This is the fourth in the series of blogs from Heyheyjoe looking at strategy in charities and non-profits. The previous three blogs were an overview on strategy from the management texts and sector bodies, an overview of why strategy is so important, and the process of preparing to create a new strategy. This blog looks at the components of a strategy and how they all fit together. The number of pages after each title, give a rough idea in my view, of the length for each section for a whole strategy document, which is about 9-12 pages in length in total.
The sections of a strategy (the text colours relate to the diagram)
Mission, vision and values (1 page)
The starting point for any strategy should be the vision and mission. What is the world that the organisation is trying to create, and what is the organisation’s role in trying to get it there. While the vision is the big picture goal for an organisation, it can be shared by many organisations. For example a charity could have a vision of a world free from child poverty, but that vision could be shared by many charities. In contrast, a mission is typically more specific to an organisation, for example improving children’s education in the case of the vision above.
The values and beliefs are the ways that an organisation goes about it work that should permeate through all its does. These could be compassionate, innovative, authoritative and the like. Typically the mission, vision and values are only going to be changed around once a decade or so.
Theory of change (1 page)
An increasing numbers of organisations have a theory of change. Despite the clunky title, it does what it says on the tin. Its an organisation’s theory, its theoretical approach, about how it creates changes. Many organisation use diagrams to show their theory of change, and they are a perfect precursor to a strategy – which could be seen as the ‘practice of change’. How an organisation’s turns its mission and vision, and its theory of change, into the actuality of making a difference – through priorities, goals and targets.
Diagrammatic sections of a strategic plan
The internal context and the external context ( 2-3 pages)
The internal and external contexts are the things that have been happening that will impact on the organisation and its ability to deliver its priorities. Internally this could be staff pay, diversity, staff turnover, switch to remote working, new CEO or directors, or a host of other things. It will also cover which of the different activities/services/work are going well and which have proved more difficult.
Externally the sorts of issues that might impact on an organisation are cost of living, Covid, stock markets, political initiatives, government policies and much more.
The thing for the context is to understand what the pressures are on the organisations that might affect any strategy and its delivery.
Goals, processes and priorities (3-4 pages)
Priorities & goals
At the heart of any strategy are the priorities. The things that the organisation wants to focus on, see the biggest amount of change in, or improve and develop. A typical strategy will have between 3 and 10 priorities. These will probably span a number of areas – and not just service delivery. For example a goal to grow income, or diversify staff, or recruit more volunteers, or to focus on a particular type of client/ beneficiary. A good strategy will make clear why those priorities have been chosen, and even what the organisation is going to do less of in one area, as a result of doing more in the priority areas.
Processes – how achieve
Its easy enough to set some big goals or priorities. Equally important is to give some indication of how the organisation will deliver on this. Having read over 100 charity strategies this is one of the weakest areas – too many charities don’t make clear how they turn an aspiration into reality. There are two problems with not being clear on how a priority will be delivered. Firstly nobody knows whether the goal is realistic if its not clear how it will be achieved, and secondly, it’s much harder to diagnose what needs to be done to put a priority back on track if the ‘how’ of delivering has never been clear.
Processes – timescales and mileposts
Alongside the priorities and how they will be achieved is the mileposts along the way and when they will happen. The longer the period of the strategic plan the more important it is, to have mileposts (ie indications of the progress towards a goal) and an idea of when they will be achieved. There are many charity strategies out there with an date of 2030 – and with no mileposts, or idea of timescales, its very hard to work out whether the goals are being reached.
Processes – measuring success
The final part of the process section is about how success is going to be measured. If a priority is to change attitudes, or increase the number of people using a service, or increase awareness, or a host of other possible goals, how is that goal going to be measured? In particular its worth thinking about the measuring of success (and impact) in conjunction with the setting of a goal. Its no good have inspiring goals in a strategy when it isn’t clear how it is going to achieved, nor how that achievement might be measured.
Enablers – funds, people, and infrastructure (3-4 pages)
The first in the enablers section is income – where will the funds come from to allow the organisation to function and deliver its priorities. This is a key area where non- profit organisations differ from for-profit organisations. In for-profit organisations income and profit are the yardstick of success. In non-profit organisations the two can be completely separated – a charity can raise lots of money, but do little which delivers its mission, and vice-versa. A strategy needs to make clear how much money is needed to deliver the priorities and where that money will come from. Income is vital to enable an organisation to deliver its priorities.
The second of the enablers is people – staff, volunteers and trustees are the key groups. A strategy needs to look at how people will be needed to deliver any priorities. This could be more staff, better trained staff, addressing issues of diversity, bullying or harassment. It could be about recruiting or retaining volunteers.
The final set of enablers is all the things that an organisation needs to deliver on its priorities: IT & digital, offices, finance, and communications for example. The platforms which make the organisation function effectively. I have put communications in this section, and undoubtedly for some organisations communications could and should be a separate enabler. Some would say the same for digital, and each organisation will need to decide which are its important enablers.
Its also worth saying that a whole organisation priority can also be an enabler – the priorities don’t just have to be about service delivery (though probably a priority cannot be a process). This might be because an organisation needs to sort out a toxic work culture, or increase its income to survive.
And finally: making the strategic plan accessible
A few final things once the strategy is ready to be released and discussed:
•The strategy should be accessible through pdf and via non-pdf mechanisms. The latter might include presentations to staff, a video, a powerpoint presentation, or all of the above.
•In my book strategies should be available to the outside world – so it needs to be easy to find on your website
•Many staff and other stakeholders, won’t read a 20 page or even a 10 page report. So the strategy needs a good summary, and to be presented in a way that makes it memorable. Ideally a good strategy will be inspirational, but there aren’t many that are!
•It’s also worth setting out in a strategy document, who the project team was, when the plan was released and setting out how was the plan was made
The next blog in this series will look at our recent strategy survey. How did people find strategies useful, and what was challenging. So keep an eye open for strategy blog 5.