Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Planning for Success by Definition

By Virgil Carter
The first quarter of each year is the time when many non-profit organizations schedule their planning and budgeting for the next fiscal year.  Planning and budgeting for success means defining what success looks like.  How do you and your organization define success?  It’s hard to execute and measure success when there isn’t common agreement and understanding on what constitutes success.

What does your organization value most?  Is it performance?  How about customer service and member relationships?  Perhaps its knowledge-based competencies or credentialing.  Each organization is different when it comes to what matters most, not to mention why it matters.  So, to define success, there has to be agreement on what matters most.  For example, an association struggling for financial survival may define success very differently than an association whose growth has been 30% per year for the past five years.

Here are some important success categories, with suggestions how they might be used. 

  1. Strategy--Does our association have a sustained record of performance to plan over time (successful strategy is not measured in 12-month cycles or someone’s personal theme for the year)?
  2. Voice of the customer—Who are our key customers and how do we know if they are satisfied (yes, there may be “less important” customers)?
  3. Financial—Do we have a record of sustained performance over time meeting budget or ending each year with positive variances (no margin, no mission)?
  4. Business operations—What is the record of new program development and existing program retirement over the past 5 years (are you still doing what you did 5-10 years ago)?
  5. Learning & growth—What investment do we make on a consistent annual basis for volunteer & staff learning and growth in their association roles (no investment, no dividends)?
When you have figured out what matters most to your association and how you will measure success, it’s time to think about annual communications planning and the year’s key audiences and messages.  Key messages are important for association leaders—volunteers and staff—to focus on, repeat and reinforce.  The messages help everyone to understand and support success.

There are many useful ways to define organizational success.  And to communicate effectively about it.  When there is common understanding about success, your volunteers, staff, customers and business allies will thank you, knowing what to expect and how to help.  How do you define and communicate organizational success?

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