The question of business planning is an age-old one: do we need one? Is it a worthy investment? What difference will it make?
The key thing is to take these questions separately, i.e., decide first if a plan is important, then work out whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
Why does your organisation need a business plan and a business plan measurement tool?
In order to be strategic, your organisation needs a clear direction. You needs a vision and a set of principles for guidance. You need to be clear about what you want to prioritise, where to invest time and resources and what will have the biggest impact. You also need to be clear about how you are going to achieve your vision.
Change is a process. What works for an organisation during a crisis period of fire-fighting won’t work as a sustainable long-term plan. Immediate deadlines and emergencies cloud future planning. New ideas and new thinking are essential – but ideas alone don’t get you funded. They need to be rooted in close communication with partners and users and serve a well-evidenced need.
A strategic plan would help you to decide what priorities are most important, what longer-term aims can be broken down into bite-size pieces of work so that they are fulfilled, while giving everyone peace of mind that everything is in hand.
A business plan will enhance organisational efficiency, streamlining reporting that can be used for the board, funders and in communications. A centralised way of recording and collecting data on outputs and outcomes across all projects would enhance efficiency and provide even more impressive qualitative and quantitative data on performance. This will lessen the tension surrounding reporting to others and help the board gain clarity on what is being delivered and how it is being achieved, allowing it greater time to focus on strategic rather than operational matters.
New opportunities constantly arise, but how are these selected? It is important that the organisation has a way of working out which ideas are worth investing time in and which aren’t. It’s nice to have a reason to say no to things as required: a business plan gives you that.
A business plan helps ensure you are exploiting all the opportunities available to you so you don’t miss out. A lack of strategic synergy can waste valuable effort, resources and could lead to reputational damage. A business plan helps everyone in the organisation understand what the other parts are doing and how they can work together better to achieve the best outcomes for beneficiaries.
A business plan streamlines strategic thinking. You only have to decide once how you will communicate with the sector/partners and set this out as a communications plan (which, of course, you can refine and develop). This can then be replicated across all projects, ensuring any good news is swiftly shared with the right partners and people to optimise the organisation’s impact. A communications plan can also be reported to funders and can be pitched as a discrete project for the organisation.
A business plan provide a framework for activities, ensuring that you can provide clear grant reporting showing impact while building a case for future funding – a thorough, robust proposal that will stand the organisation in good stead to develop the relationship for the long term.
This measurement of business plan objectives will also help the organisation demonstrate to members, users, partners and funders that its activities are effective. This is the ultimate aim of any organisation. The plan will come with a measurement tool to enable the team to accurately report on varied pieces of work in one cohesive plan. This model of practice is akin to a management tool displayed by level 2 or 3 PQASSSO accredited organisation.
Being able to demonstrate your effectiveness will help to silence critics of the organisation who are themselves floundering in difficult times. By clearly laying out what you are doing and why, the organisation will cut back on the need to become entangled in lengthy arguments/complaints to clarify its role and its work with partners. It will also be easier to use the business plan and objectives to illustrate how the work of the organisation is based on user needs – something that is hard to criticise.
Can you afford it?
This is an internal question to be answered: can you afford it now? Can you afford it later? Can you afford parts of the work? Can you afford not to? Do you have the skills to execute this yourselves to a high standard?
The impact of a business plan on organisational time (your most precious commodity), alongside its potential to bring in more resources through well-developed fundraising, cohesive ties across all work, maximised opportunities and improved communications, cannot be underestimated.
We are talking about a very different and much stronger organisation emerging from the ashes of the current culture.