The 5 Horrors of Strategic Planning

In honor of the spooky season, we’ve compiled a list of some the ghastliest, scariest mistakes and horrors we’ve witnessed in our strategic planning work with nonprofit and public sector clients.

Every project is different, yet there are five common horrors that haunt our nightmares. Read at your own risk!

  • The Blob – Once upon a time, there was a strategic plan that tried to be everything to every stakeholder. This plan devoured resources and The Blobcrushed the staff’s hope for one focus. The plan grew and grew into an all-consuming hunger to be big, hairy and AUDACIOUS! Are you scared yet? Say “no” to plans that just stack new work on top of the old. Try to whittle back activities instead to ensure that what is left is truly achievable and measurable.


  • “Ghost” the process. Setting the strategic direction of a nonprofit is an essential responsibility of nonprofit board service. However, we’ve seen board members who float in and out of a critical planning session – or the process as a whole. The inability to consistently contribute can seriously undermine reaching a consensus, and can ultimately derail achieving the full board ownership and accountability needed to execute the final plan. Don’t be a Casper!


  • Revamping Vampires. An effective strategic planning process should leverage the time of busy board Lost Boysand staff members, engaging them at strategic points, and delegating lesser tasks. Beware the “Revamping Vampires,” who want to sink their teeth (and everyone else’s) into the etymology of word choices at your planning session. Such dickering over details can seriously drain energy and enthusiasm from your planning process, wasting precious time that could be focused on strategic, high-level questions. Instead, farm out detailed wordsmithing of final statements (e.g. Mission, Vision, Strategic Goals) to a smaller, niche group.


  • Alone in the Woods. Why do the protagonists in scary movies always go outside of their safe cabin into the woods alone? It never ends well. IsolationCabin in the Woods is bad in horror movies, and it’s bad in strategic planning. Check your assumptions by actively soliciting perspectives from the people you serve and those who help fuel your mission – customers, donors, key collaborators, volunteers – through tools like surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Ignore such feedback, and you risk the perils of a plan not tethered to reality.


  • Gringotts, Gold & Goblins. Gringotts Wizarding Bank, as any Harry Potter fan knows, is the goblin-operated bank where wizard currency is stored and withdrawn. The treasure stored in Gringotts vaults Harry Potter - Gringottsplays a key role in Harry’s adventures, and the resources needed to execute your plan should play a key role in yours as well. Mission Capital recommends every plan include a pro-forma budget estimating revenues and expense assumptions for each year of the plan. So, as the board ratifies the plan with the budget included, it’s crystal clear what resources will be needed to deliver the hoped-for results.

Ready to move beyond the frights and fears and do your strategic planning right? Join us on November 15 for the one-day Strategy & Sustainability Intensive, and we’ll help your team lay the groundwork for your nonprofit’s next 3-5 years. No tricks, just treats.

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