Fumbling in the Dark? How to create a strategy for your organization/department (Part I of II)

Courtesy of t-florie from stock.xchng

Picture this: You’ve just started a new position as a communications director/manager/coordinator at a non-profit or small business. You meet with your supervisor/boss and find out your duties & tasks and it’s a lot, to say the least. Are you there? Have you been? I was, and I knew that if I wanted to make progress and a difference in my org (don’t we all?!), I needed to have plan, or a strategy.

I like to think of strategy and planning as a roadmap for where you are going to go. You have several routes laid out and know which turns you will make and when, with a little flexibility of course for traffic jams, delays, and other unforseen circumstances, but you follow your route or map until you reach your destination. Without a map or some sort of route in mind, you’d just drive around for hours on end trying to find your location and probably end up frustrated (to say the least), dejected, and lost. Sometimes when you are facing a mountain of work or a new role, it’s easy to get bogged down in all the day -to- day tasks and get lost when it comes to the overall direction you wanted to move in/were moving in. That’s where the strategy/plan comes in- it helps you map out your actions so you reach the destination without a lot of fuss, confusion and wasted time.

My strategy-making can be broken down into three parts, or steps, which sub-steps, so because of that (and because the length of this post would be unmanageable if I wrote out the whole shebang all at once) this is broken up into 2 posts- right now you are in Part I!

Step 1: Preliminary/Ground Work

The first thing you want to do, before you write up a fancy, spiral bound plan, is some background work. Does your organization have an overall strategic plan? You may have to do some digging for this…and if you’re really lucky it might not exist at all (ahem!) but you should reference it to see if there’s any mention of communication, marketing, outreach, etc. or any keywords that pertain to your department/area. If it does, you’ll want to incorporate these points into whatever plan/strategy you develop.

The second step is taking a few moments (or a few hours, depending on your size, etc.) and doing a 3 question survey of your area/department.

  • Where are we? What has been done thus far? How many media placements has your org. had in the last year? Ever? If you are in development, do you have a database? Any established development activities/staff? What is your current donation totals/percentages? Look at what has been happening in your areas before you came along.
  • Where do we need to be? And I mean NEED- this is taking a hard look at what is dire/what is not and making decisions about what needs to be done. Is your contact database frighteningly insecure? Incomplete? Did you inherit a problematic media relations situation? Look at the bare bones basics you need to be effective/get by in comparison to where you are at now. Address these issues first.
  • Where do we want to be? This is where you get ambitious- you look past where you need to be and where you’ve been and you aim high- but not impossibly high. With all your goals you want to keep it within the realm of possibility. If you’re organization only raised $10,000 last year in donations setting a development goal of $1 million for this year is setting yourself up for failure and will steal the steam/thunder right out of you. You have to manage your own expectations just as you would your ED/Board/constituents.

The third step in your Ground Work stage is soliciting input from others in your org. about what you’ve gathered so far. You can do this with your supervisor/ED/boss, but if you have some resistance or non-chalance there, don’t be afraid to also talk to your co-workers, board members (if you feel comfortable/it’s appropriate), and other support network. I’m lucky to have a stellar parent support group that I’m able to tap whenever I want to get additional input/thought about ideas and goals, and that’s been a great resource for me in planning and executing communications activities/work at my org.  If you are new to an org. this is SO important- sometimes you need to get several opinions to really have a full picture of what has been happening in your organization and what direction should you be moving in going forward. It’s also important to have this input as a system of checks/balances to you- especially in the beginning. You may have a really great idea/goal of a gala, but what you might not know is that your org tried that 2 years ago and it flopped for reasons xyz, and this info is really key to saving yourself time and trouble with your supervisor/boss and helping create the most applicable, accurate strategy possible.

Next up: Step 2- Make that plan! and Step 3- Following up.

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