by Molly Penn
Strategic Planning is a term that gets used fairly frequently, but not always to refer to the same work. As an example, lately we’ve gotten requests for strategic plans ranging from budgets of $15,000 to $150,000. This describes a completely different scope of work. Consulting is a time-driven business – we charge for our time, based on our levels of experience and expertise. Literally translated, this means that if your budget is $15,000 you are buying much less time than if your budget is $150,000. So how does this translate to different products and processes in the end?
What Makes a Plan Strategic?
What makes a plan strategic is that it takes into account what is happening in the larger context around the organization (see our other post on How to Research Your Market). The pandemic and social justice movements are perfect examples of things that are happening societally that will exert influence on how organizations have to operate. Other examples might include the state of need in your community, to what degree there are other services available to serve that need, the level of competition for funding, etc. The way in which you gather this information can make a world of difference in how well informed your strategy is. So obviously, a lower budget affords less time to engage in gathering this kind of information. With a budget of $15,000, we facilitate a meeting with internal stakeholders and ask them what they see happening in the world that we’ll want to take into consideration. With a budget of $150,000, we document these trends and analyze them for our clients.
Another thing that makes a plan strategic is that it is based on the perspectives and needs of those you serve, and it takes into consideration what your funders and donors want from you, your place in your field, and conversations with your clients. At the more robust end of the budget, we speak to dozens of stakeholders, we run community focus groups (see our other post on How to Engage Your Stakeholders). We convene Accountability Circles – groups of those you serve who tell you what they need most from your organization. We document the themes from these conversations so your internal stakeholder thinking is deeply informed by the voices and perspectives of your community. This is not just a budgetary calculation – the extent to which you devote time and attention to gathering the right data correlates to greater levels of trust from your community, and greater levels of confidence from your funders.
What Does It Take to Make A Plan?
Once information on your environment is gathered and analyzed (another area where you are paying for expertise), the planning process is about convening a series of meetings with internal stakeholders (board and staff) to use that information to determine what the organization will prioritize in the years ahead (see our other post on How to Create Strong Strategic Plan Goals). This phase involves expert facilitation to ensure the conversations are engaging, productive and inclusive of diverse points of view. We are trained in the Technology of Participation, which thinks about this in terms of the rational aim – what you need to achieve or decide in each meeting; and the experiential aim – what you want people to get from the experience. What this draws attention to is that planning actually has two distinct benefits to the organization that need to be acknowledged and considered simultaneously: the benefit of producing a plan that clarifies organizational direction and priorities in the years ahead; and the benefit of getting all the internal stakeholders aligned around this common sense of direction. While we’ve used the phrase “a series of meetings” to describe the bulk of the strategic planning process, this blog post gives you a greater sense of all the steps involved (and there are many).
Action Planning and Financials
This is an area that some organizations want and others don’t. Does your organization need detailed implementation plans, or are you more comfortable managing to a strategic framework, but having the freedom to adapt your actions within that framework? Does your board need a detailed understanding of what the plans are going to cost? For some boards, they won’t take a plan seriously that does not have financial projections. For others, they are comfortable to manage the organizations budgeting and financials internally. These are things to clarify internally because if you need them included in the strategic plan consultancy, that adds to the cost.
Things to Consider in Budgeting for a Strategic Plan
If you are thinking of doing strategic planning, it’s useful to review the below benefits to see which ones might apply to your organization. The more that apply, the higher the value of the project is to your organization.
- Having all internal stakeholders feel heard
- Aligning internal stakeholders around shared aspirations and directions
- Building an internal sense of community
- Strong project management with periodic updates to share internally
- Clarifying priorities for the years ahead
- Building trust with those you serve and within your community
- Understanding your role in the market – and assess opportunities for partnerships, collaborations or mergers
- Helping board members better understand your business model
- Showing funders that your strategy is rooted in the voices of your community
- Articulating for funders and donors where you are headed and why that is important
We are adept at scaling our services to meet (almost) any budget size, but it is important to understand what you get at different levels of investment. A good rule of thumb, particularly if you are seeking funding for a strategic plan, is to assume $75,000 – $125,000 for a well-researched, thoughtful process that engages all of your stakeholders and produces a plan that clarifies future direction and action. When in doubt, talk to us! We’re happy to talk you through some of these considerations.