Why plan?

All of us can get so tied up with the ‘day job’ that we can very easily forget why and what we are supposed to be doing the day job for. We can also not look up and around enough and so miss the big picture and forget where we are supposed to be heading. As someone said you can sometimes get to the top of your ladder only to find out it’s against the wrong wall! Those outside your organisation may also want to see that you have a clear road map, particularly if they are thinking about putting some funding in.

Therefore a Strategic Plan (or Business Plan) helps you think through all aspects of your organisation and plan for the future. It helps you get an overview of your organisation to help everyone in it (trustees, volunteers, staff) better understand what you are doing, why and how, as well as how you will develop over the next few years. It is also a useful tool for presenting yourself to funders and supporters. It can be a simple internal document or a more detailed and well laid out document for external audiences, or both or slightly different versions for different audiences (remember to keep your audience in mind when writing it so it meets their particular needs and/or potential queries).

A few years ago ICAEW carried out a joint project with the Charity Commission on strategy development, implementation and review in charities. The main findings were:

  • Those charities with strategies appear more able to deal with fluctuating economic conditions
  • Few charities considered mergers in their strategies
  • Many trustee boards lacked both financial and general experience, particularly in developing strategies

Trustees have a legal duty to ensure that their charity remains solvent and continues to deliver public benefit. Planning is a better way to ensure that your organisation continues to meet the needs of those you were set up to benefit and to have the resources to do so than a ‘we’ll deal with it as it happens’ approach.

So if you do not have a strategic plan, why not?

What does a plan look like?

All organisations will have a strategic plan even if it is not explicit or written down and is simply to live from day to day or to stay as you are! Many voluntary/community groups do not have a written strategic plan. Do you have one? If you do is it:

  • Up to date?
  • Lying on a shelve?
  • Written for a specific funding bid?
  • Written without engaging across or outside your organisation?
  • Understood by the trustees/committee?

A strategic plan does not have to be 30 pages of dense text and full of tables and figures. It could be a one page summary of

  • who you are,
  • what is the urgent need you want to meet,
  • what you are trying to change,
  • how you will make these changes come about, and
  • how you will know when the changes have happened.

A strategic plan is often called a business plan, however if your organisation is put off by this term then call it a ‘strategic plan’. Business planning means taking some time out from day to day work to look at your organisation to see:

  • What it does
  • How it works
  • Who is involved in providing your activities
  • Who uses your activities
  • Why people use your activities
  • What resources you need
  • How you will pay for it all
  • What else is happening around you

Developing your plan

Developing a business plan will take time and energy but think about it as spending time to save time. Also it can be a useful tool to help bring an organisation together by agreeing on what the focus and priorities for your organisation are, now and in the future. Some key tips are:

  • Involve everyone who needs to be involved (inside and outside your organisation)
  • Try to get the views of your users
  • Decide who will need to read it, then write for those audiences (in some cases you might need different versions)
  • Keep it as short and succinct as possible
  • Make sure any figures add up
  • Get someone who does not know your organisation very well to read a draft
  • If you use a consultant to draft it make sure you agree with it!
  • Make sure your trustees/committee members understand and agree with it before signing it off
  • Produce a short summary after the main document is agreed

A Strategic Plan may be for your whole organisation or for a particular project or part of your organisation (when it is sometimes called a Project Plan). Any plan needs to be a balance in having enough detail so any reader can easily understand it against being too long so no one reads, and so understands, it! So it could be on two pages for a simple organisation or project but should be no longer than 25 or 30 pages (shorter is even better!).

Although any such plan will be signed off by the trustees or committee, the best plans are a joint effort, carried out in consultation with staff, volunteers, management and other interested parties. A plan will work best with the input and support of the people who will be expected to make it happen!         

Before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) you need to do some background work. Review what your origination’s ultimate purpose expressed as its vision (what the future should look like for your users) and mission (how you will help bring about the vision in a unique way). Since voluntary/community organisations are driven by values it is worth writing these down since they will affect the decisions you take and are what you stand for.

Then you need to build up a picture of your current situation. Two ideal tools for this are a SWOT analysis (identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and a PESTLE analysis (look at actual and potential changes in the outside world and consider its impact on your organisation, these changes can be listed under political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental).

We have a factsheet with a simple template of different sections. NCVO have some useful tools to help with your overall plan, mission and vision. To give you flavour have a look at these summaries of vision and mission statements. You might also find this toolkit from Calderdale useful.

Using a plan

When you have done all this work, you need to explain it all to the other people who have an interest in your organisation, your stakeholders. This is where your written business plan comes in. However a business plan should not be a one off activity every 3 or 5 years but a process or cycle (who knows with certainty what will happen next year or even tomorrow!):

Last updated: 26th April, 2022