This is the second in a series of articles we are writing about the specific roles and responsibilities for the board of directors of nonprofit organizations. Last month we wrote about advocacy, this month we are focusing on strategic planning.

While we are concentrating on nonprofits in this series, it doesn’t matter whether you operate in the private, public, or nonprofit sector, strategic planning can help you determine how to take your organization from where it is now to where you want it be in the future. A strategic plan defines the direction of an organization by identifying priorities and allocating resources.

The board is responsible for establishing the organization’s mission, vision and strategic direction in conjunction with the executive director. The mission statement describes the organization’s purpose and is the foundation for how the organization operates and plans for the future. It should be reviewed by the board periodically to ensure it still represents the purpose of the organization. It may be modified by the board if there is a change in purpose or scope of the organization. Boards need to be careful that the organization doesn’t experience mission creep where projects and programs are added that seem like a good thing at the time but really aren’t in the mission of the organization.

A vision statement outlines what the organization aspires to achieve. It is a guiding image of success and should be inspirational as well as realistic. It is important that the board, executive director and staff are all in agreement on the vision for the organization. It is advisable to assess your current situation by analyzing your internal strengths and weaknesses as well as your external opportunities and threats, often referred to as a SWOT analysis. This information, along with your vision statement, serves as a basis for determining your core strategies.

There should be no more than five core strategies that serve as the framework for your strategic plan. The plan is your roadmap to take you from where you are now to where you want to be in three or so years. Once strategies are identified, develop goals that support each strategy. Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. From these goals, a one-year operating plan is developed that outlines the specific steps that need to be completed in order to achieve each goal.

While the board is responsible for establishing the mission, vision and strategic direction, their level involvement in putting the plan together varies according to size of the organization and how long the organization has been in existence. Some boards are just governance boards and some need to take a more operational role.

To help increase board effectiveness once the plan is developed: ensure board agendas match strategic issues and priorities, monitor the annual operating plan on a quarterly or monthly basis to ensure progress is being made, make adjustments as needed, update the strategic plan and develop a new operational plan annually. Don’t forget to celebrate when you achieve your goals!