Is Your Association Ready for 2023? How to Review Your Strategic Plan

Is Your Association Ready for 2023? How to Review Your Strategic Plan

With the new year fast approaching, now is the time to ensure your key documents are ready to help you achieve success in 2023. Central to this is your association’s strategic plan, which provides an overview of your goals and direction. But if you feel that your strategic plan hasn’t been well utilised by your Board this year, you need to make changes to ensure that your plan is being regularly reviewed and is working as well as it could to help your association achieve its objectives.

Why Does Your Association Need a Strategic Plan?

The purpose of a strategic plan is simple: to determine overall goals for your association and a blueprint to achieve them. A strategic plan takes a macro approach, going beyond the day-to-day operations of your association to think about the big picture. 

A successful strategic plan can be used to make decisions about an association’s future direction. It should guide the Board and be referred to during the AGM and other meetings of the association leaders throughout the year. Having a strategic plan – and knowing how to use it – provides many benefits to an association.

Creates a Central Vision

A strategic plan can act as a ‘single source of truth’ when it comes to the direction of your association. It maps out a single, forward-focused vision that aligns the different stakeholders of your association, including the Board, executive, employees, volunteers and members. This means that everyone can understand the strategic direction of the association and make decisions accordingly.

Makes Progress Measurable

When strategy is planned and goals are clearly defined, it makes it much easier to measure the progress and success of your association. The strategic plan can act as a starting point for the development of key performance indicators (KPIs), which allow association leaders to quantify performance across a range of areas.

Allows for Agile Flexibility

Even though a strategic plan is designed to look towards the future and plan for the long-term, it also allows for agility and reactive action. An association’s strategy needs to evolve with new opportunities and as it encounters different challenges. All associations need to be able to pivot and change as needed, as many did during the COVID-19 pandemic when operations where vastly affected due to lockdowns and restrictions. When the central goals are clearly articulated in the plan, it is easier to make these reactive moves without straying from the key objectives of the association. 

Developing a Strategic Plan

Developing a strategic plan is one of the main responsibilities of the Board. Creating a strategic plan is a detailed and comprehensive process that determines the strategic direction of the association for the next twelve months. Having a specific day set aside for this planning is a good way to ensure the task is given the time and attention it deserves, and that all relevant people can be involved.

Before works begins on developing the plan, the Board needs to review the current situation and decide what areas are working well, what requires improvement, and what are the thoughts of the executives and key stakeholders. Benchmarking your association against others can assist in this process.

A strategic plan takes a macro approach, and only the key goals should be included. Prioritising these top objectives will help to keep the plan streamlined, effective, and agile.

Each goal needs to be accompanied by a series of actionable steps to completion, with a clear time frame in mind and the necessary resources accounted for. This may include thinking about budgets, staffing, timelines and more.

Using a Strategic Plan

Too often, an association will put in the work to develop their strategic plan, and then leave it to languish as an untouched document until the next financial year. Instead, strategic plans should be considered live and active documents which are regularly used by the Board and the executive.

The strategic plan should be frequently reviewed after its conception, as new information becomes available and more metrics are measured. At each Board meeting, progress can be checked against the plan, and actions implemented as necessary. If circumstances have changed – such as new legislation being introduced, a dramatic drop in membership, or other factors that create a different operating environment – the strategic plan will require more updates and refining than usual to continue being a useful document.

For a strategic plan to be used successfully, it’s important that the measures of performance, or KPIs, are accurate and achievable, and that the proper systems are in place to gather the data and information that will be used to make decisions. It’s best practice for the goals of the strategic plan to features as key agenda items for each Board meeting, so that they are kept front of mind in all decision making and the Board knows to use the plan as the leading document when it comes to association strategy.

About the Author: Nick Koerbin (Executive Director, AES)

With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

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