4imprint, LLC

Often seen as the perfect way to breathe new life into an organization or focus a nonprofit’s vision, strategic plans are used to create a roadmap in order for an organization to achieve its mission. This roadmap for the future, if done well and comprehensively, outlines goals, action steps, timelines and resources.To develop these plans, most organizations hold strategic planning sessions often led by a facilitation professional. Sessions usually involve staff members, board members and stakeholders and range in length based on the scope of the session from a half day to several days.

It’s quite likely that your nonprofit is considering a strategic planning session, has conducted one in the past or will be organizing one in the future. We’ve pulled together some tips to make sure your next session is productive and constructive.

  1. Create buy-in and prep stakeholders
    Identify for stakeholders why a strategic planning session is necessary and seek to build buy-in by obtaining feedback regarding the session’s desired outcomes. Then, prepare them by providing a folder of information that may include some of the following: your organization’s mission, vision and core values; the past strategic planning session’s documentation; information about the facilitator; the session’s agenda; and a list of all participants.
  2. Select the appropriate venue
    If possible, hold sessions in a neutral location—away from the organization’s offices—to assist people’s perceptions that the session’s outcome is not pre-determined. Other environmental factors should also be considered when selecting the session’s location: adequate and attractive lighting, sufficient wall space to hang large Post-it® notes or flip chart paper, and ample space to stretch or walk around during break times. Your stakeholders will be more engaged and appreciative if these simple needs and considerations are addressed.
  3. Begin with a social hour to prepare attendees for conversation
    Begin planning sessions with beverages and a light meal or appetizers to help participants connect or introduce themselves to one another before planning begins, thereby building rapport that will help communication and collaboration throughout the remainder of the session. Pass out Butter Mints or Sugar Free Mint Cards and begin pouring coffee just before the facilitation begins to signal that it’s time to move on with the session.
  4. Provide materials
    Make everything available to participants that they may need throughout the session—hunting down pens, paper, or working markers is not time well-spent. Make sure each small group has plenty of supplies.
  5. Focus on small-group activities and report out
    Break participants into small groups to create a better opportunity for everyone to have a voice and build consensus. It is also arguably easier for participants to stay focused and interested when working with fewer people.
  6. Make directions clear
    Minimize misunderstandings by making all directions of activities clear—even posting them on an easel pad, a white board or projector until the task has been completed. A facilitator will also help in mitigating confusion by walking around the room from group to group to make sure everyone is on task and on target, asking questions or providing clarification when necessary.
  7. Keep an eye on the clock
    Deliver on what was promised in the agenda within the specified time period referenced on the agenda. Participants are likely to be exhausted after hours of planning, even with breaks. Consider timers or small clocks to keep groups conscious of the time and assign a timekeeper in each small group to ensure all bases are covered.
  8. End with decisions
    Finally, end your planning sessions with clear decisions on how to move forward with the actual plan and do your best to make sure that all participants are on the same page and happy about the conclusions reached through the planning sessions. Then and only then are you on your way to a successful plan!
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