Guest Blogger – Al Onkka

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Strategic Planning 

We welcome Al Onkka back to Toledo as a Thought Leader in the 2018 C4NPR Workshop Series.  Al opens the series with two workshops: Understanding Strategic Planning for Nonprofits (Jan 16) and Facilitative Leadership (Jan. 17).

Our Associate Director, Toni Shoola, recently caught up with Al to tap into his experience and wisdom in the area of strategic planning with nonprofits.

Toni: Strategic planning is a best practice.  What would you say are the benefits?

Al: First off, nothing about strategic planning is easy and there are no shortcuts or quick answers. But the benefits outweigh the costs. Organizations that do strategic planning well have a clearer focus, stronger teams, empowered employees, and transparent management.

Toni: What are the impacts you have seen from organizations that have engaged in successful strategic planning?

Al: How do we determine that a strategic plan was successful? In the end, it’s the strength and impact of the organization. Strategic plans define the change an organization wants to make to be stronger and more impactful. Drawing an example from my work, one organization was anticipating both major changes in their environment and a key leadership transition. After strategic planning, they reorganized their structure to promote internal collaboration, weathered an election that put their national funding at risk, and managed an unanticipated leadership change, all while using the plan as a guide. The strategic planning sessions were the first time the board and staff had ever been together. Later, the staff told us that the these sessions kickstarted a cultural change in the organization.

Toni: When you work with organizations, what are the predictors for success to optimize the strategic planning process?

Al: Great question. This is really about assessing your capacity to use a strategic plan. It’s one thing to check the box and do strategic planning. It’s another thing to be able to use the strategic plan. Strategic planning is a management practice. Many nonprofits are not doing strategic management, they are doing survival management. They are being reactive to everything that’s coming at them, rather than being proactive about what their direction is. This is just a reality in the sector that will never go away, but organizations that step out of reactive mode in order to strategic plan have a better chance of being proactive when possible. More specifically, organizations that understand that strategic and implementation planning are important and rewarding efforts and budget time and resources accordingly will be successful. In my work, we believe that organizations already have everything they need to strategic plan well, the challenge is to carve out the time and effort to do it.

Toni: Al, thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom and expertise in the area of strategic planning.  I can’t wait for your upcoming workshop to take a deeper drive on the topic.

Click here to learn more about Al’s workshops.

Al Onkka is a principal consultant at Aurora Consulting, a Minnesota-based firm serving nonprofits. He works at the leadership level to help nonprofits plan for the future and evaluate their impact. Al has worked in the field of evaluation, promoting data-based decision-making and organizational learning, since 2009. He is inquisitive, analytical, good at connecting ideas, practical, and affable.

Al earned his master’s degree in Evaluation Studies from UMN’s Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. He recently served on the board of the Minnesota Evaluation Association and chaired the board of Rainbow Rumpus, a Minneapolis literary nonprofit.