Simple Strategy in a Christian Context
 
This resource explains why you need a strategy or a strategic plan. It covers content and process as well as how to communicate it and obtain the ownership of the relevant stakeholders. This is a streamlined approach, however you may say “even this isn’t simple!”

What is a strategic plan?

There are many definitions of a strategic plan. At its simplest it sets out the high level direction and purpose of an organisation, together with a high level plan for delivery. A strategic plan should articulate the key aspects of an organisation’s vision, mission, purpose, goals and outcomes. However, it should not be a straightjacket: inevitably not everything will happen to plan. Variations to an agreed strategy need to be clearly and proactively identified and the strategy document will need regular review and updating.

 

Why your organisation needs a strategic plan

A strategic plan provides an agreed direction and shared understanding of why the organisation exists and what it will (and won’t) do. Without one there is no focus.

 

Distinctively Christian?

There is a whole spectrum of Christian organisations from different Christian traditions. You will need to consider what it means to be distinctively Christian in your organisation for both the content of your strategic plan and the process for putting it together. I’d suggest that this could include some or all of the following:

  • Prioritising prayer at each stage of development of the strategic plan.

  • Ask some of your stakeholders who have intercessory gifts to pray regularly and if practical together.

  • Hold a day of prayer and fasting for staff and/or trustees.

  • Designate a day, for example each month during the development of the strategy, to pray about it.

  • Start and end each strategy meeting with prayer

  • Pray for guidance, for a common vision and for an openness to God’s direction.

  • Give time to listen and to discern God’s will for the organisation. Make a record of what is heard.

  • Consider whether the values of the organisation reflect a distinctively Christian approach or whether they could all be applied to a secular organisation.

  • Review the draft strategic plan document through a specifically Christian lens and check that it states that this is a Christian organisation.

 

Content of a strategic plan

Keep your plan simple and short. That way trustees, staff and other stakeholders should be able to understand, follow and articulate the main aspects of it.

 

A contents list for your strategy document might include the following:

  1. Brief organisational history and background relevant to this strategic plan

  2. Current status of the organisation.

  3. External and internal factors affecting the current situation

  4. Vision, Mission, Values and Culture of the organisation. This could include statements about the organisation’s identity and aspirations.

  5. Current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT) of the organisation

  6. High level goals, outcomes, key performance indicators, programmes/activities, champions

  7. Resources required to deliver the plan including finances and people

  8. Next steps: including the launch, implementation, monitoring and review, updating and duration of the plan

  9. Appendix: A strategic filter to assess any newly proposed programmes and activities once the plan is live (see separate resource signposted below)

 

Developing a strategic plan

The following will give you some idea of the steps required. Develop your own project plan and amend it as you go, depending on how long it takes you to reach agreement at each stage….

 

Stage 1: Prepare

  • Agree who will be involved in developing the plan: typically trustees and leadership team or a subset of these groups. You may choose to engage other staff and other stakeholders in parts of the process.

  • Preparation: nominate someone to make a project plan for how you intend to approach the development of your new strategic plan: what, why, when, who, where, how and how much.

  • Agree how you will pray for the process.

 

Stage 2 Clarify, Analyse and Consult (may need several meetings)

  • Review the proposed project plan for developing the strategy.

  • Brainstorming sessions:

    • SWOT of the organisation as it currently is

    • Identify internal and external environment factors (current and future) to take into account

    • Where do you think the organisation should be in say 3 or 5 years’ time?

  • Do you have a vision, mission and values for the organisation?

    • Review and update as necessary

    • Develop some if you don’t… Beware the wordsmithing can become time consuming!

  • Identify people (and possibly organisations) beyond those present who should be consulted/whose views should be sought. This includes the full board of trustees if they are not (all) on the team.

Stage 3 Identify

  • Revisit the brainstorming output and update it

  • Revisit the draft vision, mission and values and update them

  • Start to identify some key goals and their measurable outcomes as well as the programmes/activities/initiatives within each. NB Are there existing programmes or activities which will not feature in the next strategic plan?

 

Stage 4 Formulate

  • Revisit key goals and their outcomes

  • Revisit programmes/activities/initiatives

  • Identify any major potential risks and their mitigation

  • Agree someone to update the board if they are not all part of the strategic planning team

  • Nominate someone to draft the strategic plan document (do this at the outset, but this is the point at which you commission them to write it)

 

Stage 5 Finalise

  • Review draft document with all members of the board and leadership team and agree edits. It may be more helpful for everyone to feedback to the writer or chair ahead of the meeting.

  • Discuss the launch and implementation of the strategic plan.

 

Stage 6 Approve

  • Review with the full board having circulated the final draft in advance.

  • Approve the strategic plan and its implementation.

 

Stage 7 Implement

  • Communicate to other stakeholders (see below)

  • Commence implementation

  • Report progress regularly to the board.

    • The high level goals could be used as agenda items at board meetings

    • Board reports could use the strategic plan for a format

Both these help ensure that the strategy is key to the running and reporting of the organisation.

 

A note about timing…

Strategic planning takes time, it’s usually a consultative/iterative process and you may need to revisit the various steps on more than one occasion. From experience I would suggest that you allow at least 6 months for the process.

 

Audiences for a strategic plan

Your strategic plan should be a living document, accessible and often referred to. Not something locked in a filing cabinet, collecting dust on a shelf or lost in an electronic folder. Copies of the good ones I’ve worked with in the past are dog-eared and covered in highlights and handwritten notes.

I’d suggest a main document for trustees, leadership team and key staff and a summary (maximum one or two pages or under 1,000 words if electronic) for other stakeholders such as funders, donors, supporters and more junior staff. A visual representation eg a diagram can be really helpful.

 

Owning, understanding and being able to explain the plan at summary level are important. So time should be invested talking it through with stakeholders including staff and any trustees who have not been involved in the development of the strategy.

 

A strategic plan should be the backbone of an organisation, so consider it as a way to structure key meetings.

 

Q&A

1. What’s the ideal duration for a strategic plan?

“Fashion” changes: typically 3, 4 or 5 years, though can be shorter, especially for a new organisation.

 

2. What’s the difference between vision, mission and purpose in a strategic plan?

It’s a good question as there is frequently confusion and definitions do differ. Vision and mission are often used interchangeably. Much time can be wasted on this. So agree your definitions, include them in the document and stick with them so everyone is clear. I’d suggest:

  • Vision is the “what” or end result you’re aiming for

  • Mission is the “why”, the core purpose

  • Strategy is “how” you get there

3. What if you can’t agree about key aspects of the strategic plan?

It happens!

  • If you reach an impasse go back to the previous step, check there is common understanding and review priorities before proceeding

  • Pray together

  • Take a pause and revisit at a later date

  • As a last resort someone has to take a decision (probably the chair). Sadly it may be that some of the team do not feel able to continue.

 

4. What if the new strategic plan means ending some current programmes and activities?

All too often strategic plans add new activities without stopping any. Be clear why a programme is ceasing: it’s been completed, it no longer fits within the strategic filter, with finite resources there are other activities which are now a higher priority (a strategic filter can be a helpful way to evaluate this). Communicate this in a timely and sensitive way.

 

Signposts:

 

Author and Copyright: Helen Calder 2019

 

This resource has been peer reviewed in New Zealand.