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Three Step Process for Strategic Planning

Zach Clark

“Strategic planning” is one of those terms that just gets thrown around. The variety of perspectives on strategic planning, its processes, and its outcomes seem infinite.

The problem is that you can end up drowning while trying to grab hold of this big idea while people keep saying, “We need a strategic plan!”

Strategic planning is not about getting a perfect plan for a predictable future for your ministry. It’s about the discipline and process of planning and its impact, coupled with a final product that can be implemented. Your strategic plan should be alive, vibrant, and not sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

Strategic planning is a powerful tool for you as a leader. I want to equip you with a set of disciplines and skills that are based upon nearly twenty years of working with faith-based nonprofit organizations.

Step 1: Start with who then what.

First, we need to use the Jim Collins approach. Start with who then clarify the what of the planning process. Before we think about a process or ideas for strategies included in a plan, we need to think about who the best people are to get involved. Not all staff and volunteers are created equally when it comes to planning.

Strategic planning should be an amazing process that involves amazing people. I encourage leaders to develop a list of 50-100 people to involve in planning. This group of people is not only thinking about the future but may even end up involved and committed to implementation when the strategic planning process is concluded. Powerful!

Now, what are these planning people and teams going to work on? This is your first opportunity to provide leadership. We believe that the leader should define the boundaries of the strategic plan. The best way to do this is to define the planning process around the questions you have about your organization’s various aspects. What are you pondering as a leader for the future of your ministry or organization in these specific areas? Let this shape the questions you ask.

We encourage you to think in terms of five or ten groups of questions. Here are some examples of those groups to be thinking within.

  1. Financial sustainability

  2. Messaging, marketing, and public relations

  3. Effectiveness

  4. Growth and quality control

  5. Raising money for the future

It’s important to remember that the person (you) who asks the questions controls the debate. This is a role that no one else can do. YOU have to do it. You can get input on your key questions, but you have to establish the boundaries of the strategic planning process.

Step 2: Become a participant in the process.

Once you’ve framed these questions and recruited these great people, you have the opportunity to step back and become a participant in the process rather than the driver. Leaders are usually tempted to step all over great ideas. You will step over great people and their valuable input if you are not careful because you have many of your own great ideas. This process enables you to step back and become a participant.

I suggest hosting a kickoff event inviting all of the participants in the planning. Hopefully, the kickoff event enables you or an outside presenter to present some of the significant challenges, ideas, and opportunities facing your ministry. The kickoff gets everyone thinking on the same page. Then, give them a fun opportunity to exercise the skill of working together in teams. All of this happens in a controlled environment. This gets everything started right to build momentum.

The teams now have their group of questions that you have provided them as a leader. They are grappling with these questions and crafting an example using their strategies, tactics, and goals. They are addressing how to measure progress in this area and how to move the organization forward on their assigned group of questions.

Each team should meet as many times as it takes to keep momentum, and then they have to come to a conclusion. Finally, they will present to you the strategies, goals, and tactics they have prepared for their area of focus as a team.

This is when things get very exciting as a leader and even for your board because now we have gathered all of these ideas based upon the questions you have asked. Some of the input is all over the place, but the closer you look, the more you realize there is a lot of alignment and consistency.

Step 3: Create the final product.

You will start seeing an overlap of these different teams, their thinking, and the other leaders involved while you become an editor to this process. Rather than limiting your ministry’s future to your own thinking, you have become an editor of the very best ideas. You can begin to frame this into a final product that you believe in, that you will stand behind, and that you will help bring resources and people to implement.

When you have your final product, you have something that can be held in your hand, implementation can be shaped around, future teams can be working on in an ongoing way, and you can use to hold people accountable to how they are moving your ministry forward.

Not only do you now have a final product, but you have implemented a process involving 50-100 amazing people who are all ready to be involved in implementing and moving your organization forward toward the plan. This is an incredibly powerful tool, and one of the best ways we know of to gain alignment across organizations.

You’ve now created a feeling of ownership, momentum, vibrancy, and accountability. You also have many people ready to invest time, energy, and resources into implementing this strategic plan.

We want to get you started in creating your very own Strategy Statement. Visit to download a one-page tool designed to provide you and others with ultimate clarity in answering the question, “What is our organizational strategy?”

Zach Clark is the founder of Development & Leadership Coaching, a non-traditional service approach helping leaders grow and build a culture of generosity. Beginning at twenty years of age, Zach’s expertise and skills were honed as a development and leadership consultant serving hundreds of Christian schools, churches, and nonprofit ministry organizations around the country. Zach has a dynamic and energetic teaching style that makes him a much sought-after public speaker. He is a member of the John Maxwell Team, the world’s leading leadership development organization, and is a John Maxwell Certified Coach, Trainer, and Speaker.


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