Introduction to planning


Every voluntary and community organisation, whatever their size, can benefit from effective planning and management. Planning can help to identify gaps and opportunities, manage finances more professionally and focus efforts on activities that seek to improve service delivery.

Thinking more strategically can unleash creative solutions, provide direction and help drive an organisation forward. Planning for the long-term can seek to secure an organisation's future and is the first step towards sustainable funding.

Why plan?

You may think that you simply don't have time to plan. Running things on a day to day basis takes up most of your time and you assume that everyone in your organisation understands what you do and where you want to go. However, we work in a dynamic environment with frequent changes to working practices, policies and legislation and new funding options being made available to the sector.

Planning will help your organisation set a direction for the future and how best to get there. It can:

  1. Provide a clear sense of purpose for your organisation
  2. Help to identify priorities and objectives
  3. Help to prepare a fundraising plan and manage cash flow
  4. Identify what resources are needed e.g. money, personnel, office space, skills, equipment and how to use them most efficiently
  5. Help to anticipate change and manage risk
  6. Assist in the monitoring and evaluation of your work

Think long-term

For most organisations thinking long-term or strategically enables staff, management and trustees the chance to stand back from day to day activities, look at their achievements and set objectives and plans for the future. It will help decide a mission or vision for the organisation, examine trends internally and externally, assess options available, preferred choices of action and their wider impact on long-term sustainability. Once you know where you want to go, you will be more prepared and be able to reach your final destination successfully.

When to plan:

  • Starting out or developing a new project or service
  • When you want to expand or make changes to an existing project or service
  • When your circumstances changes e.g. cut in funding, policy changes or needs of users
  • Annual review of business plan or 3-5 year review of strategic plans

Benefits of planning

There are a range of potential benefits to be gained from planning:

  • Building a sustainable future
    It may be attractive to just stick to what you know and tested ways of working. But while you stand still those around you will not, and you will find it increasingly difficult to attract funding and support for your work. Be clear about what your organisation is trying to achieve and how it will do so. It will certainly give you an advantage when applying for funding or generating other income streams.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize
    Many voluntary and community organisations complain that they are constantly 'fire-fighting' and reacting to the same issues and problems. They would dearly love to be more proactive in their work and create a sustainable future for their beneficiaries. Planning and thinking strategically can help you achieve this by prioritising your work and helping to deliver those tasks and activities that are essential to your cause...thus keeping your eyes on the prize!
  • Helping to build relationships
    Getting everyone who has an interest in the organisation involved in the planning process provides an opportunity for key stakeholders to get to know each other, make their views heard and help review your objectives and plans together. Communicating your plan or strategy clearly to stakeholders will also encourage teamworking and help build relationships, as they will know exactly what is expected of them and what direction the organisation is heading.
  • Manage risk
    Planning for the future provides an organisation with an external focus and can help identify potential risks for the organisation, highlighting your weaknesses and alert you to future dangers. It also forces you to test the likely sustainability of your future plans with hard financial evidence and devise appropriate risk management methods to deal with them.
  • Motivate your staff
    Thinking strategically or long-term provides the opportunity to look back at past successes and celebrate what you do well. Recognition of such achievements will not only encourage staff to make future improvements but having a clear idea of where the organisation is going and how they fit into the bigger picture will raise staff morale and motivation.
  • Be creative
    Bringing everyone together to talk about the future of the organisation often helps to develop and stimulate new ideas, working out how to do things better, improve on past performance and seek to deliver sustainable services into the future.

Useful Resources