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Where Are You Going And How Are You Going To Get There?

April 2008
By: Ron Haas
Will Rogers once said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." Do you feel like your center is pointed in the right direction but not moving forward as quickly as you would like? Maybe it's time to dust off your strategic plan and re-energize your board, staff, and volunteers.

Many non-profit organizations start as 'mom and pop' endeavors. Someone had a burden to reach people, jumped in with both feet, and accomplished great things. Now after a few years, the de facto strategic plan seems to be, "just keep doing more of what we're already doing."

Conventional wisdom might argue that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." However, Charles Handy suggests with his Sigmund Curve theory that the moment an organization finds itself on an upward curve is the moment that it needs to start re-inventing itself. Your center should consider a strategic planning process whether you're stalled on the tracks or enjoying great success.

Where Are You Now?

Before you can chart a course for future ministry, you need to take an honest look at your current situation. An ideal strategic planning session will include 15 to 20 participants comprised of board members, staff, volunteers, and key donors. Their first task is to ask, "What are you doing right?" What goals did you achieve? What challenges did you overcome? What projects did you complete?

After you've reassured yourselves that you are doing a lot of things right, do some introspection about last year. What lessons did you learn? What decisions would you have changed? What goals did you not accomplish? What challenges have you failed to overcome in the past several years? These answers might be difficult, but they provide an important reality check.

Next, turn your thoughts to your center's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This will clarify your perspective on what you do and do not do well, how you can expand your outreach, and what barriers to anticipate.

Take time to evaluate your mission statement—your fundamental reason for existing. It's your guide for day-to-day operations and the foundation upon which you will build your future. Why you do what you do (your mission), where you are trying to go (your vision), and how you're going to do it (your values)—those are the glue that holds your organization together.

Where Are You Going?
John Stott has observed, "Vision begins with a holy discontent with the way things are." Create a vision that will provide long-term direction for your organization. Visions are big, hairy, audacious goals. Your vision statement needs to be far reaching, but attainable.

Vision answers the question, "What will our organization be in five years?" Vision can be the product of one forward thinking person, but most organizations benefit from the input and ownership of many stakeholders. Schedule a Friday evening through Saturday afternoon event to lead your team through this strategic thinking exercise.

Your vision should include a vision statement and a vivid description. A vision statement is a short, concise statement of your organization's future state that answers the question, "Where are we headed?" A vivid description is a long list of words and phrases that describe in a vibrant way what your organization will look and feel like when you reach your vision.

Construct a bold, inspiring, purposeful vision. Reach beyond what you think is possible and ask God to move mountains. Use language that creates enthusiasm and challenges everyone to push forward to reach the goal. Give everyone a larger sense of purpose so they see themselves as building a great cathedral instead of just laying stones.

How are we going to get there?
Three steps will transform your vision into reality: 1) determine your strategic objectives, 2) identify specific goals to accomplish those objectives, and 3) list action items that move you toward each goal.

Strategic objectives connect your mission to your vision. Narrow your focus to five or six that you want to accomplish in the next five years. For example, a strategic objective might be, "Strengthen our fundraising efforts."

Set goals to establish specific performance targets. Clearly state what, when, how, and whom. Each strategic objective will have several goals. If you desire to strengthen your fundraising efforts, some specific goals could be a) hire a part-time development director, b) implement a major donor program, c) recruit and train additional board members.

Action items are the tasks needed to implement the goals. Each goal will have several action steps. Important activities in this process are to: a) budget the cost, b) assign responsibilities, c) set the timing, d) determine the right strategies, and e) establish the key metrics that will monitor your progress toward accomplishing the goal.

Strategic plans work when members of your organization "buy-in" and take responsibility for the plan. Involve board members, staff, volunteers, and key donors early in the process. If done well, your strategic planning session will generate lots of energy. Capitalize on that enthusiasm by implementing your new plan as soon as possible.

Your plan doesn't have to be perfect or even complete. It's more important to start moving. A good plan enacted with passion is more effective than a great plan implemented with mediocrity. Your strategic plan is your roadmap to future ministry. When a donor asks, "Where are you going?" you'll be able to cast an exciting vision for how they can partner with you to reach people for Jesus Christ!

Ron Haas is a consultant with the Timothy Group and has served as a pastor, a vice-president for institutional advancement, and a grant-making professional for a Christian foundation. He can be reached at

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