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Four Barriers to Accountability in Planning

By David J. Fry, MPS, CDT - President/CEO

Effective Advancement Strategies

Proper planning is costly, and it’s not just about financial resources. There are ancillary costs, like human resources, political capital, opportunity costs, and donor relationships in nonprofits. Why then, do organizations, especially those with limited resources, commit to plans that ultimately do little more than sitting on a shelf?

As a consultant, former nonprofit and corporate executive, and consummate volunteer, I've certainly seen my share of well-intentioned planning efforts. Strategic plans, development plans, marketing plans, business plans, volunteer recruitment plans, community visions, comprehensive plans, crisis plans, communications plans, and even crisis communications plans and more!

Unfortunately, many of these plans have met the same fate. The resulting plans are relegated to the bookshelf, only to gather dust and be referenced during the next planning effort. Part of the problem is that so many feel the job ends when the planning is complete. There’s a sense of relief and a “we got that done” attitude. My experience tells me there are four significant reasons this happens:

Blurred Commitment

I've seen it too often; a board commits to a planning process without having a comprehensive understanding of the expectations and the commitment. I call it blurred commitment because they are only seeing portions of could be, a clear focus on the task at hand. They commit to the effort because a funder or lender expects them to have such a plan. Maybe they've read about the value of planning or saw positive results in another organization.

There is always value and a clearer focus when boards review a "planning expectations" document before making a commitment to participate. This single page document can address expectations in purpose, participation, outcomes, and post planning tracking and follow-up.

Lack of a PILOT

A couple of years ago I wrote how a successful plan needs a PILOT. In that discussion, PILOT represented an acronym for Presentation, Implementation, Linkage, Oversight, and Tracking. While the acronym is still relevant, I think today the key is a different kind of pilot. It's not the proverbial definition of a person in control of an aircraft, however, it is a leader who takes responsibility, not only for planning but the outcomes. They need to have an appreciation, before the planning ever starts, for a means of follow-up and accountability for following through. What does it look like and how will we engage the stakeholders in implementation?

No Continuity

Nonprofits, governmental units, and others are notorious for revolving doors and changing dynamics. Developing an effective plan can be tough when the leadership is in a state of flux when board members change, and new officials are elected. Implementation and tracking are doomed from the beginning if the planning is difficult at best due to shifting leadership.

Effective and engaging plans are driven from the bottom up where a sense of consistency and continuity resides. They create a sense of ownership among stakeholders that will simply demand follow thru and no less. Recognition of this important group is often the missing accountability factor.

Well-Planned Accountability

If the accountability is in doubt, then those responsible for planning must make sure a vehicle for the same is in place, before embarking on the planning process.

I work only with organizations that will agree upfront to the usage of a tool I've labeled a "Strategic Advancement Map" (SAM.) The SAM is a dashboard tool that offers a quick overview of goals, objectives, measurables, time frames, responsible parties, and progress. The SAM can take the place of the over-bloated document with pages upon pages of fluff and little substance.

Something like the SAM needs to be reviewed no less than quarterly and used as a tool to keep the board or oversight group on track. Otherwise, the plan will be gathering dust along with the rest of the documents and policies.

Yes, effective planning is so much more than the creation of the plan itself. In fact, proper follow-up, responsibility, and accountability are often the most overlooked components in succession planning. As noted in the beginning, planning is too costly in countless ways to not get it right. Those who do use the document to their advantage will be better positioned to thrive and draw in additional resources.

David J. Fry, CDT, MPS is President/CEO of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg and consults and coaches businesses and nonprofits throughout Indiana. He may be contacted at

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