Strategic Planning for Volunteer Programs

strategic planning

My blog is a bit late this week because I’ve been doing a deep dive into strategic planning for my business. Reviewing the wins and loses from my past year, and getting my plans and goals for next year down on paper.

I love doing strategic planning sessions, even if it is just with myself. I love figuring out the best ways to do what I need to do to help my clients move forward with their missions.

So, with the subject being top of mind for me, this last blog of 2022 (I’m going to take some time off, and I hope you get to, too!) is going to focus on strategic planning for volunteer programs.

Why do it?

I’ve been reading a book called Transforming Nokia by Risto Siilasmaa, the chairperson who saved Nokia from bankruptcy. One piece of advice he gives is to focus first on the “why” questions. Otherwise you may end up doing things that aren’t aligned with your mission.

So, why would you do a strategic planning session for your volunteer program? Because doing so forces you to look closely at what you’re doing and why. It keeps you on track. And it gives you the chance to look into the future, so you can be prepared to either deal with challenges or take advantage of opportunities.

Who should be involved in the strategic planning?

Have representatives of the various stakeholders. Yourself as the leader of the program, a representative of any staff who work with the volunteers; a representative or two of the volunteers, a representative of your clients.

Six people to eight people is what I recommend, depending on the size of the program. Fewer than that and you won’t get enough viewpoints. Much more than that can mean that some voices don’t get heard or things can slide into side conversations and irrelevancies. Ask me how I know!

Be thoughtful about whom you invite from each group. You want people who are willing to speak up and give their opinions, but who are also open-minded and willing to listen to others.

Don’t shy away from disagreement – that’s often where the best ideas come from – but have consensus before you move on.

For the rest of this blog, when I say “you”, I’m referring to everyone involved in the strategic planning.

Start the strategic planning process by debriefing the past year.

What were your wins? What successes did you have? Take a look at your stats and celebrate the things that went well. New programs added, increased numbers of clients served, etc. What did you do that made these so successful, and how can you duplicate them?

What lessons did you learn? Name the things that didn’t go so well, and figure out why. What things did you try that you won’t do in exactly that way again? By looking at why something didn’t work, you can save the baby when you throw out the bathwater. If you just say “we won’t do that again!” without knowing why it failed, you could lose the germ of a brilliant idea.

What relationships did you create/strengthen? All industries, but the social impact sector especially, runs on people. What people did you meet that have helped, or can help, you? What people did you already know, but have built stronger ties with? And don’t discount people who can’t assist the program directly. Just having good relations with the community helps in so many ways.

Do a SWOT analysis.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal. Things that are done well or poorly within the program. Opportunities and threats are outside forces that you can either make a plan to take advantage of, or make a plan for avoiding or mitigating.

Compare where you are to your vision/ideal state.

Are you closer to your vision? If not, what got in the way? What do you need to do over the next twelve months to get you closer? Where do you want to be by the end of the next year? When you know where you want to be, you can set goals to get there. As the Cheshire Cat told Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “if you don’t have a destination, any road will take you there.” (I’m paraphrasing!)

Set SMART goals.

Once you know where you want to be, set goals that will take you there. Just as when I drive from home in Kamloops to Vancouver, I know I have to go through Merritt, Hope and Langley before I get there. They are the goals I need to achieve before I reach my final destination. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (to the mission) and time-bound. If the goals that you come up with match these criteria, you are far more likely to achieve them.

List the first steps toward each of the goals.

I have seen over and over again a team do great strategic planning, come up with fantastic goals, then set them aside and never move on them. In many cases, this is because the goal they set, while it was attainable, seemed overwhelming. People didn’t know where to start, so they didn’t start at all. While you’re together, take the time to figure out the first step or two toward each goal. Once the first steps have been taken, momentum builds and most things will go forward. Breaking larger goals into smaller tasks is a program-saver!

Your strategic planning is done. Celebrate!

This is often forgotten. All the work is done, and everyone is tired. Too often people just drag themselves home and hope that they don’t get called on for the next session!  Do something to celebrate your achievement. Go out for lunch, or treat yourselves in some other way. Relax and take the time to be proud of what you’ve done. It’s an accomplishment worth being proud of! So celebrate it!

This is my last blog until January 11th. I wish the very best for you and your loved ones now and in the new year. Hugs!