Road Map

View from an airplane window at the wings and flying over a scenic landscape of green hills and rivers
I was outside a subway station in town when I noticed a construction crew prepping the street for a project. Barricades were being set, sidewalks were being redirected, and the “plan” was being mapped out on the road with different colors of spray paint. I wonder, what will be achieved when this spray-paint-on-asphalt plan is implemented?

For years I have been a planning consultant, specifically strategic planning and fundraising planning for non-profit organizations. I really enjoy the planning process and being with a team (usually a board of directors) as it names and clarifies its governance and programmatic goals. Often these teams embrace this critical planning process with enthusiasm and intention which can be seen in the results of the effort… a well-written plan!

View from an airplane window at the wings and flying over a scenic landscape of green hills and rivers

One thing I notice in most planning processes, however, is how little attention is paid to what to do with the plan once it is created. The team will meet and plan and write and plan. They will hold retreats and brainstorm and report back to the group and write some more. The team will conduct a SWAT analysis and compile SMART goals and conduct some form of judgment-free, inclusive voting. It’s all good. A stronger team is built. A plan is written.

And yet, what about implementing the plan? What is involved in taking the entire plan, what is written and what is intended, and implementing it? When people (or subcommittees) take portions of the plan to implement, how does their effort fit into the implementation of the whole plan? How will people be supported, evaluated, and held accountable for their portion of the implementation? How will the plan (and expectations) be adjusted to meet current realities during a long implementation process? How will you know when the plan is fully implemented and the need arises for another plan?

View from an airplane window at the wings and flying over a scenic landscape of green hills and rivers

Planning is a process that doesn’t end. For a non-profit organization, planning is about the impact you are trying to have on the world first, how you plan to make this impact second, and the actual resourcing of programs third. The planning proposition is: In order to do THIS (mission), we will do THIS (programs generally), and it will look like THIS (actual services provided). Consider:

In order to eradicate the world of Malaria by 2015, we will take a holistic approach to the epidemic by looking at the interrelationship of clean water, netting, medication, education, and public policy, by doing…


In order to end the institutionalization of children, we will fight for accessible adoption laws for all children without families, by doing…


In order to strengthen democratic institutions for all, we will educate people about their rights and responsibilities, by doing…

The most successful planning process is one that concludes at the end of the implementation of the plan produced; not at the conclusion of the planning process itself.

Think about it.


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Gary M. Groth, MS, PCC, CPCC

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