The summer campaign season is coming to a close and many of our clients are turning their attention to end-of-year and beyond. Here at Plenty, I see that change reflected in the growing number of strategic planning engagements on my calendar. I’ve enjoyed the chance to take part in a good number of visioning meetings as the long-term planning process we’ve all come to love and hate kicks in.
It’s always gratifying to be a partner in these discussions, to sit in on the development of the biggest dreams and the grandest visions of our clients. I’ve never worked with a team that hasn’t found the strategic planning process ultimately insightful and inspiring.
And yet I’m always struck that it takes a day or two for people to shift their thinking. One of the challenges to strategic planning is thinking like business builders and not budget creators. As you begin your long-term planning, I'd like to invite you to join me in the creative, risky space of entrepreneurship.
Let me explain. When we talk with clients about their long-term goals, it is common to see people approach it from a perspective of practicalities such as current performance, hiring needs, and budget headroom. The imperative, at least in the beginning, is to do better than the current standard – to try to do 5% more with 10% less. "We could do without another staff member for now"; "we can try to find more growth from the field"; "we can push ourselves to cut costs.”
In growth planning we need to be smart about our spend, that’s for sure. And the budget is a key tool.
But we aren’t going to achieve our growth goals, let alone change the world, by trying to save 10 cents on a foot of pipe. An entirely different mentality is needed.
So what’s the switch we need to make?
The line manager says, “What is the least we have to spend to finish what we need to do?”
The entrepreneurial leader says, “What is the most we can invest to get the longest, most scalable and compelling growth?"
For example, it might sound interesting to offload logistics duties to the fundraising staff so that we don’t have to hire as many people. But what does that accomplish? It undermines the growth we were hoping to get from focusing on networks, relationships, and partnerships.
Similarly, it might sound efficient to consolidate duties among staff and outsource some of the work – realizing savings in training and benefits as a result. Or we might ask, “Looking at what we did this year, do we really have enough work for everyone?” Or we could see how much we’ve spent, and if it justifies keeping all of our positions. Probably smart.
But what we also could do is ask, “How much could we accomplish if we harnessed everyone we have more effectively? What if we actually invested more in training? What kind of lift in fundraising would we get if every single person here were inspired and at the top of their field?"
Hear the difference? In one mentality, we’re sitting in the past, trying to undercut it. In the other, we have two feet in the future.
Business planning is about learning from the past, yes. But it is much more about envisioning a powerful future. It’s scary, because not all investments pan out. That’s where risk assessment comes in. And not all investments return in an acceptable timeframe. That’s where ROI analysis comes in. You’ll need to use both of those tools later in the process.
But don’t get stuck into the trap most organizations do: Managing expenses to limit downside risk. Real growth comes from challenging ourselves to realize massive upside potential. This takes aligned leadership, patience, and a powerful vision for the future. But it is much more likely to create results than efficient budgeting.
As you begin your 2016 planning, I invite you into the world in which there is plenty for everyone. Focus on building a transformational organization. The budget will follow.
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