The Foundation Board Planning Journey

By Betsy Chapin Taylor,  Accordant Philanthropy

As the foundation board considers the creation of a strategic plan to guide the health care foundation, there are several priorities and moving pieces to consider across the strategic planning journey.

Determine the Planning Agenda. Decide what is needed out of the planning process. Core outcomes of a plan include vision, mission, values, goals and strategies; however, the vision, mission and values do not necessarily need to be refreshed each time. Other common elements include market analysis, competitor analysis, SWOT (strengths/ weaknesses/opportunities/threats), accountability metrics / scorecards, implementation timelines /Gantt charts, assignments and budgets.

Select Champions for Planning. The composition of the strategic planning body varies with organizations using formal board strategic planning committees, foundation board executive committees, entire foundation board membership or special task forces that include stakeholders and allies beyond the board. The formal structure of the group does not really matter as long as the foundation board feels the process allows it to appropriately discharge its governance role, includes an appropriate diversity of stakeholder perspectives and has the knowledge and discretion to create a solid plan.

Establish Current Status. Strategic planning begins by looking inward at the current status of the organization to realistically gauge where the organization is currently successful and where it falls short in various efforts toward fulfilling its mission. This is a point in the process at which the board not only celebrates successes but also aims to review performance as objectively as possible to identify opportunities for growth and improvement and to spot efforts that should be stopped or reworked. In preparing an objective evaluation, it can be helpful to consider not only qualitative information but also the foundation’s financial performance relative to a range of accepted benchmarks that are released annually by professional fund development associations and think tanks.

Determine the Environment. Once the current situation is assessed, planning turns outside to consider the environment in which the organization works, the competitive landscape and the priorities and forces shaping the health care and fund development fields. During this external phase, it is essential to examine current and emerging industry best practices to ensure the foundation is pursuing the most vibrant fund development opportunities to achieve its work; the health care fund development field has changed radically in recent years, and organizations that are not proactively seeking out current and emerging practice are susceptible to falling behind. During this stage of the process, many organizations also assemble research around the performance and priorities of both local competitors in the health care fund development or nonprofit fund development space as well as information about health care foundations that are similar in size, staffing, budget or other factors regardless of geography. Many organizations will also use discussion tools, such as SWOT, to reflect on various aspects of their internal and external environment.

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