Strategic Planning: the time is now

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about strategic planning and how no one has been doing any because of the economic realities we are facing.  The problem with this is that it is precisely during times of economic uncertainty and hardship that we need our long-term plans.  We cannot expect our patrons and donors to hand over their now even harder-earned money by crying that we won’t be able to turn the lights on next week if they don’t.  That may get them to give us $50 or even $100, but to get real investments, we need real plans for the future, beyond next month. 

All the reports I’ve seen lately say that we may have hit the bottom of the decline, but that the best we can hope for in the next year is a plateau, not a return to upward motion.  We, as arts organizations, can’t make it through another year trying to satisfy our boards and our budgets by scrimping, saving, and taking it out of our human capital.  We need to take the time now to map out what we are going to do when the economy rebounds otherwise we won’t live to see that day.

Don’t tell me you don’t have time for it.  It is amazing how time expands when we decide that something is vital.  And, don’t try to do it by yourself.  You will get bogged down, distracted, and discouraged.  We all need someone to help keep us on track with this sort of in-depth work and there are lots of skilled strategic planning consultants who are waiting to do just that.  A great consultant will leverage the time you do have to commit to the project and help you see it to completion. The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund has toolbox grants for just this sort of thing.  I’m sure they are not the only foundation who does.  Look around, do it now.

A good long-term plan not only galvanizes your support in the community, it re-invigorates your staff and volunteers.  Show them that you aren’t just limping along hoping to stay breathing until a better economic time arrives.  It is amazing the increase in productivity among folks who know where the company is going.  They already believe in the art, now show them that you are prepared to thrive. 

We can’t wait for it to get easier before we plan.  It won’t get easier unless we plan.

4 thoughts on “Strategic Planning: the time is now

  1. Good Job Amy! I love that you are pushing us all forward. I have found since we said Aurora is going to concentrate on new musicals for a portion of each season how many composers have contacted us. How many new names we have been given of works to pursue and how excited our patrons are seeing that shows like CATERED AFFAIR are out there.

    I know that we also need to do that with children’s theatre. There are too many crappy kids shows that either talk down to kids or purport bad behavior.

    If I learned nothing from Michael Kaiser it was to plan a path of creation and then we have a plan of attack.

    Sometimes I think with the new shows out there we wait until the last minute to plan a season hoping to nab a HOT property. The great properties may be ours to create.

    1. Thanks, AC! The thing is, you can get clear about your path without mapping out the specific shows within the season. Your decision at Aurora to focus on new musicals is a perfect example. Yes, I believe many of us wait too long to announce our seasons, but that is a separate issue 🙂 The strategic plan needs to be about who our audience is and how we plan to affect change (for them and ourselves) through our work. How will we as a company, as a community, as individuals, be different in 5 years because of the work we put out there?

  2. Amy – Great reminder about the importance of the strategic plan … and getting it done … and keeping up-to-date. From the Arts Fund’s (and The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s) perspective as a funder, it’s one of the most important ways to gain insight into how an organization operates and to where it is going and what it is planning. It’s why we require one to receive funding and offer management consulting awards to develop one through the Toolbox.* Most importantly, we’re looking for a culture of planning.

    Michael Kaiser talked about using his plan, specifically the five-year season plan, to communicate with and “excite/entice” donors and funders. He’s right. Having a plan that is accessible to an outsider (and is actively communicated) is powerful and compelling. And organizations (staff AND board) that are intentional and confident about this are also usually on top of keeping it updated.

    (if you missed Michael Kaiser’s talk, there is a round-up here: and Atlanta Performs blogged live from the event here: I believe a video recording is forthcoming too).

    So, thanks Amy and I’m glad Atlanta still has its clutches in you even if you are (mostly) somewhere else.

    * Point of clarity: In 2010, the Arts Fund rolled its Toolbox into The Community Foundation’s new Nonprofit Toolbox program. The program looks and feels much the same as when it was just the Arts Toolbox but it is now available for all eligible nonprofits. But don’t fear, the same number of awards are still available for arts organizations. Thanks for the shout-out, Amy. Here’s the new link: … and the next round of applications are due by April 1 (and the following round is August 6).

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