By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on October 14, 2013

It wasn't so long ago when the five-year plan was requisite.

Nowadays, looking so far into the future increasingly is a fictional exercise.

A mere five years ago, few would have anticipated the collapses of our financial and housing sectors and the Great Recession that followed. We wouldn't have assumed the iPad, same-sex marriage, quinoa and WikiLeaks would seem so ... last year.

We do not know what the economy will look like in five months, let alone five years. Why invest resources on a plan based on a future that nobody can predict?

Still, while the five-year plan is obsolete, we cannot ignore planning and strategy entirely. They are more important than ever.

Dan McQuaid, OneOC president and chief executive, says this about planning:

"The lack of predictability requires our nonprofits to be savvy and nimble. To constantly push forward while cutting back (expenses). There was a time when the terms 'shutdown' and 'sequestration' would cause panic. Now, they are just part of the economy's new normal."

In response to the upheavals we've experienced, nonprofits are engaging in action planing. Action planning requires nonprofits to develop quick goals and incorporate multiple check-ins.

Not dissimilar from the strategic plan, action planing relies on identifying key goals based on your mission. What are the three-five critical goals necessary to advance your organization toward its mission? Not lofty, aspirational strategies, but efforts that are both achievable and a stretch in a 12- to 24-month period.

Action plan components
Based on your nonprofit's mission, a viable action plan has three to five strategic goals. Each goal is supported with the following elements:

  • Action steps and measurable milestones

  • Champion

  • Timeline and deadline

  • Budget requirements

  • Committee and/or collaborators

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." It may be a cliché, but it's true. The plan requires specific action steps and a champion for each goal. One person is accountable for respective steps.

Action planning is a constant test-and-learn process. Milestones are built in and require frequent check-ins. The check-ins allow for corrections, necessary when you are looking at a 12-month time frame.

In this high-tech, ever-accelerating, connected world, action planning and its nimbleness are befitting of our new normal.

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