As the old proverb goes: ‘A vision without a plan is just a dream. A plan without a vision is just drudgery. But a vision with a plan can change the world.’
More than just a clever saying, this has practical truth too. Because that’s what strategy is all about: having a vision, and then coming up with the means to actually implement it.
A clear and convincing strategy has always been important, but charities are becoming more sophisticated in thinking about their approach, with continual pressure to respond to changes in demand, in government policy, funding, resourcing, and in how people think about solving big social issues. Strategy enables you to better understand your role in a sector—what particular part you can play and how. Crucially, without knowing and agreeing on what you want to achieve, you can’t hope to measure the impact of your efforts.
Our approach to strategy development includes our strategy triangle tool which has three component parts:
- Mission & objectives: What is your core purpose and how might you best achieve this?
- External environment: What’s going on in the outside world that you need to respond to? And how can you respond to it in conjunction perhaps with other organisations?
- Resources & capabilities: What are your internal strengths and weaknesses, and how are you best placed to contribute to that response?
We use a blend of charity and business tools to analyse these three key areas, providing a package that you can use to better understand any situation or issue you may be facing. This is, in a sense, the easy part. Our experiences with clients suggest there’s quite an art to making things actually happen!
Trustees set and determine strategy, but it cannot be created in a vacuum; the board must work closely with the senior management team and engage internal and external stakeholders too. Because an organisation’s strategy has got to reflect the needs of beneficiaries, and also resonate with staff and volunteers, so that everyone feels the organisation is mandated to carry out and implement what that strategy might be. Developing a strategy will sometimes involve making difficult decisions, so that’s another reason for wider involvement..
Strategy is not something that’s done once and then filed away; it should be what guides your everyday action. So don’t think you can develop a 5-year strategy and then revisit it on the day of its expiry; it’s got to be actively looked at and questioned, and then used to improve your impact over time.
While the strategy process is wide and iterative, it can be of enormous benefit—it forces conversations about core values, ambitions, resources and capabilities which require focus and often strengthen leadership and teams. Considering these key points will help you get the most out of it:
- Preparation: get the right people involved from the start, including beneficiaries, staff and volunteers.
- Engagement: the board must be engaged and willing to make decisions, and take risks!
- Implementation: strategy is not a fixed thing that lives on a dusty shelf; it’s got to be flexible and live.
- Learning: once implemented, it’s important to continue reflecting; use feedback loops to check progress and adjust direction.
For more strategy talk, check out this video with our experts or just get in touch—we’d love to hear your experiences.