Choosing A Nonprofit Strategic Planning Facilitator: A Step-By-Step Guide

Choosing A Nonprofit Strategic Planning Facilitator: A Step-By-Step Guide

If you’re a nonprofit leader looking to create a strategic plan with the help of a facilitator but don’t know where to start – you’re in the right place. Read on to discover a step-by-step guide on how to choose a strategic planning facilitator for your nonprofit that will help you analyze your organization’s current position, find new strategies for success, and improve your operation as a whole.

Also read:

What is strategic planning for nonprofits?

Strategic planning for nonprofits is the leadership process of:

  • Articulating why the organization exists
  • Setting goals and objectives that will enable the organization to move towards fulfilling its reasons for being
  • Developing time-phased plans and identifying measures of success for meeting the goals and objectives
  • Identifying who is responsible for meeting the goals and objectives
  • Establishing a monitoring system

The importance of strategic planning

Strategic planning is the first step to setting goals, achieving growth, and improving every aspect of your nonprofit organization. The strategic planning process helps advance your organization’s impact by serving as a roadmap for the nonprofit’s success. The process also helps the board, staff, and key stakeholders outline the organization’s most important priorities and ensure everyone understands the mission, vision, values and priorities.

Why hire a consultant for strategic planning?

Many nonprofit organizations recognize the need to find a suitably skilled strategic planning facilitator. They will engage the services of an experienced external facilitator to coordinate the process and mediate the planning session. 

While you may have an internal alternative nominated employee, you need someone who is non-biased and holds an independent perspective, especially where confidential subject matter and challenging questions are of concern. 

More so, your strategic planning sessions should be a chance to stimulate creative thinking and provide strong outputs. Something that your attendees can’t do as they need to participate in the session fully. 

“[The facilitator was] a natural catalyst with a strong desire for consensus building, [they] helped us organize our discussions so we can move our organization’s mission and vision forward.”

Luciana N.
Executive Director – Canadian Association for Interventional Radiology

As the strategic planning facilitator takes on the coordinating role, this frees all of your participants (including the board chair and the CEO) to actively participate in the discussions. 

As well as benefiting the entire process by bringing an independent viewpoint to discussions while recommending similar group experiences and solutions that have been successful in other organizations.

What strategic planning facilitators do

Strategic planning facilitators serve as an organization’s neutral agent. Their role is to guide and manage your strategic planning sessions to ensure collective objectives are met and sessions stay on track. They also encourage clear thinking, motivate good participation and ensure full buy-in from every member involved in the process.

What makes a good strategic planning facilitator?

When choosing a strategic planning facilitator, it’s crucial to get it right. Before interviewing potential facilitators, we recommend considering how their qualities and overall credentials will affect the service you receive.

Like your nonprofit organization, strategic planning facilitators come with varying degrees of quality and characteristics. Finding the one that suits you best can take time, so to speed up your process, we recommend looking for a strategic planning facilitator that has the following attributes:

Energetic personality

An influential strategic planning facilitator knows when to maximize the energy in the room to bring back the group’s focus. Not only does an energetic demeanour help create excitement and passion for brainstorming sessions, but they also help to diffuse sudden tension in disagreements. Overall, it takes a skilled strategic planning facilitator to keep dialogue constructive and on-topic.

Encourages full participation

A great facilitator knows how to recognize different communication styles to encourage full group participation. While some of your group may be naturally expressive, others may be more thoughtful and reserved in their approach. That’s not to say one approach is better than the other, but a skillful facilitator will allow each person a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

Prepares with the end in mind

Great facilitators know nothing is worse than a planning meeting that ends up all over the place, leaving participants even more confused than before they started. They know it’s crucial to get it the right first time, so they begin the strategic planning session with the end in mind by:

  • Setting ground rules at the beginning of the meeting to set expectations and foster accountability.
  • Let the team discuss their expectations for full participation (For example, what are acceptable levels of interruptions, tangents, and cell phone and computer use?)
  • Creating a framework ensures participants discuss topics in a logical sequence.

Provides unwavering positivity

Regardless of where you are in the strategic planning session, a positive, optimistic and cheerful strategic planning facilitator will ensure you get the most engagement from everyone in your group. For example, at AMC, our skilled facilitators help participants look at issues from a “what’s working” viewpoint rather than a pessimistic “what’s not working” viewpoint.

Maintains neutrality

A great skillful strategic planning facilitator stays neutral throughout all discussions. They treat the participants equally, regardless of position, personality, personal opinion and even biases.

They achieve this by being completely transparent with participants, helping them understand that they have several roles to play as facilitators.

Encourages productive feedback

Strategic planning facilitators worth their salt always ensure that the group doesn’t just cave into one person’s ideas or plan for convenience. Instead, they encourage the group to challenge themselves by posing probing questions that help them think more deeply about the situation.
They achieve this by encouraging productive feedback among participants and, in some cases, towards the facilitator.

Experience & expertise

An ideal strategic planning facilitator has already implemented the approaches they recommend to you with other clients. More so, they’ve experienced a c-suite level of responsibility and expert experience challenging other executives to think differently.

How to choose a nonprofit strategic planning facilitator

1. Identify their strategic planning methodology

There are many different strategic planning methodologies out there. Some new, some old and some work for organizations. However, a suitable methodology needs to be chosen based on the needs of your team.

For example, here at AMC NPO Solutions, our skilled strategic planning facilitators use the AMC Advantage. AMC’s strategic planning approach leads your board and leadership through a series of comprehensive brainstorming sessions that help inspire generative conversations alongside supporting you to identify and prioritize critical opportunities to establish your vision for a better community.

Once we’ve gathered your organization’s perspective, goals and priorities, we design and facilitate a strategic planning session focused on aligning your organization’s purpose with directives that will guide your operation over the next few years.

Also read: 18 Popular Nonprofit Strategic Planning Models & Tools

2. Measure their level of expertise

When browsing strategic planning facilitators, you want to consider the reputation and thought leadership of their business. You can quickly do this by reading their online content. For example, check out their blog posts, webinars, white papers, reports, videos, or infographics.

3. Review testimonials & representative clients

It would be best if you always asked to speak to references. Not only for your reassurance but also to evaluate how well the strategic planning facilitator has catered to other clients’ needs, how well they achieved their training objectives and overall experience working together.

4. Interview potential providers

When choosing a strategic planning facilitator, create a shortlist of top providers you think can meet your needs. Then, connect with them individually and identify the best match for your organization’s needs. When you connect with them, use your conversation to observe their professionalism, gauge their interest and build rapport.

5. Hire for long-term collaboration

Strategic planning isn’t a short-term process. You’ll likely revisit your strategic plan every year, so the question is will your potential facilitator they be there to support your organization down the road and help to implement new processes? Or are they looking to move on to new clients quickly? Those with longstanding partnerships are likely to be much more effective and trustworthy.

6. Consider your commitment level

Finally, before deciding and taking the plunge to choose a facilitator, you should reflect on your level of commitment. While facilitators are masters of helping to guide you and your team, you must be ready to engage actively. Facilitators help keep everyone on track, but to succeed in your strategic plan, you must be committed to making the partnership work. To consider your true commitment level, ask yourself questions like:

  • Will (other) directors be supportive of this new effort?
  • Are we willing to invest the time necessary for strategic planning meetings?
  • Are we ready to implement it over the next year and beyond? 
  • Are we willing to regularly track and measure progress?

Final word: Choose AMC to facilitate your nonprofit strategic planning sessions

Strategic Planning facilitated by AMC offers a unique approach that aims to take your organization further than it has gone before. 

When working with AMC Strategic Planning Facilitators, you gain more than a basic knowledge of the elements of strategic planning. That’s because the AMC approach guides you from brainstorming to developing a strategy that leads to improvement within your organization. 

Contact us today to learn how AMC’s Strategic Planning facilitators can help your organization develop, improve, and grow.

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“[The facilitator was] a natural catalyst with a strong desire for consensus building, [they] helped us organize our discussions so we can move our organization’s mission and vision forward.”

Luciana N.
Executive Director – Canadian Association for Interventional Radiology
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