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Here's the plan.

Before the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland (DAGG) undertook the process of strategic planning, broad meetings often lasted past midnight and featured numerous arguments. Indecision was common, with activities and funding approved during one meeting, often rescinded during the next.

Now, with a strategic plan in place, everyone knows the direction of the organization. Board meetings run smoothly and seldom last more than two hours. When faced with a decision, the first question every board and staff member asks is, "Does this fit into our plan?"

To begin the strategic planning process, either the executive director or the elected president (ideally both) must be visionary. They must be willing to put effort and energy into educating, informing, and motivating volunteers to get the job done. Everyone involved must understand that although an association is not a business, it must operate in a businesslike fashion to succeed.

Fits all sizes

Strategic planning is inherent to running an efficient, effective organization. We're too small and don't have the resources," or conversely, "We are so large, it will be too cumbersome a task" are not valid reasons for avoiding strategic planning. No matter what your size, you need a plan to

Give volunteers-especially new board members-a better perspective of what your organization is all about;

provide staff members with a clear picture of their responsibilities;

define and measure your performance and the performance of your staff-, and

drive your organization in a methodical and businesslike fashion, rather than relying on the emotional drive of your volunteers.

Strategic planning is difficult in the nonprofit sector, especially in philanthropies where board members typically have diverse backgrounds. At DAGC, for example, the 45 board members run the gamut from physicians to traditional homemakers, from allied health professionals to business executives.

Dealing with this diversity poses challenges. For example, a traditional homemaker not familiar with business operations may find the jargon and possibly the whole concept of strategic planning to be foreign. Likewise, a physician in private practice probably does not deal with strategic planning and profit centers. Executives and entrepreneurs may be so immersed in planning their own business lives that they find it difficult to do the same thing outside their careers.

Yet members of charitable boards share a strong emotional attachment or commitment to the organization they serve. A physician wants to help his or her patients; a parent has an unrelenting desire to help a child with diabetes. As a consequence of this strong emotional tie, board members of a philanthropic organization often think in terms of doing good deeds and allocating funds to areas near and dear to their own hearts. The very ideals that cement commitment to an organization can actually make it more difficult to examine the organization in an objective, businesslike fashion.

Because each volunteer leader has a personal agenda, it may also be difficult for the board to focus on one or two ideas. Through strategic planning, however, volunteer leaders come to realize that their organization cannot do everything to help everyone, but they are able to identify the priority activities.

Consultant adds credibility

At DAGC, we engaged the services of a consultant to oversee the planning process. An experienced facilitator from outside lends credibility to the planning process and offers a fresh perspective on much-discussed issues. Depending upon your needs-and your budget-a facilitator can gather demographic statistics and census numbers, provide directives on what information or survey tools are needed from volunteers and members, and help you establish a format and time line for the planning process.

Look for a facilitator who fully understands your organization's work. DAGC always looks for a consultant who understands diabetes and how physicians and allied health personnel respond to one another and to their own work environments. We find that type of individual is ore likely to understand the emotional aspect of why people volunteer their time and money to support our cause.

Although we paid for the services of our facilitator, other charitable and philanthropic organizations might obtain assistance from people who will volunteer their professional expertise or reduce their fees. Your professional network might include a consultant willing to perform pro bono or reduced-fee work, or your board members may have strategic planners within their own organizations who are willing to act as facilitators. You also might consider enlisting the help of graduate-level business students.

When selecting a facilitator, do not hesitate to interview, request proposals, and check references. This person will handle the most important project of your organization, so it behooves you to ensure that staff and volunteer leaders are not only comfortable with, but also have confidence in your choice.

Information and insights

Provide the facilitator with detailed information about your organization (its origins, activities, and budgets) and about your environment (the city you're located in, national issues you deal with, and so forth). Also offer some insight into your volunteer leaders-how long they've served in the organization, what offices they've held, what their professions are-so that the facilitator has a good understanding of the people he or she will be working with. The more information you provide, the better equipped the facilitator will be to build trust among individuals and direct the group once the process gets under way.

Our facilitator met one-on-one with past presidents to get an overall sense of the organization. Next, he met with staff members to review each one's responsibilities and views of the organization. This way, the facilitator and the staff became familiar with one another and comfortable with the whole process.

Staff's input is essential. In addition to the executive director, two staff members participated in DAGC'S strategic planning exercises. The committee was composed of 12 volunteer leaders, all members of the board of directors. In most cases, the person tapped to serve on the strategic planning committee already served on an association committee specific to an area: education, research, fund-raising, and so forth.

Clear-cut expectations

Let committee members know upfront what is expected of them. They should be well-aware that they are the present and future leaders of the organization and that this is the most important committee responsibility they can have. They should also realize that they are making a time commitment that goes above and beyond what they've given to the organization before.

In our case, we made it clear that committee members would have to give several full days of their time to fulfilling their strategic planning duties; for members in private practice or in hospital settings, that often meant taking a day of personal leave. We also asked committee members to attend all the planning meetings, not only for the sake of continuity but also out of respect for one another's time. That was asking a lot from our volunteers, but we found that all those who made the commitment followed through.

For several reasons, DAGC decided to compress its strategic planning process into a nine-month schedule (four meetings held 2 1/2 months apart). The small size of our organization-five full-time staff members and an annual budget of $800,000-lent itself to this rapid-fire implementation. What's more, DAGC'S officers serve two-year terms, and we wanted those present at the start of the process to still be in office when it was completed. Finally, we had undertaken planning efforts before with discouraging results; we believed that if we achieved this quickly, we wouldn't lose momentum as an organization.

Getting ready

Before the first meeting, staff gathered detailed information relevant to goal setting, planning, and bylaws, and distributed it to committee members so that they would arrive informed and ready to start. In DAGC'S case, this information included a history of the organization, an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, demographic studies, environmental scans of the community we serve, census statistics, and results of member surveys.

Each planning session was unique (see sidebar, "The DAGC Timetable"). The first session provided an opportunity for everyone to air philosophical differences, become familiar with the history of the organization, and obtain some perspective on future directions.

Members of the committee really got to know one another and began to work as a unit. It took a great deal of time-most of the day-to develop a clear, easily understood, easy-to-remember mission statement. It reads: The purpose of the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland is to improve the quality of life of people with diabetes and their families by providing education and information, by supporting research, and by encouraging emotional well-being.

With that completed, we were over the major hurdle. We moved on to formulate 10 organizational goals related to education, emotional support, referral services, research, a camp for children with diabetes, health and social issues, fund-raising, and cost-effectiveness.

Joint ownership

It's important to remember that a strategic plan belongs to the total organization, not only to the staff or the executive committee. A plan only works if everyone involved buys in. Consequently, each member of DAGC'S strategic planning committee went back to the people working in each program area and asked them to look at the mission statement, goals, and objectives.

When they met the second time, the committee members came prepared to look at each program's viability in view of the community's needs and DAGC'S available resources. This review wasn't just a willy-nilly, Well, we'll do this this year, and we'll do something else next year." Rather, these leaders said, "Now we have a five-year plan, and this is what we hope to accomplish this year." Recommendations included the introduction of new programs as well as the reformulation and elimination of others.

It is really difficult for people to accept change, especially when everything a charitable or philanthropic organization does is considered important. Reviewing data within the context of an overall mission helps volunteers make the tough decisions in a businesslike manner, yet retain the support of their constituents. As part of the strategic planning process, DAGC developed ways to measure how effectively we're fulfilling our mission. For instance, we track every phone call to determine the number of inquiries for medical information, referral information, dietary information, and so forth. We conduct program evaluations, administer tests before and after seminars to determine effectiveness of instruction, and track contributions and memberships. We also develop a profile of the people who support DAGC financially.

Decisions, not debates

If you operate without a strategic plan, confusion may arise every time your organization wants to provide a new program or service or take advantage of an opportunity. Your board will have to debate the merits of a program and review the organization's financial ability to provide it. Without a mission, without goals, without objectives, you and your elected leaders cannot make those decisions efficiently or appropriately. Board meetings will become long and tedious, with much superfluous discussion and debate; people will leave feeling distressed or discouraged by wasted time.

A strategic plan is a framework for eliminating cumbersome or outdated programs and trying new ones. A strategic plan keeps your organization fresh, growing, and moving forward.

Tips for Strategic Planning

Several suggestions proved useful as the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland (DAGC) began its strategic planning process.

* Learn all you con about strategic planning. Attend workshops and seminars, and read everything you can find. Talk to colleagues who have developed long-range plans to find out what went well and what they would do differently.

* Select the committee carefully. When you feel comfortable with what needs to be done, sit down with your top elected leaders and determine the composition of the strategic planning committee. DAGC drew its 12member committee from the board of directors and included past, present, and future leaders. The latter group is critical to the long-term success of a strategic plan; once the plan is developed, the future leaders carry it out.

* Get expert assistance. Select a facilitator to lead your organization through the strategic planning process and to help review and revise the plan periodically. DAGC initially relied on its elected president to facilitate planning, but the time commitment-in addition to his other responsibilities-proved too great.

An outside expert has the advantage of being able to keep the group on course and serve as an impartial mediator when conflict or controversy arises. Also, using an outside facilitator allows you and your staff to freely participate in the planning effort and not worry about the dynamics of the session.

* Control costs by using in-house resources. DAGC took on the majority of the clerical work generated by the planning process and relied on staff members and volunteers to identify and track down relevant information. The person who handled legislative affairs also gathered specific demographic data; a board member who also served on the city council was tapped for numbers related to the community at large.

* Determine the outcome you want. Before beginning the planning process, talk with your facilitator about the type of final document you expect. Do you simply want to establish a mission, goals, and objectives? Would you like those goals and objectives ranked by priority and weighed against available resources? Do you also want an operational plan that states when and how these goals and objectives will be met?

The DAGC Timetable

The Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland didn't want its strategic planning process to become a long, drawn-out, and possibly discouraging activity. Once DAGC'S board of directors had approved the concept and selected a facilitator, the association developed and stuck to a nine-month timetable to sustain momentum.

First meeting. The 12 members of the strategic planning committee, supplied in advance with background information and statistics, arrived at the initial meeting prepared to formulate an association mission and develop goals to support that mission.

This was the most important part: Participants discussed and sometimes argued about the directions the organization should take. Although nearly half of the full-day session was spent laboring over words and philosophies, we emerged with a clear mission statement and a list of goals.

Second meeting. During this halfday session, the strategic planning committee broke down into smaller groups, each assigned a particular goal and charged with developing objectives to achieve that goal. We then came together and as a group reviewed all the goals and objectives, assigned priority rankings, and decided which ones were viable given.

Your resources.

Every existing program came under scrutiny: Was it appropriate to the goals and the mission statement? Should it be continued? Should we add new programs? How many can you add? Do we need more staff?

Where will the resources for new programs come from? After this session, with its trade-offs and compromises, committee members began to understand the complete organizational picture.

Third meeting. During this half day session, committee members reviewed and approved the operational plan step-by-step to ensure that they all agreed with and supported it.

Presentation to executive committee The strategic planning committee presented each goal and objective to the executive committee, supplying the necessary background information. This gave committee members the opportunity to recognize what they had achieved and contributed to the organizational process. Following some fine-tuning of the detailed implementation plan, the strategic plan went to the board of directors for final approval.

We scheduled the meetings approximately 2 1/2 months apart so staff and committee members had time to compile information and prepare between sessions. DAGC completed the entire process in less than one year.

DAGC reviews and revises its plan every two years, shortly after its newly elected president takes office; for continuity, the immediate past president continues to serve on the strategic planning committee as the plan's monitor.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland; includes related articles
Author:Fader, Harriet L.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Getting fired.
Next Article:Meeting abroad.

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