By Jeff Merhige
Years ago when I entered this business I lacked an understanding of the need for strategic planning. Like many program directors I knew what I wanted to do and saw the job more as day-to-day, making the moves I felt were correct.
Usually, when taking a new job, I created my own timeline of goals—what I saw was needed to be accomplished and when I wanted to complete them.
Generally, the thought was to allow for about four to five years to accomplish those goals. Now, with some growth and experience I understand the true value of volunteer commitment and strategic planning for the development of your facility and program for, not only the initial four to five years, but for an extended time up to 15 years.
Brainstorming & Barnstorming
Writing down your dreams and then creating a reality road map to achieve them is not only fun, but necessary to be an effective camping professional.
Begin with the understanding that the road map you are creating may be accomplished by you, or may be finished in the future by someone else.
The strategic planning process comes in many forms—yearly renewal of a plan, five-year, ten-year, and other continuous plans.
No matter how you and your volunteers want to operate the beginning steps are the same. Creation of the original plan itself is needed. What do you want to achieve, does it fit, how do we achieve it, and what is needed to make it happen?
Dream it! The first step to strategic planning is the most fun. It is here that you can walk around your facility and dream what you want for it, so dream what will make it the best program and facility!
The best part of this step is when you include other staff and your board or key volunteers. Share you ideas, dreams and perspectives. Take a retreat to discuss your plans.
Our board just completed the first strategic planning retreat. We invited the board, senior staff and key committee members. For two full days the board and staff brainstormed the following questions: Why is camp important? What programs are in demand today? What programs will be in demand in the future? What do we want camp to be able to provide? What is needed to meet the program needs?
No matter what form you use, dive into these issues and discuss them. You are a dreaming team with the focus around camp. Here, we use the technique of storyboarding. It allows the group to participate and the ability of the group to see issues evolve in front of them.
The next step is to organize the information dreamed in to subjects, for example, facility, program, financial development and board development. The focus on subjects allows you to organize the ideas. This will also allow the development of a plan, and eventually a timeline to be created.
Next, prioritize each subject heading individually and the ideas within each. Get a feel for what should be done first and re-organize the ideas under each subject heading.
Get your group together and vote through each subject heading and the ideas under them. Arrange the ideas in a priority order. Also, be prepared for new ideas to surface and possibly the deletion of ideas. Never interrupt the creative process and discussions.
Then, put the goals and plans together on paper and create a management sheet. A management sheet is merely an organizer of what, when and by whom.
If you’re creating a five-year plan, what is going to be accomplished the first year? Who will be responsible for it?
Management plans are flexible. It is possible when you set out on a project that the timeline will change. What is important is that there is focus to each goal in order.
Eventually, the plan will see items scratched out as they are completed. It is very satisfying to see goals accomplished and scratched out on a management plan. If items need to be carried over, don’t stress! Make them the new priority going into the next year of the plan.
The final step is to get everyone’s approval of the plan. Pass it around at your board meeting, and have all staff read it. This is now a guideline for operations and it also provides an all-staff understanding of the camp’s direction.
These plans allow everyone to feel part of something bigger than themselves, and they make it easier for all involved to understand decisions made during the year.
More thorough plans can be development through the hiring of consultants and firms. For smaller camps out there, use you own volunteers and staff to help shape the vision. For larger camps, do the same, even if using an outside firm or consultant. The sharing of ideas between the people committed to camp brings your camp community closer! Good luck.
Jeff Merhige is the Executive Director of YMCA Camp Widjiwagan in Nashville Tenn. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.