Susan Detwiler is the President of The Detwiler Group and an expert at helping organizational leaders craft actionable strategic plans in line with their vision, mission and values. In this post, she shares what she’s learned about helping organizations during seasons when everything goes haywire.
Planning When Everything Goes Haywire
by Susan Detwiler, The Detwiler Group
People talk about how important it is for a strategic plan to have a timeline and accountability. And they’re right. But it’s just as important for the plans to be flexible and to have a process for modifying them. That’s why the first step in planning is so important. It’s the guiding force for all the decisions that have to be made while you’re planning, and the north star for when crises hit or opportunities arise. That seminal step is finding your vision.
Vision isn’t what your organization does. It’s what the community will be like when you succeed. It is deciding who that community is, so you know whose needs, beliefs and experiences you have to take into account with each decision.
If you’re a museum, your vision might be that each ethnic group within your city feels represented by your museum. Your plans might include special programming, pursuing particular partnerships, exhibiting work by local artists, broadening your hiring. But now your museum is closed because of the pandemic. You can’t have indoor programming or exhibits.
But your community remains the same and so does your vision. What will change is the path you take to that vision. Instead of asking “how can we have exhibits?”, you can ask, “in these new circumstances, what can we do to make each ethnic group within our city feel represented?” When the Black Lives Matter protests engulfed their locked down city, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia realized that they could still serve their community and show that Black people are welcome. Their photography exhibit “From the Root to the Fruit: Black Fathers and Their Children” was projected onto the outdoor walls of their building.
If you’re a social service agency providing counseling services, your vision might be that no person, regardless of circumstances, goes without the counseling they need. Your plans might be to open offices in every county, build partnerships with organizations that can transport clients, arrange for service vouchers through the state government. Then the pandemic hits and people are in shut-down. It’s unsafe to take buses. Many of your clients are vulnerable, so even if the state opens up, they don’t want to leave their homes. You no longer need those offices in other counties.
But the vision remains the same, and so does your community. What changes is the path you take to that vision. You ask
“given the circumstances, what can we offer to our vulnerable population? What do they need? What are they feeling?”
Jewish Family Services of Delaware – and counseling centers across the country – discovered that counseling through telemedicine was one answer. In fact, they found that counseling over video links was often more successful than traditional counseling. Fewer clients missed their sessions; the clients were in comfortable settings in their own homes, where they felt more secure.
Most years you’re not encountering a pandemic or a social movement. Sometimes your plan is interrupted by the loss of a major grant, departure of a charismatic leader, receipt of a new $3 million bequest or a new legislative imperative. The same process applies.
Go back to your vision.
Right now, what do the people you serve need to know, feel, have in order for your vision to become a reality? What do these new circumstances make possible?
Yes, circumstances have changed but your vision hasn’t. Start anew with your vision, modify your timeline, review your goals, create new plans based on the new circumstances.
If the new plans are still serving the vision, then you’re doing it right.
For more on strategic planning in times like this, check out Susan’s training in The Nonprofit Academy at “Planning Strategically in the Middle of Anything” https://thenonprofitacademy.com/trainings/planning-strategically/