The final post in this series addresses another sacred cow. Over the course of my 34 year professional nonprofit career, I have constantly heard “it’s the Board’s job to design the strategic plan.” It’s time to rethink this and get clarity about the Board’s role in strategic planning. In previous blogs I discussed board governance, the board’s accountability to the larger community, and the importance of delegating authority to the Executive Director, and as a result, it is vital that the board differentiate the role it plays in various organizational planning processes. In the planning process that moves beyond achieving annual benchmarks, the board must consider the following activities. They should:

  • Set and uphold organizational values,
  • Champion inclusion of community voices as they help in clarifying the organization’s role in the community,
  • Attend some outreach sessions as listeners rather than drivers,

These activities will help the board as they finalize and approve organizational goals. Once these goals are established, the board must delegate the authority to the Executive Director to devise the plan that is needed to actually achieve the goals. Ultimately the board’s role is to monitor the achievement of the organizational goals and whether or not they are being done in a cost-effective manner.

It is important for the board to revisit these goals on a regular basis and determine if they are achieving the vision and mission of the organization. However, sometimes  the strategy to achieve these goals may need to change, and that is likely to emerge from changes experienced by the organizational staff who are on the front-lines and are seeing whether or not a given strategy is working. If that is the case, it is the board’s role to determine if these means of achieving the organizational goals are consistent with the organizational values. It is not about judging the likely success or failure of a particular approach to solving a problem.