You will find this article from Blue Avocado very helpful in your nonprofit’s strategic planning, especially during COVID.
by Joe Hnat on August 18, 2020
When I joined a nonprofit five years ago, I observed during our annual budgeting that we rarely launched new ventures or events. We were marching along the “status quo” path and the conditions for our clients, staff, and donors weren’t improving. Something was not right.
What was I missing? Well, simply a plan.
A roadmap, by definition, is a strategic plan that defines a desired outcome and includes the major steps or milestones needed to reach it. With input from a few board members, we developed a method to create a roadmap, which soon became the precursor for the annual budgeting meeting.
A few board members facilitated the roadmap workshop, and all board members and some staff attended. If there are some delicate topics to consider, an option is to have a non-biased facilitator.
The workshop will require six to eight hours of your board and staff’s time. To be effective, the workshop should require the following:
- A facilitator who can keep the team on track and promote good inclusion by acknowledging and encouraging engagement with all the topics shared
- A scribe who can take detailed notes (use a computer or just handwrite on paper or a dry erase board)
- Participants who are attentive and ready with ideas—participants should be very familiar with the budget, know the nonprofit’s history, and stay current on events
- Two to three board members to collect data (i.e., number of clients served, monthly financials, client demographics) one to two months before the workshop; distribute the data ahead of the workshop to start the ideation process
Creating the Roadmap
The main roadmap comprises of the following areas:
- Current State
- Ideal State
- Gap Analysis
- Future State
- Three- to Five-Year Schedule
- Action Register
- Parking Lot Ideas
“Theme” is focused on developing a few words that define your mission statement and your three- to five-year plan. The emphasis here is to have a theme that resonates with all board members and staff involved in the exercise. This part is important as it will help “jazz” up the team in brainstorming ideas for the “Future State” and “Ideal State” sections. Spend 20-30 minutes.
“Current State” calls for the brutal honesty of assessing your nonprofit. We provided input on What is going well? and What could be better? You can select other methods, like a flow diagram or questions to document your current state. Take the opportunity to get detailed with data and measurements. I suggest limiting this section to 30-60 minutes. Too much data (and honesty) could have the team spinning negatively on current state. It’s a good idea to limit time and move onto the next section.
“Ideal State” involves your thoughts on what your nonprofit might be in a perfect world. How would your nonprofit look? Whom would you serve? What things or activities would not exist today? What are the numbers in revenue/expenses? Do you expand or contract? Each team member should be brainstorming ideas and asking questions to improve a submitted idea. Spend about 30-45 minutes.
“Gap Analysis” is a comparison of the “Current State” and “Ideal State.” Identify the gaps and determine how you can get to the “Ideal State.” Is it resources, like people (more volunteers or certain skills)? Is it money? Is it missing data that will help you change behaviors? Document the list and use this in Section 5 – “Future State” and Section 7 – “Action Register.” Spend 45 minutes.
An example of a gap analysis:
“Future State” is your vision on what your nonprofit will look like in the next two to three years. You won’t be at that “Ideal State.” You’ll be somewhere in-between, and you need to think about realistic plans for this section. Review your “Current State” and “Ideal State” to address a middle ground. What actions do you need to take to support the “Gap Analysis”? Spend about 60-90 minutes.
“Three to Five-Year Schedule” involves listing activities and enablers in each year, for as far out as you can. Our initial roadmap only resulted in a two-year outlook. As your board members and staff experience this process, the outlook can be as far as five years. Examples of activities might be special projects, research, facility expansion/maintenance, or performance-specific goals. Enablers are items that will help you complete the activities. Examples are specific committees, grants, new resources, or community partnerships. Spend 60-90 minutes.
An example of a three- to five-year schedule:
“Action Register” lists actions recorded during the exercise. Specify the activity, resources, supporting actions, and time frame. You might have 10 actions or 50 actions. If the list is too long, prioritize based on impact and cost. Also, try to share the workload. Don’t give all the actions to Joe because he always gets things done. Get everyone involved. This will create an environment of teamwork that will ignite the energy to get to your three- to five-year objective. Spend 30-45 minutes.
You could create a table like this one:
“Parking Lot Ideas” are ideas shared during the workshop that were considered good ideas (maybe “off the wall”), but were not added to the “Future State.” The list is documented and stored for review at future roadmap workshops. Capture these ideas throughout the workshop and spend ten minutes documenting the ideas.
Our first roadmap workshop was incredibly successful. Our team was excited and uncovered many difficult topics during the discussion. The process of brainstorming, documenting ideas, and keeping on track was somewhat difficult, but there was a very positive feeling afterwards on seeing a two- to three-year plan. Our first roadmap energized us for the next two years and provided direction for new and existing board members and nonprofit staff. We currently schedule a roadmap update every November. This supports annual budget meetings in December and the annual event calendar.
I encourage you to have a three- to five-year plan—call it a roadmap or something else. In the end, aligning to a plan will help synchronize the board and nonprofit staff to your mission. Good luck!