The Vocabulary of Strategy and Planning
Volunteer leaders bring an abundance of experience and knowledge to boards and committees and it is this diversity that can transform an industry, elevate a profession, or help cure a disease. In the board room, diversity of experience can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Sometimes, the same words are used to refer to different things or are adjusted to mean something different. Clarifying important terminology is the first step to ensure everyone is on the same page when discussing strategic matters. Stephanie Kusibab, who leads SmithBucklin’s consulting services team, provides her definitions for some key terms in the lexicon of associations that several associations have successfully adopted.

Mission: A mission statement captures the essence of the organization’s goals and the philosophies underlying them. It describes what the organization will do, for whom, and how. A mission statement is narrow and specific. It is focused on doing and describes the practical things the association will do to enable its vision of the future.

Vision: A vision statement simply and concisely states the impact the organization wants to have on the world. The vision outlines how the association helps people, the value it offers to the world, and what it plans to achieve as an organization. A vision is aspirational in that it sets out the highest-level, longest-term goal by clearly describing a future state that will only exist if the association makes it so.

Culture: A culture statement defines how an association’s members will behave and operate together. It outlines the collective values, beliefs, and principles of members and defines what they look like in action. The culture is what sets an association apart from others.

Strategic Plan: A strategic plan articulates the critical goals that will move the organization forward over the next three to five years. It defines two to four measurable strategic outcomes the organization intends to pursue — and achieve — and is most often comprised of goals, objectives, and action steps. Below are definitions for those terms:
  • Strategic Goal: A broad outcome statement based on a critical issue that requires attention, focus, and action. It must have significant and meaningful impact on the association’s ability to realize its mission.
  • Objectives: Precise and measurable statements of what will be done in order to achieve a strategic goal.
  • Action Steps: Specific tasks or projects critical to achieve the objectives and overall strategic goals.
Annual Plan of Work: A document which combines the action steps from the strategic plan with other ongoing activities to outline what will be accomplished in a given year. The annual plan of work describes what the association will accomplish and aligns all the organization’s resources to deliver high-value outcomes.

Functional Operating Plans: Individual documents for each association department or functional area (marketing, sales, membership) containing the tactics to be executed by that unit that contribute to successfully achieving the outcomes presented in the annual plan of work. The functional operating plans become the basis for an organization’s budget.

Project Plans:
Individual documents for complex areas of work that require multiple departments or stakeholders to complete tasks in sequence — like producing an annual conference, for example. The project plan presents the activities, timeline, and accountabilities, including all teams and functions, for the accomplishment of substantive projects or initiatives identified in the annual plan of work.

Hopefully, this overview will serve as a handy guide for new board and committee members and a helpful refresher for veteran volunteer leaders to ensure everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to strategy.
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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