#68 – First Time Writing a Strategic Plan: Lessons Learned

Recently, we wrapped up a project with a partner for their strategic planning. The purpose was for GardHouse, an emerging non-profit serving college students of color in workforce development, to have a guide for growth in the next three years. If I had to use one word to describe my experience, I would use “exciting.” This process was exciting as I learned more about Charlotte and North Carolina, the factors (and the lack of metrics) of upward mobility, and interviewed different stakeholders. It was also exciting since it was my first time writing a strategic plan, so I knew I was in it to learn! Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

    • Like any other project, we started with listening and engaging with stakeholders. This could mean board members, employees, the population the organization is currently serving and trying to serve, any existing and potential partners, volunteers, current funders, etc. We were able to hear first-hand experiences from the people working closest to the organization and listen to their visions and directions of impact.
    • Throughout this process of interviews, we were also crafting and refining questions to ask ourselves in our research, with the next stakeholder, and during our client check-in calls. I believe this evolution in refining key questions throughout the process led us to produce a more robust strategic plan.
    • It is essential to start drafting the strategic plan early, but I felt that I had nothing to write in the first three months of the project or didn’t know where to start. (Also, note that this project was supposed to last six months.) Here are some ways to start: summarizing the organization by researching, putting together a SWOT analysis based on stakeholder conversations, performing market research, and doing a deep dive into the organization’s finances.
    • Use previous strategic plans as examples, but keep in mind that what works for one organization will not always work for another. I referenced SchermCo’s previous strategic plans with organizations like Profound Gentlemen and TECA as I was writing GardHouse’s strategic plan. I was also pushed to make the strategic plan “my own” with a format different from those examples.
    • Think about the “Testing Phase” ahead of time. What are some things that you can test and have results for? We call ourselves a “strategic implementation firm,” and this means that we use the testing phase to execute certain ideas that we have to make sure it works. By doing so, the strategic plan will include evidence of what worked (and what didn’t) and provide additional recommendations on scaling this. 

Hope this helps our readers who are planning to write their own strategic plans and let us know how we can help you and your organization grow! 

Action Steps

  1. Have you written a strategic plan before? Feel free to provide some additional insights in the comments.
  2. Feel free to review the GardHouse strategic plan and check out our other work!
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