Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership

13: Build A 2020 Personal Strategic Plan That Works (Patton McDowell)

January 02, 2020 Patton McDowell Episode 13
Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership
13: Build A 2020 Personal Strategic Plan That Works (Patton McDowell)
Show Notes Transcript

#013: Build A 2020 Personal Strategic Plan That Works (Patton McDowell)


While the start of a new year often inspires well-intentioned efforts to put a new professional development plan in place, too often the result is a set of vague goals that don’t survive very far into the Spring season.  This episode offers multiple ways you can make your plan more actionable and productive for 2020 and beyond.  This is the third of three episodes in a year-end series that first covered the keys to an effective year-end review (episode #11) and then a second episode that recommended seven professional development books (episode #12) to add to your reading list. Listen to this episode to explore:

1. How to effectively Sharpen Your Vision to provide the basis for your 2020 plan

2. How to do a self-assessment and Map Your Course with clear milestones

3. How to Get in Shape by establishing six routines and rituals 

These activities will get you beyond setting generalized annual goals, and help you put practical steps in place to accelerate Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership. 

Interested in a copy of the 10 skills and experiences assessment worksheet? Email me at  

About Patton

Prior to founding PMA Consulting in 2009, Patton served as Vice President for University Advancement at Queens University of Charlotte where he was responsible for all fundraising, communications, and alumni programs for the university.  Before Queens, Patton served as Vice Chancellor for University Advancement at UNC Wilmington, where he was the youngest vice chancellor in the 16- campus UNC system.  He previously served as Program Director for Special Olympics North Carolina in Raleigh, following his tenure with Special Olympics International in Washington, D.C.  He is a native of Elizabeth City, NC, and received a bachelor’s degree in English Education from UNC Chapel Hill, where he was a Morehead Scholar.  He received his MBA from the McColl School of Business at Queens, and his Doctorate in Organizational Change and Leadership from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.  He is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), a Master Trainer for AFP International, and a member of the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations.  Patton is a former board president of AFP Charlotte and served as the Chapter Representative on the AFP International Board.  He also serves as the Lead Faculty Member for the Institute for Philanthropic Leadership and both of its signature programs: New Development Director Training and Leadership Gift School.  Patton and his wife Cindy have three adult children.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to your path to nonprofit leadership, the weekly podcast devoted to the very best in professional development and productivity in the nonprofit sector. I'm your host, Pat and McDowell and eager to bring you this episode, which is actually the[inaudible], the third of a three part series that crosses the boundary of 2019 and looks ahead to 2020 not just the year ahead but the decade, the roaring twenties, as I'm already hearing it called. What I'm hoping to do is help you today with some thoughts as you put together your 2020 personal strategic plan because so many, and I have certainly been guilty of this as well. Uh, the new year brings many resolutions, but they often don't get beyond vague goals that disappear almost as quickly as the month of January. In many respects, this episode is a microcosm of the overall path to nonprofit leadership, which in its broadest sense has seven categories, if you will, of personal and professional development that come together to help you clarify and put a plan in place to succeed in whatever fashion that means for you in the nonprofit sector. Now, if you're feeling particularly motivated in your year end review and or planning ahead in 2020, I would encourage you to go back to the previous two episodes, numbers 11 and 12 to first look at an effective year end review process. That is what episode 11 focused on and ways that you can glean some of the best information from the 12 months past and build them into a more effective plan for 2020, uh, in between, uh, episodes 11 and 13. The one you're about to listen to, uh, episode 12 provides seven what I believe are really good professional development reading recommendations, seven books that can, uh, help you in whatever step along the path that you're on. So please check those out and they'll be linked as well in our show notes. Now to begin this episode and the focus of making a plan that truly works for your 2020 effort, um, I'm going to share four distinct exercises or areas of focus that I think can help you create a plan that is more than just generalized goals and dreams. Obviously there is certainly room for a vision, a dream, a goal, uh, along your future path. But what I'm trying to do is emphasize ways that can make this more concrete and give you routines and rituals that'll make the plan effective. The first exercise in this effort to build your 2020 plan is a phrase you've heard me say before, but it is indeed sharpen your vision. No good plan will ever work if it does not have additional clarity, and that is something we talk about on the path to nonprofit leadership. It's one thing to aspire to greater leadership or aspire to be the best you can be, but until we define that, it's hard to develop a plan that will help you get there. Wow. There's nothing magical about using 2020 or they start off 2020 to begin your plan. It does make somewhat a unique opportunity to look at an entire decade of the twenties, and why not use that momentum of a new decade to set both long and short range goals to really get your head around this concept of sharpening your vision. I'm going to make a recommendation that you plan a personal retreat, literally get out of town if possible, get out of your normal home and work environments and get away. Perhaps you have a friend or family member that will let you use their residence or maybe they have a vacation property of some sort or you can go somewhere where someone will let you use a facility where you can have quiet, uninterrupted time to focus on all the things I'm going to describe here. Uh, I started doing this about 10 years ago and first wondered what the solitude would do and how would I actually fill the time. But I've found it incredibly rewarding and a chance to recharge all the batteries and find deeper, uh, conversation with myself. But I tried to be intentional in this retreat setting with three distinct phases. Number one, as I alluded to in episode number 11 is a review of the past year. That strikes me as a good way to warm up for a planning exercise. Do the calendar review, go back through some of your notes, your plans and journals and anything that helps represent the year past, which will then I think effectively warm you up for the year ahead. After that review part of my agenda, I'm then going to step back and look back at my vision. What are the long range, uh, aspirations and goals that I have? What does success look like? And I'll explain this in more detail in a moment, but 10 years from now, where am I going and what does success look like? So having done the review then looking ahead with clarity, I can next move into goal setting and more details around the next 12 months. So having previously described the year end review process, let's talk about what that long range vision sharpening your vision actually looks like. And the way I do that is divide my vision into four distinct categories cause I think it, it for me becomes more practical and easier to plan around if I divide it into the categories that represent my personal and professional life. So the first element of my, uh, less called 10 year vision is what does the ultimate professional goal look like over that next decade? Is it to be an executive director? Is it to be a chief development officer? Is it to be whatever the most senior position in my organization or another organization looks like that then can define what the ultimate goal is in my professional journey. And the second area I look at is, um, on a personal level, what are the elements that represent success on a personal level, uh, whether it be with family, uh, any aspect that will affect you personally, including your own health and wellness and what often we describe as the big three sleep, diet and exercise. But these are areas that would be within this personal long range vision. And I'm trying to define what is the ultimate goal in that category. The third element of the vision framework that I'm describing as part of your personal retreat is your educational goals. Again, using the decade long framework 10 years from now, what are the ultimate goals you have for your educational journey, which I believe is critical to your overall leadership journey? Um, and it could include the traditional degrees. Do you need a graduate degree or do you need certifications or just simply areas of knowledge to allow you to be better at the ultimate job you described in the first part of this vision framework. For me, there was graduate education on the horizon that I knew that I had to put within my 10 year framework. There were also topical areas. Um, perhaps it's planned giving. If you're a fundraiser, trying to expand your capacity and opportunities in that path. Maybe it's budget management, um, or board development. If you are going to ultimately be in an executive role in nonprofits, those are certainly areas and including strategic planning that you're going to need to be proficient. So if the ultimate goal is at the senior level, you could likely define by looking at a job description of your ultimate position, some of those educational that are going to be necessary to achieve that kind of job. Now, the fourth and final area of your vision framework is financial planning. And while you did not get into the nonprofit sector for a motivated by making money, finances will indeed be a part of your long range plan. Uh, whether it's just simply making what you believe you deserve and can earn, uh, you likely have financial goals of home ownership or paying off student debt or whatever your needs are over the next 10 years. The reality is you likely will need to make more than you are now and are you in a position to do so? Uh, and to save money and to accommodate the costs of your family and other things like that. So, uh, it's not too soon to put that into your framework and consider what range you will be in. Now, the final aspect that I wrap my vision framework around is geography. In other words, where am I willing to work over the next 10 years? Perhaps for various reasons, family in particular, you need to be right where you are and stay there. And so that will shape your planning around job opportunities with your current organization. Obviously or maybe other organizations in the same community. But if you have the flexibility to, to consider other environments, other communities, then this is a good place to put it down. Perhaps it's a regional, uh, aspiration that you would, uh, consider are there other communities, markets, uh, within the multistate area that you're part of now that you ought to keep an eye on because your long range vision would allow you to move or you would consider a move for the right opportunity. But again, by defining these five areas, your framework will indeed become sharpened. And every plan that follows now has even greater purpose because you know, the type of position you aspire to 10 years from now or within the next 10 years, you know, the kind of personal elements that you're trying to do to get better and help in your family life as well as your kind of health and wellness. And then you're going to be looking at the education and training and things that you need to achieve that ultimate goal of leadership and the financial support that will be required and associated with that job. All of that wrapped together. Then you can put it on a map and perhaps your map is right there in the same zip code you live and work now. Or perhaps your map is anywhere in the world. And those things again can affect the networking and other strategies you employ to assure ultimate success. All right, so you have finished the first phase. If you follow my advice here, you've planned a retreat, you've organized it around three phases, looking back, looking way ahead, and then you're going to move into some goal setting and you've also now helped sharpen your ability to make a case for yourself. You know how a nonprofits, we always talk about making a case for your organization, particularly those of you fundraising, but I find a lot of younger professionals in our sector have a hard time articulating any semblance of their personal case for support. And I think that is such a powerful tool to use, particularly as you are networking and interacting with aspirational peers who want to help you. And so the more you can define, Hey, I want to be an executive director in the next 10 years and I'm willing to go anywhere in this region or I'm going to be focused on this type of program, I'm willing to look at different sectors. Whatever your case for support is, this is your chance to kind of button it up and be more effective in sharing it with others who indeed could help. Now that you've spent some time on your retreat, uh, sharpening your vision, uh, the next area I would suggest to make your 2020 plan more effective now that you've looked longterm is to zero in and two different time horizons. And what I mean by that is I think your plan should have four distinct time horizons or milestones so that it's not all just kind of far away, vague someday type of goal setting. Obviously we've just talked about the 10 year or a decade long vision of what success looks like. What then I would do is work backwards and look at a next time horizon of three years out and then working closer to the current day one year and then finally sharpening it to what are you going to do in the next 90 days. So again, using your vision framework from the first part of this episode in each of the four categories, you've already identified what success looks like at the 10 year Mark. The next set of questions you should be asking yourself is, all right, if I'm going to move in that direction, what kind of progress do I need to have in the next three years? So on my professional journey, what, what is the next position on the ladder so to speak, to move me closer to that ultimate goal? Maybe it's the position you're in now, but with added responsibilities and that's fine, you can put that into this three year category as what you're aspiring to achieve. Likewise in your health and wellness and personal development, what kind of things will you need to accomplish in the next three years to consider yourself moving forward there? And as you move closer to the current calendar, obviously things are going to need to be sharper and that's what this exercise will allow. The third category in your vision framework is education. The best example there might be if you know, ultimately you're going to need a graduate degree to be in the position, your position you want to achieve. Well maybe in the next three years you're going to have to be in a graduate program. Um, to map out this 10 year timeline. Obviously the graduate program has to start sooner or later and maybe not right away, but at the three year Mark now you can begin to organize your thoughts and your calendar around that reality and think about being in a program or maybe halfway through it at that point depending on how aggressive you want to be on the timeline. Um, again, financially I think it's self explanatory. As you look at that framework, do you have goals around saving money, investing money, um, achieving a greater salary by a three year Mark. Those are things you can measure. And again, starting with 10 years, work your way back to three and then the same exercise again at the one year Mark, 12 months from now, where do you want to be? And this gives you even greater detail around these goals, which at the 10 year Mark are kind of visionary. But at the one year Mark, they have to have great clarity and that's what you can do and ultimately move to the most actionable section of, um, your goal setting effort is what are you gonna do in the next 12 weeks? I referenced a book and the previous episode, the 12 year, 12 week year. And it does just that instead of waiting for the year to get things done, you look at the next 12 weeks instead of the next 12 months as a means of motivation and acceleration of all your goals and objectives. And you're not gonna get some of these major efforts done in 12 weeks, of course. But using the educational example, if you're trying to get a graduate degree, you could certainly explore and research graduate programs in your area or online in the next 12 weeks. And that becomes your exact specific goal. Explore four different graduate programs that have are of interest. Maybe formally put yourself on their mailing list so to speak, or online registration. Uh, doesn't commit you to anything yet, but it does move you off the vague notion of yeah, maybe I need to get a master's degree someday or yeah, maybe I need to get a CFRE if I'm a fundraiser someday, why not do the first step of working on an application? And that perhaps is the best example of a 12 week or 90 day objective that moves you along this path to ultimate success. Start at the 90 day Mark. Move to one year, look ahead to the three year Mark, and then you're going to be well on your way to a, the decade long success you aspire to. So now that you've established your vision framework, you've created a timeline with multiple time horizons. Everything's not due right away, everything's not do 10 years from now, but you've got four distinct levels that help guide you along the path. Now it's time to get even more tactical. And there are a couple of exercises I'll recommend here. Number one is a, and I'll put this in the show notes and would happily email this to you. Uh, I use a professional skills worksheet that suggests 10 skills and experiences I think every nonprofit professional needs to think about and work toward to achieve ultimate success. And I will devote another episode of this podcast to these all 10 of these elements, but they include things like developing a learning plan, having a a top notch personal organization, methodology, practice, leadership, effective networking, speaking, writing, all of the skills and experiences that you might imagine, uh, you will need to achieve your ultimate success. But I put them in a framework and suggest this was an exercise you could do at your personal retreat. Now that you've given thought to long range, you've begun to create a calendar. Now you need to decide what are those skills and experiences you need to work on in the near term. So having gone through this exercise of evaluating these 10 skills and experiences, in other words, which ones you are strong at, which ones need work, you can create your own SWOT analysis. And SWOT for those not familiar, is a common assessment tool that organizations use to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Well, SWOT analysis can also be applied to you personally. What are your greatest strengths as a professional? And do you have an opportunity to build upon them? What are the weaknesses you're dealing with in your professional success or achieving professional success? And how can you counter those weaknesses and make them less? So are there opportunities in your current organization or on the horizon at your current organization that you might need to prepare for, whether it be the retirement of someone in your organization or an opportunity for expansion on add a sister agency in the community, something like that. Threats. Um, perhaps your organization is considering a merger. Another things like that could affect your job or the job of those around you. And so that's the type of analysis that I find helpful. Strengths and weaknesses allow you to evaluate your own kind of personal resume opportunities and threats. Allow you to step back and look at your organization and your sector more broadly. But all of this leads then to a more intentional, uh, goal setting activity. And now you've got the framework to build upon it. Once again, I'm happy to email you this assessment tool. Simply note in the show notes my email address and I'm happy to share because this exercise will allow you to not focus on 10 different skills and experiences, but likely two or three will emerge as ones that deserve your time and attention in 2020. Perhaps there are a couple of strength areas that you are not able to utilize as much in your current job but could do so in a volunteer organization. Uh, or if there are weaknesses you believe in your resume, you can be more intentional about opportunities to practice and improve in 2020. And so now that leaves you with uneven, greater clarity around your 2020 plan. Now having put all of these strengths and weaknesses on your proverbial table, now it's time to ask the question in each case, what can I do to build upon this strength or improve this weakness in the next 90 days? And each of these areas or skills and experiences certainly have tactical ways to improve. And that would be your job to kind of conclude this personal retreat, to think about something you can do tangibly in each category. And then we move to the final phase of this, perhaps either at the retreat or once you get back home. Uh, I think you should spend some time devoted to six distinct rituals and routines that are going to give you the bandwidth to achieve these goals that you have set for yourself. I find as I'm coaching a talented nonprofit professionals, uh, they often have success in reaching this point. They've set the vision, they've created the time horizons to create a path. They've done the personal assessment, but then they have not created an environment in which they can succeed. And I think there are three reasons they fail to, uh, have the kind of success they want. In other words, they come back from the retreat, whether it's literally a retreat or simply an exercise they did at their desk. Uh, but they do not create an environment which they can succeed. Uh, with all these good ideas, the first reason they don't succeed is they don't declutter. And that is both literally the paper they are buried under, at their office or in their home office. Or maybe it's the clutter of their computer screen, their email inbox or any means by which there is communication occurring or information coming in. Um, if you can't get out of your own mess, uh, you're never going to find the time and bandwidth to move ahead on what requires additional quality time. And so that is why, uh, I think the mistake or challenge I see that inhibits good long range planning is clutter. So number one, when you get back, clean up, use this kickoff to the year as an opportunity. And I talked about this in episode 11 about routines and rituals that assure you are not buried by your own clutter. The second failure area I see an effective personal strategic planning is what I would call lack of focus on the big three. And the big three in this case are in the health and wellness area. Uh, sleep, diet and exercise. And it's no surprise to any of you you've known this your whole life, but sadly, most of us, myself included, struggle in these areas. And last but not least, attack the three primary productivity rituals. And they are your, when you wake up routine, are you maximizing the time of your most energized part of the day? Are you willing to get up earlier to be more productive before the regular work day begins? Second ritual is your arrival to work. Uh, I mentioned this in the previous episode as well. Are you scrambling into the office? Are you there with advanced time to organize yourself to get ahead and find that extra balance of time that can get other things done, including your professional development goals? And finally, the third ritual is your evening ritual. Uh, are you taking advantage of time to get things done in the evening? Perhaps it's reading or other things that can enhance your professional development or simply going to bed earlier and not exhausting yourself, um, with mindless social media or television, but doing things that are productive or restful so that you can be more energized and effective in the following day. Well, some of these items may be, uh, best pondered once you return from your retreat or session that you're planning on these things. I hope you see now there is real tangible value to what first may sound like a vague getaway. Uh, and now what I hope I've illustrated as a very practical personal development planning session. And of course, uh, I hope it is inherent in this, all that I've described, the, uh, the need to write it down. And I'm a big proponent of journaling and that could be where all of this is written down. But, uh, the level of detail you will need to achieve a successful 2020 plan requires you to keep track of all of these things. I have described from the uh, vision framework, the different time horizons, the assessment of skills and experiences and a personal SWOT analysis and then an evaluation of um, the big three of health and wellness and the three primary rituals for productivity. With all of these together you have created what will be a very actionable plan for 2020. Thanks again for listening to this episode and a deeper dive in a planning process that I have personally found very successful. And I hope it gives you some ideas that can motivate and activate your plan for 2020 and the decade ahead, not just the year ahead. So consider these elements, I guess four or five distinct exercises that will hopefully jump start your plan for 2020 and help you along your path to nonprofit leadership. If this is an episode that is of interest and you think someone else might enjoy it, please share it. Um, send it through whatever podcast host channel you utilize and also consider subscribing. If you haven't already, your subscription and reviews help amplify this effort. Um, and we'll help get the content out to even more of the fantastic nonprofit professionals that are out there doing good work and aspiring to greater leadership opportunity. Thanks again for listening and I'll look forward to seeing you next time on the path.