Strategic planning, simplified.

A strategy + plan template for growth-stage social ventures

Portrait of Kevin Brown, Co-founder & CEO of Mighty Ally

KEVIN BROWN

Strategic planning shouldn’t be so complicated. The discipline is a straightforward concept dating back to ancient Greeks.

The term strategy comes from the word strategos, which meant ‘general of the army.’ Each Greek tribe had a strategos who advised on managing battles to win the war. In other words, big-picture thinking.

Managing soldiers to win said battles was important too. The Greeks called this tactica, ‘the art of maneuvering forces in combat.’ Or, taking action based on strategy. We now call this tactics.

But over time, strategic planning has lost this dual-sided power of strategos plus tactica.

Here’s the brief evolution.

In the 1920s, the Harvard Policy Model became one of the first strategic planning methodologies for private businesses. By the 1960s, more frameworks emerged and strategic planning was a standard management tool for most companies in the world. And in the 1980s, the process entered the public and social sectors.

By this point, strategic planning had largely shifted into an exercise driven by executives. Not those responsible for getting the job done.

So brands often ended up with big dreams, but no mechanisms to realize their potential.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

SUN TZU, THE ART OF WAR

Effects on social ventures.

This bias toward thinking vs. doing makes strategic planning for nonprofits and social enterprises complex and ineffective. Because plans wind up all strategy, no tactics. This dynamic surely contributes to the fact that only one in 1,000 social venture brands will scale beyond a small business.

We once had a nonprofit client whose strategic plan consisted of eight separate elements of a 2030 vision – which were notably different than the organization’s master vision statement. The plan had five big-picture goals within each of the eight vision elements. And 4-6 sub-goals within each big picture goal. It had another five “key areas” – none of which laddered up or down to the visions, goals, or sub-goals. And none of the objectives were measurable. Objectives were riddled with buzzwords and vague descriptions of “We know we’ll be successful when…”

Whew.

What’s telling is that in the year plus we worked with them, I can’t remember a single team member mentioning that plan. Much less using it to make decisions.

We’ve all seen this type of strat plan. The one that gets way too much time and attention, a fancy graphic design, and is shared with funders… then collects dust on the shelf. It’s neither actionable nor measurable.

But consultants have made an industry out of facilitating these processes. And board members love them. Because they’re able to meet for off-sites, talk about the future, and feel important about their contribution – without having to dirty their hands turning vision into action.

For those on the hook for said action – the CEOs, Executive Directors, and leadership teams – a new way of strategic planning is desperately needed. A framework that combines strategos and tactica. Thinking and programming. Committing and calculating. Formation and implementation. Agility and accountability. Strategy and planning.

Because anyone can set a strategy. But a lot fewer can map out the plan to get there.

“A new way of strategic planning is desperately needed. A framework that combines strategos and tactica. Thinking and programming. Committing and calculating. Formation and implementation. Agility and accountability. Strategy and planning.”

MIGHTY ALLY

Mighty Ally strategic plan overview.

We’ve spent years using and abusing all the different strategic planning formats out there. From Gazelles’ One Page Strategic Plan to Paterson StratOp, and McKinsey’s 7S Framework to EOS. But no standard existed for nonprofits and social enterprises. So we took inspiration from the private sector and contextualized these models for growth-stage social ventures.

But we’ll admit it: this isn’t rocket science. Thought-provoking and demanding, sure. But hard to understand? No.

The magic isn’t in the strategic plan format itself. The power comes from the boldness of vision, the strength of the ideas, and the ability to see the small stepping stones that get you from here to there. Plus the clarity of communication and frequency of reinforcement.

A good strat plan follows the same rules as brand positioning: say NO more than you say YES. Because you can’t do everything.

On that note, our framework purposefully uses a Google Slides template, because it forces brevity. No getting away with Word docs that scroll endlessly. Nobody has time to read dozens of pages. Plus, that allows for lazy articulation. We aim for one slide per topic, max.

And you don’t need a letter at the front. If you want to communicate growth or achievements to your constituents, write an impact report or send an email campaign. Everybody reading your strategic plan should know your history. This isn’t the place for a rewind. And if (since!) this document is short enough, you don’t need an executive summary at the beginning.

Here is what you do need. A good strategic plan is two parts, with five steps each. Download the free template below for details.

PART 1 – THINKING

The strategy

  1. Core values
  2. Right people, right seats
  3. Winning moves
  4. Proven process
  5. 3-year picture

PART 2 – DOING

The plan

  1. Annual goals
  2. Quarterly priorities
  3. Internal comms
  4. Organizational KPIs
  5. Funding & sales

Free strategic plan template.

Ready to get to work on your nonprofit or social enterprise strategic plan? Use our template to begin.

A final note.

It’s worth a reminder that strat planning is different from program design or product development. This process is about the organization, not services or offers within. Those products and programs also need strategy and planning – but that’s another topic.

The strategy of your strategic plan (part one) takes a couple of months to determine and document. And this will typically last you a few years. Each year, however, the annual planning process is where you determine and document the plan (part two) to execute the strategy. You do this shorter-term planning every year – based on the longer-term strategy – hence the annual name.

If you’ve already completed your strategy and you’re ready for the plan, check out our popular annual planning blog post where you’ll learn how to avoid the typical pitfalls.

Kathleen presenting at a Barefoot Republic Workshop

STRATEGIC PLANNING FACILITATION

Still need help? Strategic planning is typically included in our consulting engagements. But we can also join you as a facilitator and partner to produce the strat plan itself, on a one-off basis.

DELIVERABLES INCLUDE:

  • Audit of existing strategic plans

  • Individual participant preparation

  • Group workshop facilitation (virtual)

  • Production of strategic plan document

  • Leadership consulting on implementation

All on a sliding scale fee, based on your annual turnover.

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