Saturday, February 25, 2012

What to put in an action plan

I am helping a local organisation with their business planning and we got onto what should go into the action plan. I know this organisation reasonably well and know that they are continually developing new initiatives - they are fairly new and there's quite a bit of energy around both from staff and from volunteers. So my advice was to see what they have been doing in the past six months. The manager produces a weekly report so I suggested that she should cut from all her reports the details of the new activities e.g. meetings with potential new customers or partners, and paste them into another document. Then print out this document and then cut it up so that each activity is on a separate small piece of paper.  Then sit on the floor or in front of a large table and group activities together so that you have categories. She should then have the beginnings of her action plan - she would have the categories and know what she's already done - the actions are then how to develop that work.

The problem with many action plans is that people think it's about doing lots of new stuff.  But whether we are paid staff or volunteers most of our time is spent doing what needs to be done to keep our organisations running smoothly. There is usually a bit of development and this needs to recognised as such. Sometimes a development can be to do the same things but to do them differently. If we are doing nothing new then perhaps its time to sit down with our fellow trustees/committee members and ask ourselves 'What is stopping us for doing new things?'

The business plan (before the action plan) should provide the history and the background and the reasons why we are doing whatever it is we are doing.  If there is not a consistent narrative say from our values and the outcomes that we want to achieve to our actions then that's when we need to change something.  We may have to change our values - but that should be a last resort.  We may have to change our desired outcomes - that would be a shame but may reflect lessons learnt in the real world. We may need to change what we do or how we do it - which is often easier to say than to do.  However we do need to ensure that what we are trying to achieve (our outcomes) and how we achieve these (our values) should logically lead us to what we are actually doing.

The are some (many?) people who hate the idea of doing this sort of thing.  My experience is that it can be very illuminating both in telling us will the good work that we do and also what work we think we are doing but aren't.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Business planning

Some people automatically twitch when they see the term business planning for charities.  I have blogged on this in the past. And yet at the moment I am reminded of how important it is - in some cases it is vital. I am currently helping two organisations with their business plans, have recently commented on another and have had email correspondence with someone who has been made redundant because there was sufficient timely planning by their employer. 

Whilst most of us plan for our own futures we do this more in an unconscious manner than by writing a personal plan. Although I do know at least one person who does write down a personal plan. So how do we go about writing a business plan for a Unitarian congregation/local community?

Here is one suggested contents list for a business plan 
  1. Executive Summary  
  2. Introduction
  3. Background
  4. Vision, mission, aims and values
  5. Organisational description
  6. The building(s) and any land
  7. Risk assessment
  8. Strategic challenges    
  9. Outcomes for the next three to five years with targets and milestones
  10. Action plan
  11. Three year financial projections
  12. Monitoring
This seems like a lot but it is worth considering all sections. Sections 3,4 and 5 will probably change little between business plans so it's worth working on this over time to give a context to your plans. Section 6 may also be unchanging unless the next few years will see major refurbishment and renovation. However you can write some historic stuff.  You don't have to write reams and if you think that reams might be useful put the majority of this in appendices.

Having a risk assessment (Section 7) is a good discipline to get into. Here are two blog posts on risk management - one & two. Risks can be about anything - the building, about our finances or even about our spiritual lives. It's just thinking what could go wrong, how much impact that would have on the community, how likely is that risk going to occur (earthquakes in the UK low, raining off the summer fundraiser probably fairly high!) and thinking of how you might reduce the (a) likelihood of the risk actually occurring and (b) reducing the impact if the risk does occur. These contingency plans must go into Section 10 which is your action plan.

Strategic challenges (Section 8) are about the big issues facing the community. These will emerge through discussion and perhaps a more formal assessment of the organisation.  The challenges may include

  • How to find finance;
  • How to make people more aware of the local Unitarian community;
  • How to develop new approaches to worship or provide spirituality workshops;
  • How to move from one stage of development to the next.
You may wish to think of them under a set of headings for example

  • People: Governance; Ministry; Volunteers; Community Members; Youth; Visitors
  • Other Resources: Finance; the Building; Skills and Expertise of Community Members
  • Developments: Worship; Quality Standards; Knowledge and Skills; Community’s Profile; Communication; and Partnerships.
You will need to discuss how to prioritise these challenges.  It is often fairly obvious but not always. Some people may be more interested in one area of work rather than another. The reasons why the priorities have been chosen need to be clearly described.

Taking all the foregoing into consideration you then need to decide what changes the community wants to see - these are the Outcomes (Section 9). There is a fine balance between being realistic in what can be achieved and not stretching ourselves to achieve more. It will be a learning exercise - monitoring the plan will enable outcomes to be tweaked and reset. The blog post gives more information on how to measure change.

Then you get to do the good part - the Action Planning (Section 10). I have a previous blog post on this. I think that what you have to do with action planning is be realistic about timescales. If the committee only meets quarterly and there are some big decisions to be made, then either you are going to have to have more meetings or recognise that the decision making process will take much longer than if you were meeting every week.

You always have to match you action plan with an income and expenditure profile Section 11) and then you have to build in some monitoring (Section 12) to ensure that you are on track or so that you can change your targets so that you actually achieve what you say you are going to.

Business planning is not difficult but it does require commitment - the first time is always the worst!