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A few years ago, I was contacted by a small nonprofit foundation in the healthcare design industry that wanted to engage me to lead a strategic planning session with its board and help develop a strategic plan.

While I don't promote myself as a strategic planning consultant, I've participated in many strategic planning sessions with companies and nonprofit organizations and helped craft a strategic plan for them. And I've facilitated many meetings.

So, I could definitely lead a strategic planning session for a group like this.  As long as they didn't want any of that organizational development stuff.

That's definitely not in my wheelhouse.

Understanding Your Brand Essence

But after talking with the board chair, I realized that besides revisiting their mission and vision, most of what they wanted to get out of this strategic planning exercise was to better understand their brand essence.  They wanted to know:

  1. Who do we serve?
  2. How do we perceive ourselves?
  3. How do we want others to perceive us?
  4. How can we engage those we serve to support us financially? What messages resonate with them?

These are all great questions. But they are questions that would be better served by a brand analysis process rather than strategic planning.

What Exactly is Strategic Planning?

The strategic planning meetings I've participated in over the years have varied in their depth and breadth. But the one common thing is that they all start with a goal. And sometimes it's a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG).

For this nonprofit foundation, the goal was simple.  They wanted to grow their endowment so they could give away more money and hire staff to manage it.

So, not only did they need to revisit their mission and vision, but also to do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.

Come Up With a Plan

Strategic planning meetings should also result in...a strategic plan. Otherwise, what's the point?

This plan doesn't need to be hammered out during the meeting. But it's important to end up with 3-5 desired outcomes and 2-3 ideas of how to achieve each of them. Doing a brand analysis could be one of the desired outcomes.

If you're working with a consultant, that person can write the strategic plan. If not, you'll need to assign someone from your organization to do it.

And then, of course, you'll need to budget for, allocate the necessary resources, and assign people to execute the plan. You should also monitor your results and be prepared to adapt the plan based on performance data and external changes in the environment.

One More Thought

The best strategic planning sessions I've participated in have always had an outside facilitator to guide and control the discussion. That way, all your board or team members can fully participate.

Ideally, this is someone who is familiar with the challenges facing your market sector. But it doesn't have to be.

That nonprofit foundation chose not to hire me. Which was fine. But if all they really wanted to do was understand their brand essence, I hope they engaged a marketer.

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Sara Marberry_013-Retouched-New copy

What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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