Is your chorus about to embark on strategic planning? Strategic planning is a great way to align around your nonprofit chorus’s mission, evaluate the current status of your chorus, and envision where you want your chorus to be in the near future. This process leads to the strategic plan, providing clarity and guardrails for your organization’s big picture decision-making.
Whether you are brand-new to strategic planning, or you have gone through the process before and have a plan sitting on your shelf, we will cover five elements for success and what should be included in your strategic plan.
Why do we need strategic planning?
Nonprofit choral organizations can operate like a business; but unlike a business, choruses do not have owners. Instead, a nonprofit chorus has stewards in the form of the board, staff, and stakeholders. The programs and services offered by your chorus are considered a public service in your community.
Ideally, your chorus should enter into strategic planning every three to five years. Many nonprofits rinse and repeat their programs annually. Strategic planning is a way to review your choir’s mission and, most importantly, assess how effectively your programs are serving your community as a whole.
We need a strategic plan to serve as a guide so we can successfully engage in ongoing long and short-term planning activities to achieve outlined goals. Strategic planning can be broken into two main parts: 1) the strategic planning process which leads to the written strategic plan and 2) the strategic plan which is the output of the process.
But what does a successful strategic planning process look like? And how can your chorus ensure success? Here are the five elements of effective strategic planning that will help your choir make the most of this process.
1. Take time to get it right.
If you are starting a new strategic planning process, or have never done this before, take the time to do it right. You might feel pressure to rush into the process. That could be disastrous and leave your stakeholders feeling left out or unheard.
The time involved in strategic planning can vary widely. Has your chorus been through this process before? Do you need time to educate the board on the value of this process? It could be a 6-month or year-long process depending on where you are starting. Set your chorus up for success by thoughtfully planning out the process. Yes, you have to plan the plan!
Create a timeline for the process with target dates and deadlines, including hiring a facilitator, gathering feedback, dates for the strategic planning retreat (a day or weekend), and a writing period to turn the notes into a written plan.
2. Understand your organization’s capacity.
An effective strategic planning process begins by recognizing and understanding the true capacity of your choir’s staff, board, and volunteers to implement the plan, strive for goals, and aim for success.
Be sure to consider who will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the strategic plan. Do you have staff or board members that have the bandwidth to take on new programs? Be thoughtful and realistic about your goals. This doesn’t mean you can’t set lofty goals, but be honest about what is possible, how long it will take, and how much it will cost to achieve your goals.
Human resources are not unlimited in any organization – it’s important for your goals to be realistic and attainable.
3. Be open and honest.
A successful strategic planning process encourages all participants to be open and honest about where the organization is and where it is going. This is the time to ask the hard questions. Be open and vulnerable to hearing these constructive answers as they might be challenging to hear.
Some questions you can ask your team include: how are the organization’s programs impacting the community? Can you do more? SHOULD you do more? Who does your organization serve? What communities are not represented in your organization? Consider the voices that are not currently represented or being included, and bring them into the conversation.
The answers to these questions may lead you to review (and possibly revise) your mission and vision statements to clarify your organizational values. This is the time to constructively review what your choir does, the actual impact of your programs, and what you might do differently or add into the programming mix.
Be sure to hire a strategic planning facilitator to help guide your organization through the process. It’s important that this facilitator has nonprofit expertise and it is best to have an outside voice guiding you through. Sorry board members: no, you cannot do this yourself to save money. (Also, we prefer that you are involved in the process!)
4. Include stakeholders and gather feedback.
There are many benefits that stem from including your chorus’s stakeholders in the strategic planning process, including increasing community awareness, stewarding existing donor and patron connections, and encouraging engagement from the board, staff, and singers.
Begin by identifying your key stakeholders. Who do you serve? Who provides your programs? Who supports your programs? Community members, singers, board members, donors, patrons, staff, and many others should be included and / or represented in the process.
Solicit and gather feedback from your stakeholders through digital surveys, focus groups, and roundtable discussions. This feedback can be telling about how your chorus is perceived within the community, and often will lead to opportunities and new ideas for where your chorus might be headed.
5. Include a plan to follow through.
Too often, we go through the strategic planning process, write up a plan, and then we return back to the daily grind of nonprofit-chorus-life. The strategic plan is put on a shelf and rarely reviewed or referenced. What’s the point of spending all of this time and effort if we aren’t going to follow through?
Ensure success by including a clear process to periodically check in and follow through on your plan. Schedule time in your board and staff meetings to revisit the plan each quarter and include it in your organizational calendar.
If you have staff, they can help drive this quarterly review and they can make plans based on the strategic plan for the year. If you don’t have staff, it’s the board’s job to make sure the strategic plan is followed.
What should be in the strategic plan?
As mentioned before, the strategic planning process leads us to the strategic plan. Your organization’s strategic plan can take on many different forms. It can be a spreadsheet, an infographic, narrative report, slide deck, etc. Whatever you choose, pick the plan format that makes sense for your organization.
To help get you started, here is an outline of what to include in your strategic plan.
INTRODUCTION - The introduction is where you include a statement of intention for the strategic plan. This can be the reason why your chorus is going through this process. Include an outline of the process and framework for your plan, as well as a list of who is involved and engaged in the process.
CURRENT STATE - This section paints a picture of where your chorus is today and includes the current state: what you do, who you serve, and your mission, vision, and values. Include a SWOT or SOAR analysis from your retreat weekend. A SWOT analysis outlines your choir’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats; a SOAR analysis identifies Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results.
FUTURE STATE - Describe your organization’s aspirational future and paint a picture of the future state of your chorus. Over the life of the strategic plan, this narrative will describe how your organization will move from where it is now to where you aspire to be over the next number of years.
STATE YOUR GOALS - In this section, state and describe the specific goals your chorus will work toward to achieve your envisioned future state. Always keep in mind that these goals should be in alignment with your mission.
Clearly state your chorus’s short, mid, and long-term goals and objectives. Goals should meet SMART goal criteria:
Specific - be clear about what your chorus wants to achieve
Measurable - the goals should be quantifiable
Attainable - the goals should be ambitious but realistic!
Relevant - the goals must align with your chorus’s mission and values
Time-bound - set a time frame or deadline for achieving each goal
ACTIVITIES - This section is where the rubber meets the road. Write out each of the action steps and timeline needed to achieve the goals. Here is where you will dig into the details. Include answers to these questions for each of the stated goals:
- What are the necessary activities to achieve the objective?
- How will you achieve the objective?
- Who is the person / team responsible? Board, Staff, Committee, etc.
- What is the timeline for the activity? 6 months, 1 year, 2 years?
- What is the anticipated budget to achieve this goal?
- How will you measure success? Which relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) can help quantify achievement toward the goal?
Staying on Track
Avoid the pitfalls of not achieving your goals because it was unclear who was in charge or responsible for the activities in your strategic plan. By clearly stating which party is responsible for the activities for each goal, including a timeline for completion, listing anticipated expenses, and identifying the key performance indicators, you will help keep everyone working together toward achieving your goals.
Don’t forget to share the final strategic plan with your team to confirm everyone is aware of their role in the plan. And if you don’t have staff, it’s the board’s job to keep everyone on track. Remember to schedule regular check-ins over the duration of the strategic plan. Actually, go ahead and schedule your chorus’s next strategic plan in 3-5 years!
Jen Rogers is the Executive Director of the San Diego Master Chorale. After serving as the CEO of the Grammy-winning Phoenix Chorale for over 5 years, she launched her performing arts consulting firm, Sound Nonprofit Consulting (soundnonprofit.com), specializing in chorus management. Jen is passionate about supporting choral artists and the staff and board members that make choral music possible. She currently serves on the Advisory Boards of Tonality (L.A.), Downtown Chamber Series (Phoenix), and Orpheus Male Chorus (Phoenix). A trained saxophonist in a former life, in her free time she can be found conducting genealogy research, cooking plant-based meals, competitively reading, and exploring her new home city of San Diego.