As an Executive Director a Strategic Plan was critical in ensuring my organization stayed aligned with the North Star of our mission and helped us set or re-set our sights in a changing universe. Nonetheless strategic planning demanded capacity I did not have.

As a consultant I now have the capacity and am supporting Executive Directors who do not have the time or the bandwidth to take it on. To all the NFP leaders out there, how can we reframe from beleaguered to eager when it comes to strategic planning?

To help organize your thoughts and motivate you to take on this important task, let’s review the five simple C’s of strategic planning.

Tip #1: Committee. Create a strategic planning committee of board members and the Executive Director. Design the project plan from seeking input to the strategic planning session itself. Board members can alleviate the stress on the Executive Director. Ensure the right and big questions get asked, such as “Is the mission still the North Star”? “Is the vision still relevant?”

Tip #2: Clients. Seek input in a format that befits your budget. The best recommendation for quality feedback is a series of “reference panels” over three to five sessions in which clients receive information, make hard choices, and generate recommendations framed within a set of values aligned with the values of the organization.

Tip #3: Consult staff! If people don’t feel heard, they won’t feel invested. Staff deserve to be thought of as a resource instead of a risk. Their voices are a powerful indication that a strategic plan can is achievable. Steve Jobs once said that “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people.” On the last day of a strategic planning retreat Steve Jobs would ask his senior team “What are the ten things we should be doing next?” There would be  jockeying for the top ten. He also trained his team to focus. Biographer Walter Isaacson reports Jobs would then slash the top ten to seven and announce, “we can only do three.”

Tip #4: Commit to action! Create an implementation plan. Set metrics. Determine who’s accountable and by when. And ensure that the Board reviews progress regularly and quarterly at a minimum.

Tip #5: Consultant. Hire a facilitator/consultant who has served as an Executive Director or CEO. Lived experience counts. And check references for strategic planning asking if they are personable, open and can quickly synthesize information from diverse sources. The Osborne Group often works with nonprofits with limited resources and using our experience can offer advice that focuses on a client’s most pressing needs.

In closing, the only other advice I can offer is to dream big but be realistic in what you can achieve and how quickly. It can be demoralizing to have an endless list of strategies that are not attainable or trackable. Strategic planning is as much about what you cannot do (scope creep) as what you can. And if you ever need guidance, reach out to myself or my colleagues at The Osborne Group. We care and have been in your shoes!

Judy Fantham is a principal with The Osborne Group who relishes turnaround projects and interim executive roles with nonprofit organizations.