19 Nov Make Sure the Board is Involved in Strategic Planning!
It’s nice when a land trust can recruit a superstar to be its organizational CEO. But they must not settle for standing back and watching. The Chicago Bulls did not win a championship until the other players quit watching Michael Jordan and started playing team basketball.
I’ve met more than one land trust with “observing” boards. The staff are very capable, but they tend to do more than they should with the intention of making it easier on the Board. They would accomplish more with systematic and thoughtful Board support. I’m talking about fundraising also, but the point is valid in other aspects as well.
Consider the Strategic Plan, for example.
To be most organizationally helpful, the process of strategic planning should be used to unify board and staff engagement and create buy-in. The process is as important as the result. When staff members do all the work of planning, it’s clearly more efficient, but it robs board members of the learning opportunities afforded by getting one’s hands dirty. The opportunity cost in Board, volunteer, and community buy-in can be significant. Full organizational strategic planning processes may take six months or longer, but the long-term benefit in buy-in and deeper engagement is well worthwhile.
Put another way, when the board has not been engaged in planning and is not engaged in fundraising, starting with fundraising is much more difficult.
Ideally, a Strategic Plan is both a strategy document, including descriptions of focus areas and key activities, and a five-year operating plan with concrete, measurable goals. Many strategic plans are better strategy documents than five-year plans. They describe WHAT KINDS of things will be done without being too specific about HOW MUCH. They may clearly articulate the nature of the land trust’s work and include clear direction for conservation priorities, but the goal specificity and enabling budget are all too often missing.
The Strategic Plan should be accompanied by a five-year enabling budget as well. This is a difficult but important final step. Budgets inform the various players what the expectations will be for revenue generation, including fundraising. Some fundraising strategies take several years to develop (capital campaigns, for example), and both staff and board need time to build appropriate capacity.
Board members who work hand-in-hand with staff to set the organizational priorities have an easier time accepting the responsibility for raising the funds to make them happen. Make sure they are not left out of the process in the name of efficiency.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Grandon Harris, Bayfield Regional Conservancy.