The Association Strategic Plan: What’s the Point?
DeLaine Bender CAE
For many association leaders, a strategic plan is a must, while others are not so enthused. Perhaps they have had a past strategic planning experience that didn’t pan out well—or perhaps they don’t understand the potential positive effects of a well-developed strategic plan.
What’s the Purpose?
The purpose of a strategic plan is to provide your association with a clear roadmap for how it will move forward to achieve goals and objectives. At its core, the strategic plan outlines the association’s vision, mission, values, and strategies for success—but a full expression will help in prioritizing initiatives, allocating resources, understanding strengths and potential threats, and more. When leadership and staff are all on the same page and willing to commit necessary time, funding and attention, the results can be powerful.
Is it Effective?
The effectiveness of a strategic plan depends on several factors, including how well it is developed, implemented, tracked, and adapted over time. When done correctly, strategic plans can be highly effective in guiding organizational decision-making and improving overall performance. When things go awry, common issues include vague or unrealistic goals, disconnection from reality in terms of resources, lack of buy-in (or even resistance) from leaders and staff, poor follow-through or tracking, and failure to modify strategies as circumstances change.
Why should your association have a strategic plan? Here are a few key benefits and factors for success.
- Clear Direction and Focus: A strategic plan helps an organization establish a clear sense of direction. By defining the organization’s purpose (mission), overarching goals and objectives, it can help solidify the true purpose and path; however, a true strategic plan goes behind that. Your plan must clearly define the issues to be solved, your approach to addressing these issues, and a coherent action plan. If everyone in the association knows where the organization wants to go, the path to get there becomes more evident.
- Goal Alignment: The aim of a strategic plan is to align all aspects of the organization, including its resources, activities, and decision-making processes, with its mission and goals. This ensures that everyone within the organization is working toward common objectives. This can also help eliminate distractions and pet projects that take up time but don’t align with what the association really needs to accomplish.
- Prioritization: A strategic plan helps prioritize initiatives and activities based on their alignment with the organization’s strategic objectives. It guides decision-makers to focus on the most important and impactful projects. Bonus: the plan provides a basis for budgeting and resource allocation, helping the organization allocate financial, human, and technological resources most appropriately.
- Performance Measurement: A correctly implemented strategic plan establishes key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarks against which progress can be measured. I love to use a simple dashboard to provide ongoing monitoring and evaluation of performance, visible to Board, members and staff.
- Adaptation and Flexibility: While a strategic plan outlines long-term goals, it should also allow for flexibility and adaptation to changing circumstances and emerging trends in the industry/profession. A good plan provides a flexible framework for making informed decisions in response to unexpected challenges or opportunities. No shelving your plan because it has become out of date!
- Communication: A well-developed strategic plan serves as a communication tool both internally and externally. Often our association clients prefer a one-page summary or a brief, downloadable handout to create visibility and serve as a constant reminder of the association’s focus areas for current and potential members and supporters.
- Accountability: To be effective, a strategic planning initiative must assign responsibilities and accountability for the implementation of various initiatives, and communicate progress on a regular basis. This ensures that individuals and teams are held responsible for achieving specific goals. What gets measured gets done!
Overall, a strategic plan is a vital tool for associations, no matter how large or small your association resources may be. AMR is all about a structured approach to achieve long-term success, allocate resources, adapt to change, and fulfill the mission and vision. Done well, a strategic plan is a valuable tool for enhancing organizational focus, performance, and sustainability.
However, the mere existence of a plan does not guarantee success; it is the thoughtful execution and ongoing management of the plan that will make it effective. Leaders and staff need to understand: organizations that approach strategic planning with diligence, adaptability, and a commitment to their mission and vision AND leverage the plan to track and report on progress are more likely to see positive results.
About AMR Management Services
If your professional society or trade association could benefit from skilled professional management support, AMR Management Services is here to help. We are an accredited, full-service association management firm supporting national and international associations clients of all sizes. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you take your association to the next level.
Degrees and Credentials:
Certified Association Executive (CAE), Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma
Association Management Professional Since:
What inspires you about your work?
In my career, I have been blessed to work with some amazing, inspiring association leaders, who have become mentors and friends. I also enjoy the challenging, ever-changing environment of associations, and the sense of fulfillment in having made a difference in a profession or on an issue.
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