4 Tips for Pain-Free Strategic Planning

Yup, we’ve heard it a lot: Setting organizational goals as a group is no walk in the park. “It’s the most painful thing we go through,” half-laughs Shelly Moore, President & CEO of Humane Society of Charlotte. And Laura Maloney of Adisa Group reports often seeing “pain in the system around strategic planning” in the groups she works with.

That word again…  Pain. The following are some of the tips Moore and Maloney shared with Association members during a recent online Mid-Atlantic Regional Meet-Up, aimed at helping reframe the process of strategic planning. It doesn’t have to hurt.

Slow Down

“The traditional way of strategic planning is two full, tiring days stuck in a room,” says Moore. That’s intense, and just not long enough for thoughtful planning. She and Maloney both recommend a longer, slower process that generally takes—wait for it!—six to nine months. That helps create commitment and trust, and allows for careful review (and tweaking and refining) by the committee over time.

Be Realistic

Heard the one about trying to jam all your big and lofty goals into one year? “It’s important to set realistic expectations,” says Moore, who recommends looking at what’s possible several years out. But not much longer than that, adds Mahoney. “Focus on a three-year plan,” she says. “Anything longer than that tends not to work.”

Take into Account that Animal Welfare Is Changing. Big-Time.

“It’s so important to address all the changes in our continuously changing environment,” says Moore. Think workforce changes like staffing shortages. Think monumental shifts in the field from an adoptions-based, revenue-generating business model to a focus on outreach and wellness programs that support the community and do not bring in money. This is particularly key if strategic planning includes board members who may not be as familiar with the changing landscape and shelter demographics.

Look Back, and Look to Others

This is a two-in-one tip that focuses on listening and reflection. Maloney shares how helpful it can be to take a look back as a planning team at what your organization has done in the past. “Create a timeline, an historical trajectory,” she suggests. “This is an engaging thing to do in person, and is particularly fun for newbies to your organization.”

Moore recommends a couple of complementary activities. Interview subject matter experts on programs and tasks relevant to your goals, and engage in a peer review to learn what others are doing in response to shifting business models. She suggests focusing the peer review on leaders at organizations of comparable size and scope, and recommends having interviews conducted by your strategic planning facilitator, if you are working with one. “This way they will get all the different perspectives and confirm what we are seeing.” 



Like what you read here and want to know more? Regional meetings, like this one, are a members-only perk, but we’re making this chock-full-of-info meeting available to members and non-members alike. Access the recording today, and bring your notebook because no doubt you’ll walk away with some great ideas to try at your organization.

Learn more about this and other member benefits and consider starting your new year off right with a membership with The Association.

Photo: Mindspace Studio/Unsplash


The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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