Thursday, September 29, 2016

Annual Planning Prevents Frustration in Nonprofits

In my work at One Street as an on-call coach for leaders of nonprofit bicycle organizations, I often hear frustration from jumping between unrelated tasks. Each day, these nonprofit leaders find themselves running after new opportunities and never get the chance to carry anything through.

In the morning, they might start on a new grant proposal that shifts their work into the grantor’s expectations then have to dash across town to have lunch with a potential partner who wants them to add a children’s bike safety program to their work. Once they get back to the office, they have to return calls and emails from enthusiastic people wanting them to improve particular streets for bicycling or needing their help responding to a car/bike crash. By the time they leave for the day, they’ve accomplished nothing.

Frustrating days like these turning into months, and even years, become a recipe for burnout and are often the reason that talented leaders leave their organizations.

Whenever I hear stories of frustration like this, my first question is whether they have an annual plan, also known as a work plan and budget. Most often, the answer is no. Without an annual plan that clarifies exactly what the organization needs to accomplish that year, with no more than three defined categories of programs, leaders and staff will be scattered just like the scenario about. But with an annual plan, they can filter out inappropriate grants and guide donors and supporters to help with their current efforts instead of diverting them.

In Cures for Ailing Organizations, I devote a section to annual planning because of its high importance. Here’s how I start that section:

“Planning is the most important responsibility for you and your fellow leaders because no one else will do it. Without a plan, you will waste enormous amounts of time and money dabbling in random activities and will likely lose many potential leaders and helpers along the way. No one stays around long without an effective plan.

There are two types of planning you as leaders have to engage in: long-term planning and annual planning. Briefly, long-term planning creates a clear picture well into the future, including what your community will look like after your work is done. Your mission statement drives all of it. You will read more about long-term planning later.

Annual planning, as the name implies, takes place every year and maps out specific activities toward your long-term goals. Near the end of each year at a special meeting, at least half a day long, you and your fellow leaders will examine your expectations for the past year compared to what actually happened. Using this reality check, you will work together to develop your work plan and budget for the coming year. Reference your long-term plan to ensure that the details you outline for the year will follow the shortest and most effective path toward your mission and general goals…”

This is the time of year to begin scheduling your annual planning meeting. Contact all of your board members and your management-level staff to find out when they can set aside a full day in November or early December. Don’t wait, because if you can’t find a day within that timeframe that works for everyone, you’ll hit the holidays and miss your chance to finish your plan by the end of the year. Once you succeed, you can keep this system going for all future years to prevent frustration of wasted time and ensure your organization is causing positive change.


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