, outcomes and the ways and means to get there; the process of strategic planning can help you keep on track and not lose sight of the main goals. This is crucial as many small diversions, change of plans have to be accommodated given the dynamic nature of the nonprofit sector.
  • Planning can help you accomplish more, in less time: While the road not taken can be tempting, it doesn’t help those who want to accomplish more, in less time. Having a strategic plan, with clearly outlined goals and ways to get there can save a lot of time and energy.

As with most well laid out plans, things change. As a famous boxer said “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face”. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t have a plan. It only means that the plan should be flexible to accommodate the changes, often dramatic that may come your way.

Join me on Thursday, April 13 for my presentation, Strategic Planning for NGOs a free 90-minute program at Foundation Center Northeast-Washington, DC when we will talk in-depth about the strategic planning process.

Sabith Khan

SABITH KHAN is a scholar-practitioner, with several years of experience in public affairs, strategic communications and NGO management in India, UAE and the US. He has a PhD in Planning, Governance and Globalization from Virginia Tech and has previously served as the Executive Director of an NGO in Washington, DC and most recently, as a Research Director. He is the founder of Global Footprint, a research and advisory consultancy based in the DC Metro area.