Strategic and Long-Range Planning for All

Steven M. Grove

Whether you are a for-profit or nonprofit camp, you are a business and certain important factors must always be considered. One of these is strategic planning.

Many organizations think that taking last year’s ideas and putting a new date on them constitutes the planning process. However, the planning process involves a thorough review and look at your entire operation from a fresh perspective. It is a look at where your organization is and where you are heading, as well as thoughts as to how to get there. Organizations refer to the planning process in many different ways — strategic planning, long-range planning, business planning, and strategic long-range business planning — but they all mean the same thing: a road map to follow.

Getting Started

Getting started seems to be one of the hardest parts of all large projects. You sit and wonder how you will get a plan completed and how it will be implemented. It is important to remember that your plan is just lots of baby steps. Starting is the key to actually getting the plan completed. Begin your project by deciding:

  • Who will be on your planning team? This group holds the key to your future. Assemble the right talent to assist you.
  • Will the committee act as one large group or several small groups? Who will lead?
  • What is the time frame for completion of the plan, including the distribution of the final draft? A good plan will take six to twelve months to complete. Being as specific as possible with the time frame will help the plan be successful.
  • What is the scope of the project you are planning and why? This should be the first and very general approach that starts you heading in the right direction.

The start of the planning process is the hardest. Everyone will be very skeptical, and the thoughts and ideas may be so far in the future that many will believe the goals are unattainable. Be sure to maintain enthusiasm and interest at this point, and make sure those involved feel appreciated.

Selecting the Committee

Your plan will be a collection of thoughts from people who believe in its implementation. You will need to have a team who is going to buy into this process and then assist in its implementation and success. The group should include a mix of talents, ages, and constituencies, for example, former and current campers, parents, current and past staff, community members, and even people who may assist in the funding of the projects to be planned.

Involve others who will look objectively at your needs. Those directly involved can often be too close to a subject to see it clearly. Outsiders often bring a fresh look to the table and will also assist to tempering your enthusiasm with reality.

Even more important is bringing talent that will make the process go more quickly. Lawyers, insurance agents, accountants, or engineers may bring different resources to the plan. People in the community will also know the reality of various plans going through other processes such as zoning that will be important.

Be sure to select committee members who will stay involved from start to end. Too much of the plan is going to take time to implement and you want active participants. Along the same line, you need to look at the time commitment necessary based upon the plan to be produced. Honestly tell your volunteers how much time will be involved.

Deciding the Group's Goal

What type of plan do you want to produce? Are you updating a current plan or producing a new plan? Review the issues at hand and look at what you are trying to accomplish. Give your group a very specific charge to accomplish. Leaving the goal too open makes the process that much harder. For example:

  • Are you planning for a loan?
  • Is the plan for a long-range
    fund-raising process?
  • Are you preparing the business for sale or expansion?
  • Are you interested in serving
    a different population?
  • Is this the first draft of a general long-range plan?

Defining what the planning group is to accomplish will allow you the chance to set specific goals to reach within the time frame the plan is to be completed. Define the who and the what upfront. This alone may take a few meetings among the key individuals in order to decide the starting point. The closer you are at the start to your key direction, the closer you will be to your results at the end. In addition, there is nothing more frustrating than to give people a task that once started has to be changed and changed again due to a lack of direction or leadership.

What the Plan Should Include

Now comes the time to decide what information you need to include in your plan. People have different needs, and even donors will differ with regard to what they want to know. The final printed plan should be done to provide a reader with the information they are looking for. There are a few helpful hints to assist in achieving this.

Your written plan should have eight to twelve sections, including:

  • the mission of the plan
    and/or organization
  • the goals of the organization
    and the plan
  • the objectives of the plan
  • the strategies of the plan
  • actions to take in the plan
  • evaluations of the various steps of the plan

A useful plan will have some of the following qualities:

  • It will include historical data, including some information about the process, organization, and status.
  • The plan will be specific and measurable. Do your dreaming and then put the ideas into priority order according to what can be attained. Put some items into the far-off category. A good rule of thumb is to divide the main plan into what will be accomplished over the next five years, but add a section for what you will look at five years after that to let readers know you are thinking into the future.
  • It will be flexible and able to be easily read by different groups.

Don’t ignore the big things that need to be addressed, and don’t be afraid to address the hard issues. The harder the issue addressed, the better the plan. If you need to sell off a piece of land in order to better capitalize the business, indicate this in the plan. You must provide solutions as well as ideas. Don’t say you are going to address a lack of attendance without attempting to address how you will correct this issue.

Gathering Data

Once you have decided the team, the need, and other important issues, you need to begin gathering data to support your goal.

Collect data from as many groups as you can. Conduct focus groups with past and present campers, staff, or parents. Gather people together from all over. You may even have to travel to hold these meetings, but it will be worth it.

In addition, create questions and surveys that will get the information you need. The collection of data can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. You may want to contact a company that specializes in target surveying. Remember, don’t ask just yes-or-no questions. Collect opinions and listen with an open mind.

If you’ve gathered the necessary information, your plan should be able to help you answer three important business questions, defined by management guru Peter Drucker. Many long-range plans do a lot for improvements, financial plans, and other fancy thoughts, but don’t answer these critical questions:

  • Who are my customers?
  • What business am I in?
  • What do my customers expect of me?

Be prepared to treat the finished plan as a business plan. Many times a plan will be quite specific but unrealistic, or it won’t be far reaching enough. One of the key points that is made in any business plan is that all areas of the business are examined and documented. This is a very long process, but one that you must do. All too often, I have seen business people just move ahead without knowing where they are going. This can lead to a disaster.

Be sure your plan includes costs and pricing. People want to know what you are planning and how much it is going to cost. Your business plan can say a lot about your goals, direction, methods, and business sense. Believe it or not, many improvements in businesses don’t cost anything at all. It doesn’t cost to be happy, to smile, or to create a better customer service philosophy, and it certainly doesn’t cost anything for everyone to build upon your mission or vision statement.

The Finished Plan

The end is just the beginning. When your document is complete, publish it. Don’t skimp on the visual look of your plan; work with a local print shop to make it colorful and enjoyable to read and have. Keep in mind that plans are not something to write and put on the shelf. They are merely the starting line.

With this in mind, consider presenting the information in different ways. The community may only want to see a small brochure with some highlights. Your board or supporters may wish to see the entire document.

You can also take your plan on the road and ask people to support it. Money is the easiest of all resources we have. People and time are far harder resources to find and keep under control.

In regard to people, keep your planning group together as long as you can. Allow them the chance to monitor the steps to begin implementation. Bring in more people to start carrying out the tasks, but monitor the process closely. Be willing to alter and change your plans. Some priorities may change as time goes on. As you accomplish a task, document your results and drop it out of the plan.

The planning process can get your entire organization back on track. You have to make time for it and you must be diligent about following through. A business moves only forward or backward. You either have to be moving ahead with your projects or they will be slipping. Which way are you going?

Stephen M. Grove is the owner of S. Grove and Associates, LLC, an accounting and consulting firm. He has been involved in the nonprofit field for more than seventeen years.


Originally published in the 2000 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.