Guiding the ship is not always smooth sailing. With your feet firmly planted, hands on the wheel, and focus ahead, the storms can keep coming. Your team scrambles above and below deck to manage the onslaught of relentless needs, requests, and output. Well, Captain, we are listening. Here are the five things we have learned from January’s Good Talk: “Living Your Strategic Plan”.


Set a Threshold of Consensus
Let’s face it, not everyone is going to agree on every part of the plan, but it’s important to recognize when discussions move from helpful to harmful. Constantly reconstructing a Strategic Plan, or the way it should be implemented, will not only delay reaching your goals but possibly derail the progress you’ve made so far.

  • Clearly define a threshold of buy-in, and stick to it. 
  • There is a pervasive sense of urgency in every organization, take a “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” approach, and address your organization’s basic needs first.
  • You don’t have to deconstruct the entire plan when you can’t reach a consensus. Learn to pivot; keep a solid foundation while you step in new directions. 

“Consensus is hard, define thresholds for buy-in.”
– Anne Ishii, Asian Arts Initiative


Assign Accountability with Intention
Strategic Plans are quickly abandoned when we fail to involve the appropriate people. Start by identifying your various stakeholders and understand their role in the organization. All members – board, management, staff – have unique skillsets that can help execute your plan more efficiently. Determine exactly who, and in what capacity, a team member will be held accountable. Communicate why they are being assigned this responsibility, and how their core strengths are necessary to executing the plan.

  • Don’t make extra work for people. Delegate the needs of your plan based on what members of your organization already do (ex. Hold the website manager accountable for reporting site traffic)
  • Share plans with internal AND external stakeholders to hold you accountable and keep your organization honest

“Accountability can be a superpower if you embrace it.”
– Will Tyrone Toms, REC Philly


Engage with All Stakeholders
None of us like being told what to do, especially when we think we know a better way to get the job done. It’s important to let your stakeholders (at every level of the organization) know their voices are heard, their ideas matter and their buy-in is vital. Build the framework of your Strategic Plan around each stakeholder group’s feedback – what’s working and what isn’t for the organization today. From these discussions, you’ll find a few key truths will emerge. Combine these truths into the Tenets of your Strategic Plan and let it be known!

  • Make the Tenets of your Strategic Plan memorable and shareable (ex: numbered list, acrostic poem, or an acronym)
  • Keep the Plan top of mind (ex: create brochures for external stakeholders, design an office wall decal of the Tenets, stress-test new ideas against the Tenets to see if they align)
  • Communicating your Plan with external stakeholders is hugely beneficial for community feedback, marketing, talent recruitment, and thought leadership

“Strategic Plans live and die by two things: The tactics and the people.”
– Adela Smith, Fairmount Ventures


Define, Discover and Measure Success
Change is uncomfortable and your new Strategic Plan will likely shake up the status quo. Without a doubt, someone will want to “go back to the way it used to be.” But remember, this Plan is an affirmation of your organization’s mission, vision, and values. It deserves time to demonstrate its worth. Don’t shy away from riding certain waves of opportunity, but come back to the plan and measure what works.

  • Qualitative data is just as important as quantitative data.
  • Use surveys to not only measure feedback but the level of engagement (are people even taking the time to fill out the forms?)
  • Conduct quick “Health Checks” at group meetings by assigning a key metric indicator (derived from the Strategic Plan) for each leader to report on

“Figure out how to cast up a sail up and catch that wind.”
– Crystal Brewe, Kimmel Center


Stay Unrelentingly Focused
Strategic Plans are inherently stressful. They are an attempt to design your organization’s future around constant economic and political chaos. The uncertainty has grown so great that some organizations have moved away from the traditional five- to a seven-year timeline, to a more papabile one- or two-year plan. No matter the timeline, your Strategic Plan will require constant attention.  

  • Use the Tenets of your plan as a framework for your internal meetings. If the discussion does not fall under a Tenet category, save it for an email.
  • Use your Strategic Plan to identify the things you are not going to do going forward to ensure you reach your goals.
  • Work the Tenets of your Plan into every aspect of your marketing and emphasize the aspects that resonate with individual audiences.

“Anchor your thoughts in your Strategic Plan.”
– Adela Smith, Fairmount Ventures


Panelists Pictured L-R: Adela Smith, VP & Partner of consulting firm Fairmount Ventures; Anne Ishii, Executive Director at the Asian Arts Initiative; Crystal Brewe, Senior VP of Strategic Marketing and Communications at the Kimmel Center; William Toms, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer of REC Philly.


So, how do you keep your Strategic Plan alive and kicking? Learn to move on, hold the right people accountable, listen to your stakeholders, know success takes time, and burn the Tenets into your brain. We want to thank our wonderful panelists for sharing their infinite wisdom with us and hope you join us for the next Good Talk!


About GoodTalk!

Good Talk! is a quarterly panel series covering a variety of topics and issues facing today’s nonprofits and purpose-driven organizations. Join us for coffee and conversation with a superstar lineup of local social impact movers and shakers.