Thursday, January 21, 2010

Planning and the 'Clear Idea'

I'M GETTING READY TO TALK WITH A GROUP OF BOARD MEMBERS and staff from African-American heritage sites about the importance of planning. My discussion is one small part of a full two-day immersion into all sorts of capacity-building topics. Much credit goes to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Northeast Regional Office for recognizing the need and pulling us all together.

All of these sites have some level of historic designation, such as National Historic Landmark status and/or listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Some are newly formed and others have been around for a while. Almost all of them are small, with operating budgets below $50,000 a year.  They're all important to the histories of their communities and our country, yet I know there are days when they must feel as though they're swimming upstream.

Few have done much, if any, formal planning. By 'formal' I mean writing a plan as a collective activity. A tiny number have very specific planning documents -- a maintenance plan or a marketing plan. What I don't know is if any of these groups tried more comprehensive organizational planning and got stuck or just dropped the idea altogether.

Does this quick sketch of these workshop participants remind you of your organization or an organization you know?

I think I'll try to make a strong case for planning in these terms: if an organization has a clear idea of who it is and where it wants to go, it's in a strong position to attract audience and support -- the two dearest things for most cultural nonprofits. The 'clear idea' can't be owned by one or two people; it must be shared by an entire board and staff in order for it to take root and grow.

So, that's part of the message I'll be bringing along with me these next couple of days.

Photo:  We can only appreciate the miracle...from mangtacio

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