Why Associations Need a Strategic Plan and the 5 Steps to Developing One

Why Associations Need a Strategic Plan and the 5 Steps to Developing One

Why is it crucial that Associations have – and stick to – a strategic plan?

A comprehensive strategic plan is the key to your Association’s ability to thrive and grow in a competitive, complex landscape. A strategic plan needs to clearly articulate your Association’s strategic priorities and how you are going to achieve them. 

Developing a strategic plan is a detailed process, but it is essential work that will be used for the coming financial year and beyond.

Why A Strategic Plan is Important for an Association

The purpose of a strategic plan is to create a direction for an Association. Without this sense of direction, it is easy for an Association to fall into the trap of simply moving from one “priority” task to the next, without any sense of how this activity is contributing to a greater goal.

The strategic plan should be linked to the vision and mission of your Association. Your vision is your aspirational, forward-thinking projection of what you hope to achieve in the long term; your mission is a statement reflecting your best practice and what your Association’s purpose is. Both are essential when creating a strategic plan.

There are four key reasons why a strategic plan is vital for an Association.

 Firstly, it outlines a clear path towards success. No business can achieve great things without having a plan in place to reach these outcomes. A strategic plan acts like a roadmap, allowing you to see not only where you want to go, but also how to get there. It can also help to predict potential roadblocks and challenges.

Secondly, it adds clarity and focus. It’s easy to get caught up on new ideas and initiatives in the course of a busy year. But when you have a strategic plan in place, you know what you’re aiming for and the key actions you need to take. It assists to ensure that you target these areas and invest the budget and resources into them, without getting distracted by other things.

Thirdly, it makes your Association more aware of its own strengths and weaknesses. Strategic planning is a process than involves reflection. Taking the time to consider what has worked well before, and what hasn’t, is important for any organisation.

And finally, a strategic plan aligns all levels of your Association. It shows everyone – from the President to the volunteers – what you are striving for and the role that each individual can play. It creates a sense of purpose and unity, with clear goals and objectives to work towards. This gives everyone at the Association additional motivation and a reason to be involved.

The 5 Steps to Creating a Strategic Plan

It is the responsibility of the Board to create a strategic plan for the Association. This important work should take place at the beginning of the financial year and guide the next twelve months of activity. It should also be reviewed and reconsidered during the year as new information becomes available and the Association is able to see the success of certain initiatives and activities.

1) Determine your strategic position

You need to know where you are before you can make a plan for where you’re going. Before any planning work commences, it is important that the Board develops a strong understanding of the Association’s current position. This is true regardless of whether the Association is a well-established and long-running organisation, or a new one.

Review your current situation by speaking with the executive, members and key stakeholders. You can use industry data to understand the current operational environment. A process of benchmarking can also be beneficial in understanding where you stand.

2) Prioritise your objectives

Having too many goals can cause a problem. Determine which objectives are the most important by asking questions about the impact of each goal in achieving the Association mission, the urgency of different initiatives, and the resources needed to accomplish each goal. Choosing a selection of key objectives that will make the biggest impact will result in the greatest success.

3) Develop a clear and concise plan

Breaking down objectives into actionable steps allows you to see what needs to be done, who needs to be involved, and what resources (such as staff, budget and otherwise) will need to be allocated.

4) Execute and manage the plan

Once a strong plan has been developed, it can be implemented throughout the Association. Clearly communicate to all levels of the Association what the plan is and how they will play a role in reaching your objectives. This builds trust and a sense of ownership of your goals.

5) Review and revise the plan

 No plan will be perfect the first time. Be prepared to make changes and re-evaluate during the process based on the success and failure of different projects and initiatives. It’s important to be able to make changes without compromising the central vision of the Association.


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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