Long-Range Planning: Preparing for the Future of Your Organization
By Mason Wilson
Mason Wilson is an associate editor of The Affiliate and practices in the Memphis, Tennessee, office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. —Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Setting goals and planning for the future are vital to the long-term success of any organization. A well-developed long-range plan is a useful tool for sharpening your organization’s focus, charting a course for the years to come, and achieving your goals. What follows is a brief overview of the long-range planning process to help you get started developing and implementing your own plan.
Evaluate Your Organization
The first step is to evaluate and assess your organization from the ground up. What is its purpose and priorities? Are those priorities being met? How is it organized? Should it be larger? Smaller? Who does the organization serve? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Write the answers down. Turning a critical eye on your organization for a frank evaluation can be difficult, but it’s worth it. Don’t be afraid to have someone from outside the organization perform the evaluation if necessary. The goal is to determine where you stand, good or bad, and then move forward.
David Changas, former ABA YLD District Representative and President-Elect of the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, recently oversaw the revision of the TBA YLD’s long-range plan and witnessed firsthand the importance of a critical self-evaluation. “It is very important to assess where you are as an organization. There are always things to improve upon and new challenges to address. Take technology, for example. Five years ago, it was unheard of for an organization to have a blog. Now it is not uncommon.” Simply put, if you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to know where you want to go.
Seek Input
Seek input from a broad and diverse spectrum of interested parties. Legal organizations often have a number of different subgroups with varying perspectives and expectations—minorities, disabled practitioners, big firm lawyers and solos, and urban attorneys and their “country” counterparts. These different perspectives are invaluable when preparing your long-range plan. Harvest them with surveys, roundtables, questionnaires, or any other means you can think of. It’s worth the effort and your plan will benefit from being well-rounded and informed. And don’t forget your former members. They’re another valuable fount for input on what has and hasn’t worked in the past.
The ABA YLD provides a fantastic resource for affiliates engaged in the process of preparing a long-range plan—the Affiliate Assistance Team. The Affiliate Assistance Team is available to assist you and can direct you to resources to help your organization formulate a plan. For more information, contact ABA YLD Affiliates Director Jaye Rancourt at jrancourt@bclilaw.com or ABA YLD Deputy Director Kristine Gregorio at Kristine.Gregorio@americanbar.org.
Set Goals
Once you’ve evaluated your organization and received input on your members’ needs and concerns, the next step is to set goals. Think optimistic but be realistic. Your plan and your goals should be aspirational but attainable. With that in mind, draw up a list of projects to be completed, milestones to be reached, and programs to be implemented. Prioritize them. Set deadlines and timetables for each item. Before you know it, you’ll have the basic outline for your entire long-range plan.
Write It All Down
Next, take your self-evaluations, your member feedback, and your goals and commit the entire plan to writing—your long-range plan. State the purpose of your organization and list its priorities and objectives. Include relevant and reliable statistics. Tell your members where you are and how you’re going to get to where you want to be. Circulate the draft plan to your members for review and comment. Tweak, revise, add, and subtract as needed. Finalize the comprehensive written plan. Presto! You now have a long-range plan that will guide your organization for many years to come.
The buck, however, doesn’t stop there. The final step is to put the plan into action. As Changas observed about his involvement in preparing and revising the TBA YLD’s long range plan, “You can’t just prepare a plan and then put it away in a drawer. You have to act on it and then look to see if the organization is meeting its goals and progressing. Use the long-range plan to tweak and improve on what you’re doing every year. It makes reaching your organization’s goals that much easier.”