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Using Management Plans to Your Competitive Advantage

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
-Benjamin Franklin


I started writing this article by looking for statistics on the number of nonprofits with a strategic, marketing, communications, development, human resources (you name it because this could go on forever) plan. Some anecdotal evidence suggests less than 50% have a strategic plan, and even fewer have any other formal written plans for other areas of nonprofit management.

I have seen that play out in my own experience.

How many nonprofits have I known that had one of these plans and never used it? More than half.
How many nonprofits have I known that went through the motions to appease some nonprofit gods? Almost all of them.
How many nonprofits that created a strategic plan refer to it on a regular basis and use it to drive other management plans? I can count them on two hands. 
(This is anecdotal evidence, but after serving more than 200 nonprofits of all sizes in the last 16 years, I think there's some merit to it.)
The big dogs do it, but far too few small and medium-sized nonprofits dedicate the time and energy necessary for productive planning. Why is that?
We get caught up in the day to day. There are bills to pay. Target populations have more or different needs. That is the nature of nonprofits: to meet emerging needs. That often means we battle to “put out fires” on a nearly daily basis.
We can change the paradigm. Management plans help us anticipate where fires will pop up. Plans also help you gain competitive advantages because so few small and medium-sized nonprofits have or use them. Sure, lots of nonprofits go through the motions of designing a strategic plan. Some even write up development plans. Those that do stand out, because they tend to make decisions that make more sense in the long-term. They resist becoming firefighters and instead use fire management to serve people and communities better.
So, today, decide to make time to create a strategic plan driven by your organization's mission and vision. That strategic plan should include goals for development, finances, human resources, marketing/communications, sustainability, growth, and leadership. These goals build the foundation for brief sub-plans in all these categories. It will take time and thought, but it is worth it to your organization's long-term success. Then, don't put those plans on the shelf or in an obscure share file on your server. Print them. (I know: gasp!) Always have copies near to hand. Reflect on the plans when you make decisions, and use them as evidence in your grant proposals. (Funders love seeing info from your plans – it shows evidence of capacity and credibility!)
Planning gives you a backbone and can make help you make more informed decisions. It can also be a springboard from which you identify new threats, new opportunities, and expanded horizons. Do it because you should, but also do it because you MUST. Your nonprofit will not only be stronger for it, but you will raise more money through grants because you are using a coordinated, systematic approach to serving your mission.
What's the next organizational plan on your list?
Heather Stombaugh, the founder, sole owner, and principal consultant of JustWrite Solutions, is a GPA-approved trainer with more than 16-years of experience in the nonprofit sector.