A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Put Your Plans into Action – Not on the Shelf

I once sat on the board of a nonprofit organization that had undertaken what eventually became an award-winning planning process for its property holdings. This effort engaged all staff and board and generated lots of creative energy from the surrounding community.

Within a couple months after completing the plan, staff recommended a capital improvement inconsistent with the still-fresh blueprint for the property. A lively board conversation ensued, and funds were eventually approved for a project that fell outside of the approved plan!

How does your foundation avoid falling into a behavior more common in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector than we would like to admit?

To achieve greater impact with your resources, you may be pursuing a full strategic plan, or perhaps looking to focus on a limited set of interest areas to fund. Or maybe you’re thinking about how to apply your giving in different ways to issues you care about. In any case, planning deliberations will take time, energy, and dollars.

Here are some ways you can retain the value of that investment and avoid having your plans end up on the shelf.

  • Your planning effort isn’t finished until you make an action plan. Determine how you will implement what you agreed to do, regardless of how large or small the plan is. Commit to how you will proceed by being clear on what specific action steps will be taken, when, and by whom.
  • Don’t sabotage your good work by taking on everything at once. It’s not unusual for boards and staff to get excited about the potential of what could be accomplished. Balance that excitement with the reality of available time and resource by prioritizing and sequencing actions that are most important to what you want to achieve.
  • Ensure ongoing commitment to the plan’s implementation by keeping your agreements visibly front-and-center. Think about including a written summary of your agreements in board and committee meeting materials. Build in an on-going agenda item at meetings to check in on your progress. Post your plan in the office, share regular email updates with each other on what is being completed, and celebrate each milestone that is met.
  • Revisit your plan and your agreements regularly. Schedule periodic check-ins among board and staff to ask “how are we doing” with our plan and action steps. Are our agreements still current and relevant to meet our needs? Have circumstances changed in the organization or in the community that call for revising what we are doing? What have we learned from our implementation efforts that may necessitate fine-tuning?

The nature of philanthropy means many interesting ideas come our way, and the push/pull of the next “shiny new thing” is always tempting. But our resources and time are limited. If your foundation works to focus its efforts at any scale through thoughtful deliberation and planning, use these suggestions to stay the course and increase the chances that you will achieve greater impact.

Jeffrey M. Glebocki is President of The Raymond John Wean Foundation in the Youngstown/Warren area of Northeast Ohio. The Wean Foundation is a highly proactive grantmaker and catalyst for community change with a focus on working with economically disadvantaged people and neighborhoods. Jeff is a member of ASF’s Member Services Committee.

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