In most successful nonprofits, the board requires a refreshed strategic plan every 3-5 years and this can feel like drudgery. But in reality, this is one of the most important ways a CEO or Executive Director can win in their role. 

For the sake of this article, we would like to draw on a metaphor: in the world of nonprofits, strategic planning is like an epic odyssey that shapes an organization’s future. 

As the captain of your nonprofit ship, it is your responsibility to guide your board through this exhilarating journey.  So, giving ourselves over to the metaphor, …grab your compass and don your captain’s hat as we set sail on a strategic planning adventure filled with twists, turns, and unexpected discoveries as you lead your board through this process..

1. Assemble Your Dream Team:

Imagine your board as a crew of intrepid explorers ready to embark on a grand adventure. First things first: assemble a diverse team with a mix of skills, perspectives, and personalities. Just like any epic quest, having a well-rounded ensemble of characters will make your strategic planning voyage more colorful and dynamic. Not everyone on the team will be board members but it is important to have a strong board presence for buy-in.

2. Plot Your Course:

Every voyage needs a map and strategic planning is no different. As the captain, it is your role to help chart the course. Start by setting clear goals and objectives. Picture them as distant shores you aim to reach. With a destination in mind, your board will have a purpose around which to unite. You will also want to instill confidence in the process. That is often why nonprofit captains select a consultant to help them plot the course and guide the strategic planning process.

3. Cast Off the Anchors:

In any voyage there may be anchors weighing you down. These can be old ideas, outdated strategies, or resistance to change. As the captain, it is your job to hoist those anchors and set your ship free. If you have chosen well, your strategic planning consultant will see these obstacles far in advance and guide you through those choppy waves. You will want to encourage your board to let go of the past and embrace new possibilities by using “emotional touchstones” and “this is that” moments as you go. After all, it is hard to sail into the future when you are anchored to the past.

4. Navigate the Storms:

Every adventure has its storms and strategic planning is no different. Expect disagreements, conflicting opinions, and rough waters along the way. As the captain, your job is to steer the ship through these challenges, keeping everyone on board and focused on the destination. Use active listening, pre-meetings and co-creative processes to calm the seas.

5. Keep the Crew Motivated:

The strategic planning process always takes longer than you think. On a long journey, morale is critical. Keep your board motivated and engaged by celebrating small wins, acknowledging their efforts, and reminding them of the bigger picture. Why does this journey matter? Recognizing how their contributions are helping the long-term mission will keep spirits high even during the toughest parts of the voyage.

6. Embrace the Unexpected Treasures:

Just like in a thrilling adventure, you may stumble upon unexpected treasures during your strategic planning journey. New opportunities will emerge along the way that you and your board have yet to consider. This is one of the major gifts of the process as you defeat the Curse of Knowledge. Sometimes, the most valuable discoveries are unplanned.

7. Celebrate Landfall:

Finally, when you reach your destination—your strategic goals—do not forget to celebrate like sailors reveling in the sight of land after a long voyage! Landing a winning strategy is no small feat! Whether it is a small victory or a major milestone, recognizing and celebrating success is essential for morale and motivation.

Final Thoughts

Navigating your board through a strategic planning process can be a thrilling adventure. With the right attitude, a diverse crew, and a clear course, you can turn the process into an epic odyssey that leads your nonprofit to new horizons. So, hoist the sails, set your course, and lead your board on a strategic planning voyage that promises exciting discoveries and a brighter future for the mission and the world at large!

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