One of the things that constantly amazes me is how organisations get themselves into business plan muddles. Of course this isn’t unique to the nonprofit sector, but it is being seen more and more these days amongst growing charitable organisations.
It is easy to think that the solution lies in ‘professionalising’ an organisation, or getting in senior managers with a corporate track record that know all about ‘business planning’. Taking this route doesn’t address some key points of difference between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations. Equally it isn’t enough to say that as a community organisation, campaign organisation, animal welfare, human rights or such that planning isn’t for you. Every organisation of any size needs to plan for its work in order to have any kind of social impact. So here are a few pointers:
1. Focus on your beneficiaries
Sometimes you might call them service users, clients, stakeholders… I don’t really care what labels you use. Be sure that the people or communities that you are trying to help are front and centre in the planning process. Planning interventions without engaging the groups that you want to provide social impact for is a sure route to failure
2. Remember your social impact
Why is your organisation constituted in the first place? Why do you exist? This is always your guiding light. If something looks interesting or attractive (a funding opportunity or partnering opportunity) but it doesn’t take you closer to your aim, then it isn’t right for you. No matter how nice it looks.
3. M&E is crucial
Of course you could expect me to say this! But monitoring and evaluation is essential if you are to understand whether the intervention that you so carefully designed and implemented is actually making the difference that you think it should. Be sure to build a good M&E framework alongside your main business plan.
4. Be flexible
It would be nice to think that once designed, an intervention or set of activities would be delivered exactly the way that you intended. The world doesn’t work like that however! Be sure to have in place adaptive processes and interative design approaches so that responding to changing need can be done quickly and efficiently
5. Have loads of feedback loops
Get constant feedback on your work. Be sure to have processes whereby the beneficiaries have line of sight to the senior management / board and vice versa. These feedback loops will avoid a lot of confusion and misinformation; and provide a lot of opportunity to improve your organisation iteratively.
Above all however, planning should be hassle-free and efficient. If you find that your planning processes are taking more time than the projects you are delivering and costing a lot more then you need to review how your organisation plans.
How easy is it to do planning in your organisation? Have you found tools, approaches and methods that make planning easy and streamlined?