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Strategic Planning: Gathering Data

GatheringEnrollmentDataThe term “strategic planning” gets tossed around quite a bit in the nonprofit field.  To help demystify the process, our consultants will weigh in as a part of an on-going series on subjects related to strategic planning in the nonprofit sector – process, trends, fresh perspectives and tales from the field.

As the adage goes, “you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” Gathering useful information in preparation for planning means both gathering facts and seeking opinions.

If you engage a strategic planning facilitator, the gathering of data will have been an important part of discovery and defining the issues, which we covered in a previous post.  Once the planning effort has been structured, it is important to go back and compile information in a usable format for the individuals who will be doing the planning, providing them a useful overview of each topic.  This is sometimes called an “organizational assessment” or “current conditions assessment.”

Quantitative Data
Information that can be counted or expressed numerically is quantitative data, and its strength is in the ability to be statistically analyzed to uncover trends.  Your organization very likely measures its progress quantitatively all year long – the key in strategic planning is to gather historical data in a way that allows for trend analysis and assessment.

  • Programmatic Outcomes – At the heart of strategic planning is determining whether your organization is working effectively and efficiently to meet its mission.  A statistical compilation of outcomes is likely to include the number of individuals served, the perceived need in your community for your services and the cost of providing those services.
  • Financial Performance – How has your organization performed financially during the downturn that began in 2008?  Does your organization have an endowment, and if so, how has it performed over the past 5+ years? An income and expense report covering at least five years should be coupled with a performance report for financial investments.
  • Fund Development Metrics – If your organization is primarily supported by contributed revenue, what was the donor churn rate over the past three years? If you have an earned revenue platform (sponsorship, membership, etc.), what was the ROI on those activities?  To inform those who will be doing the planning, create a brief report that provides the hard numbers along with context.

Qualitative Data
Descriptive information that is expressed not in terms of numbers, but rather by means of a natural language is qualitative data, and its value to the strategic planning process is critical.  For many organizations, it will mark the first time in recent memory that leadership is focused on such feedback, so gathering pertinent information is vital.

  • Stakeholder Interviews & Testimonials – If you’re smart, you or your planning facilitator will have interviewed a wide variety of current and prospective stakeholders ahead of convening your planning committee.  Cull down the information you’ve received, providing a summary of targeted feedback on the areas of planning focus.
  • Survey Results – If applicable, surveying various constituencies can provide useful information for planning.  Satisfaction surveys of customers and staff, impact surveys of those served and engagement surveys of donors are all appropriate inputs for planning.

Be careful to provide just enough information to inform the strategic planning steering committee but avoid overwhelming them.  Recognize that your strategic planning steering committee is likely made up of busy individuals. At the same time, you chose them to participate because you value their critical thinking, so don’t be afraid to share your assessment material.