Strategic Planning

Posted:30 January 2018

Author: Val Rathjen, Community Learning Network

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I’m guessing that we all have things on our “to do” list that keep getting pushed to the ‘When I have time’ pile, or the ‘In a perfect world’ folder. We all know what it feels like to have more to do than time to do it. Realizing that this is a challenge we all face, I want to make an argument for something that may get put off til tomorrow – your organization’s strategic plan.

I’m shining a light on strategic planning because I truly believe there is value to stepping back and reflecting on your organization’s past, present and future.  How are things going?  Are we still in tune with our community and meeting their needs?  Are we fulfilling our vision?  Do we even remember what our vision is? What pressures are we facing and how will we address them? Where do we want to be as an organization in 1-3-5 years?

So let’s talk about Strategic Planning. A broad definition would be:

A systematic process of envisioning a desired future, and translating this vision into broadly defined goals or objectives and a sequence of steps to achieve them.(

Key components of a strategic plan include:

  • Your Vision Statement (long-term desired change or road-map)
  • Your Mission Statement (organization’s purpose/business they are in) 
  • Your organization’s mandate (outline of specific goals, objectives and activities)
    • You also need to take into consideration the goals and vision of your funder(s) 
  • Reflection – the current health and strength of your organization. 
    • Assess your resources (includes finances, staff, volunteers…)
    • Current programming & learner support services
    • SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
      • Note: If you are developing a multi year plan it may be helpful to look back the same number of years you are trying to plan ahead for. Consider what factors influenced your organization over that period of time. Looking back can help you frame your goals and objectives as you move forward.
  • Priorities 
    • What needs to continue?
    • What needs to change?
    • What has priority?
  • Plan – how you will reach your goals/mandate.
    • Have measurable goals and a timeline for reaching them
  • Accountability – ongoing monitoring and implementation of your plan
    • How will you know if you’ve succeeded? What does success look like?
    • A timeline of who, what, when, why.
      • Remember – it is important to reflect on your plan throughout the year. Your strategic plan should influence your programming and budgeting or it isn’t a useful tool for your organization.

I know this list can look daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Many CALPs set aside one board meeting a year, usually before the grant application has to be written, to spend a few hours working through this process. Others may want to expand the plan to reach 3 or 5 or even 10 years. The point is to make it fit your needs.

If I still haven’t convinced you, let’s look at some of the outcomes you could see:

  • Increased understanding and engagement of your board
  • A shared vision and dream means everyone understand the goals and vision and who is responsible for each step of success  
  • Solid direction for program planning and budgeting
  • Something to share with Advanced Education or other funders
    • Almost every grant application I’ve ever written has referenced an organizational plan
  • Having a clear sense of direction and purpose – why you do what you do – helps you communicate with your partners and community.

When we know where we want to go, it makes it so much easier to identify and take advantage of opportunities that come along that feed into that vision. When I was a Coordinator our board had identified that there were community needs beyond what our CALP Grant could support. With this in mind we kept our eyes open for opportunities, and in the end we approached our county for funding. This never would have happened if we didn’t have a dream.

There are many resources and tools that you can refer to. Here are a couple I would recommend:

Literacy - An Ontario Literacy organization that has a module on Strategic Planning.

I would also suggest looking at the FAQ section on the Portal, specifically questions #20: What does it mean to “align” with the CALP mandate for Literacy and Foundational Learning? This has some great questions to consider as you think about making plans for the future.

Whether you take things a year at a time, or pursue a more long range perspective, investing in a strategic plan will help guide your steps and strengthen your organization as a whole. 

Happy planning!

Val Rathjen
CLN Regional Support Staff
East-Central Alberta


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