The Annual Work Plan

The Annual Work Plan: The Organization’s Road Map for the Year

We are in the middle of the first month of the new calendar year, and during the last few weeks a number of my client’s have been talking to me about the things they want to accomplish during 2011. They are enthusiastic about the challenges they face and about the services they want to provide to their members and clients.

One of the first questions I ask is, “Can I see your annual work plan?” Of course most of the time I receive a quizzical look from the person I am speaking to and then the statement, “What annual work plan.” Many non-profit organizations know what they are doing and they know how to do it. However, it is important to articulate the specific things the organization hopes to accomplish over the coming 12 month period.

Of course the questions raised are why it is important and to whom is it important. By developing an annual work plan the agency is stating what it hopes to accomplish during the year. It is not relying on its present services or good name to continue along the same path. It is demonstrating to a number of groups that thought is given to what services it is providing to the community and how it is providing those services.

There are both internal and external implications of having a work plan in place to guide the organization during the year. Internally, the work plan represents the confluence of the thinking of the board of directors and the staff of the organization. It demonstrates that thought has been given to what the agency hopes to accomplish, and it has the backing of the volunteer leadership as well as the professional staff.

During the course of the year, both groups use the work plan as a point of reference for how the agency is accomplishing the goals it established for itself. The specific goals can refer to the number of programs developed; the number of clients who received services; the geographic areas served by the agency; and any number of other milestones the organizations decides to establish for the year. The annual goals are not limited to the agency’s provision of services and can also refer to the organization’s internal development.

An integral part of an annual plan can be the further development of the board of directors and how it functions. Goals can be established that refer to the types of people who are represented on the board; how often the board meets; how many functioning committees there are and how often they meet; and other aspects of the governance functions of the organization. Parallel to these types of issues there are also fundraising goals that can be set and targets for increasing the financial resources of the non-profit.

The annual work plan not only provides direction to the agency internally but it also makes a statement to various groups and individuals in the community. It might be appropriate to have a local newspaper conduct an interview with the director and/or the chair of the board discussing the annual plan for the agency and how it hopes to serve the community. Increasing the public’s awareness of the organization and the services it provides can only strengthen the non-profit’s standing in the community.

When approaching potential sources of funding it creates a positive impression to not only share a long range or strategic plan but also to be able to send an annual plan for developing the agency. It demonstrates how the board of directors and staff are continually working to clarify the agency’s goals and how they are based in an understanding of the best way to meet the community’s needs. The document communicates a sense of clarity about how the agency translates its mission and vision into its ongoing operations.

It is not enough to write the work plan, print it and share it with the interested parties. The work plan becomes a guide for the organization’s functioning during the year. Several times over the course of the year there should be a review of the plan by the staff and a report to the board of directors. The goals that were met should be identified. At the same time those goals that were not met should be analyzed. It adds to the agency’s credibility and transparency to be able to account for that which was not accomplished. The challenge is then to understand the reasons for not being able to complete the plan.

There are times when not completing the plan may be due to the fact that it was too ambitious and it was too much of a reach to accomplish everything. There are other times when it is because the organization’s priorities were not in the correct order to fulfill all its goals. If during one of the board or staff discussions it becomes apparent that the plan was too ambitious then it can be adjusted and more appropriate goals can be set so the organization does not become too frustrated by its inability to accomplish everything.

The successful fulfillment of the annual work plan has the potential to strengthen the agency when volunteer leaders and professional staff members have a sense of accomplishment. This happens when the goals that have been set are successfully achieved. The fulfillment of the plan will enable the organization to reach a little further the next year and to accomplish more. However, if there is no plan in place then it is difficult to have a way of measuring achievements for the organization, for the community and for supporters.

If your organization has an annual work plan then use it as a guide and strive to accomplish your goals. If your organization does not have a plan it is not too late to develop one for 2011.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.