Question: I am the senior executive of a nonprofit organization that adopted a new strategic plan last year. With the many program changes and financial adjustments that my organization has had to make as result of the pandemic, our strategic plan now seems less relevant. Should we scrap last year’s strategic plan and start over with a new one?
Answer: Although this sounds counter-intuitive, as of now the answer is no. The world around us is still changing in unexpected ways with unprecedented volatility. Nonprofits are continuing to learn to pivot and adapt to new approaches. The best way to measure performance and outcomes and communicate on management’s actions taken is to compare results and changes to your old strategic plan.
I have given a lot of thought to this question because it surfaces a lot at all levels of an organization, from the Board and leadership to the staff. We must expect that most of the strategic plans currently in place will not come close to anticipating the current environment and level of disruption, so your organization is not alone in this situation.
Even though your old (or perhaps not so old) strategic plan is probably not relevant anymore, it can nonetheless provide a very useful framework to explain how recent strategies deployed by senior management were used to navigate this disruptive environment. In other words, your old strategic plan will serve nicely as a benchmark to show how proactive management decisions were adapted to new initiatives, changing mission delivery circumstances (e.g., virtual events), and the changing needs of funders and the communities and causes served by your organization.
The other way to view this question is to ask: “Is this the right time to consider a new strategic plan?” For now, the timing is not right. There is still too much volatility and unpredictability. So, by default the current Board-approved strategic plan will have to stay in place. In fact, even as we move through the phases of pre-recovery to true recovery, the time will still not be right to consider a new strategic plan. Only when we finally get to a new and stable normal phase (when we are able to see the future with more clarity) can we begin to put the pieces together for a new strategic plan.
Planning Tip – It is best to communicate to your Board, leadership, and staff sooner rather than later about the relevance and status of your strategic plan. The message should be that, although the old strategic plan might not be the best fit right now, it is too soon to consider a new strategic plan. Explain how you will use the old strategic plan to measure how you have pivoted (and will continue to pivot) to changing circumstances, showing the pluses, minuses, and changes adopted to show progress and action. A new strategic plan can be considered after life returns to a more stable, post-recovery time.
Having a strategic plan is an accepted best practice. You do not want to discard your old strategic plan until you can replace it with a new one. For now, you should be patient and wait for a more stable and predictable time period in the future when you will be in a better position to build a new strategic plan.
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