Essential Strategic Plan

Lead Your Core Planning Team through the Critical Conversations Necessary to Create a Strategic Plan

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The Essential Strategic Plan is designed as a self-paced online guided facilitation process that leads a core planning team through critical conversations to achieve a draft strategic plan.

The Essential Strategic Plan Team is a core group of 5-8 team members, including at minimum the Executive Director and Board Chair, along with key staff and other stakeholders, who bring a diverse and complementary set of skills and experience to the process.

The Essential Strategic Plan Tasks include:

  1. What do we value?
  2. What is our mission?
  3. What is our current situation?
  4. What critical issues do we face?
  5. What is our aspiration over the next 10 years?
  6. What do we want to achieve in 3 years?
  7. How do we measure success?
  8. How do we ensure sustainability?

The format of the process includes:

  • Five Webinars that orient participants to the tasks, summarizing the previous work and setting up the work to come;
  • Four 3-hour team work sessions—which may be broken down further into 90 minute sessions—in which the planning team, is guided virtually to complete each task together in real time;
  • All materials and worksheets available in pdf downloads.
  • Optional “411” live, 30-minute coaching call at anytime during the process to answer a question, discuss a challenge, or review a task.

The Essential Strategic Plan Template is a living document that can serve as an organization’s strategic plan, and/or guiding document for board discussions and accountability.

Your Instructors

Jay Vogt & Judy Ozbun
Jay Vogt & Judy Ozbun

Helping nonprofits save time and money fulfilling their mission.

EssentialWorth Founders Jay W. Vogt and Judy A. Ozbun, bring a combined 50+ years of broad organizational expertise across multiple sectors (corporate, small business, nonprofit, academia) and industries (healthcare, retail, environment, education, and others).

Jay believes EssentialWorth can help transform nonprofits by providing online solutions that spark conversation and unite teams.

Judy is passionate about translating planning into fun, empowering and actionable processes that help nonprofit leaders create plans they will use–so that they can get back to their passion to improve the world.

Program Curriculum

  Getting Organized
Available in days
days after you enroll

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the program start and finish?
The program starts immediately and never ends! It is a completely self-paced, self-guided online program - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the program?
After registering, you have unlimited access to this program for as long as you like.
What if I am unhappy with the program?
At EssentialWorth, customer satisfaction is our #1 priority. If you are unsatisfied with your program, please contact us at [email protected] and we'll do whatever it takes to make it right.
What if I have issues accessing or downloading the content?
Just contact us at [email protected] and we'll be happy to help!
Does everyone on the team have to attend all sessions?
It is recommended that all team members commit to view all webinars and attend all team sessions. Webinars may be attended individually (and virtually), and team work sessions should be attended as a group, either in person or virtually via Google Hangout or other convenor. While emergencies/conflicts sometimes arise, we encourage participants to make this commitment to the best of their ability to ensure continuity and successful completion of your Essential Strategic Plan.
How do I access the Essential Strategic Plan Online?
Once your organization’s registration is complete, each team member will participate through this single account login.
Where can I access program materials?
All materials are hosted online through our site at
What are the details for the video sessions that we will be required to attend as a team?
Your Executive Director/Board Chair/Team Leader will schedule the dates and location of the video viewing by the full team. Minimum requirements for viewing are: Large screen computer monitor or tv screen Internet connection/access Plug in computer speakers
How much time is involved in each webinar and team session?
Each webinar is about 30 minutes in duration (give or take a few minutes) and can be watched at the individual’s leisure prior to the team session that follows. Each team video session is designed as a 90-minute segment. You may choose to conduct the team video sessions in 90-minute segments or combine two at a time for a 3-hour work session that enables you to complete the full session.
What is the ideal composition for the team and how it might change as the process goes along?
The team should consist of a minimum of 5 members, including the Executive Director and the Board Chair, up to a maximum of 8 members. We recommend a mix of key board, staff and other stakeholders. Note that we have built into the process feedback sessions whereby the core planning team engages in stakeholder discussions to update and gain buy-in/feedback with the next level of stakeholders; this next level of stakeholders may include additional board, staff and others who are not part of the core planning team. We recommend that the core planning team stay the same throughout the strategic planning process.
Do you have any tips for how we might conduct surveys and interviews as part of our pre-work to identify strengths and weaknesses?
We are throwing a lot of information your way at the start, so we can understand the feeling of being overwhelmed! Identifying strengths and weaknesses can be simple, or more involved, depending upon your experience with this process. To keep it simple, we suggest starting with just a few questions that you can ask a handful of your key donors, volunteers, and/or board members, particularly those who won't be present at the session: • What are our strengths as an organization? Our greatest strength? • What must we improve as an organization? Our greatest weakness? • What opportunities for our organization are present or emerging in our environment? The best opportunity? • What threats to our organization are present or emerging in our environment? The greatest threat? It is helpful to aggregate the data into a set of common themes.
Should we send completed pre-work out in advance or just bring them to Session 1?
It will be helpful for your team members to see pre-work electronically, in advance, for their review and reflection. Please also bring paper copies on three-hole-punched paper for inclusion in each participant's binder when you meet in person for the team video sessions.
How much time will there be to update ideas during the live team sessions regarding vision, mission, etc.?
Session 1 is a hands-on work session, not a training session. You will be doing real work in real time. The team does not need to get together to do work prior to the session, as you will have time to do this work together at the session. Your focus prior to Session 1 should be on gathering useful materials to support the conversation (e.g. guiding ideas, facts-at-a-glance, history) and gathering input from stakeholders who can't be present at the session, so that your work can be informed by their voices. That said, in the first session, there will be a working segment on values and mission. Vision will be a focus in a later session. We will not address the notion of "theory of change" directly in the work sessions.
Can you please clarify what documents we should prepare and distribute to whom prior to Session 1, and which documents we should hold on to until Session 1?
We want you to inform your team members' thinking by sharing with them the assembled guiding ideas, the facts-at-a-glance, and the history. This is not your work, but really a profile of your organization. When you spend time gathering information about the organization's strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities and threats, from other stakeholders and other sources, consider this work as informing your team's thinking, rather than influencing it in some harmful way. Still, you know best the culture of your organization, and some organizations are very sensitive to influence and power dynamics. If your organization won't welcome the input you are gathering, don't share it until the session, and start from a blank slate.
Should our team work together on the pre-readings and worksheets, or is this something just for the leaders (ED and Board Chair) to do?
The ED and Board Chair are the most accountable parties to ensure this work gets done. If they can do it on their own, that is okay. If they would like to gather the team to help them with this work, that is fine, too. Just remember: the team has time to share their assessment of the organization and the environment at the session. If your team comes together, it should be to find ways to listen to and learn from voices of others who cannot be present at the session.
How we get buy-in from Board members unable to participate in the ESP process, since we will need their approval of the final strategic plan?
In the circle of stakeholders, there are folks who would be nice to reach out to, and those whom you must reach out to; Board members are in the "must" category. It is important to reach back and bring up to speed those Board members who aren't part of the ESP team. Here's how you can do this: (1) Reduce the body of materials you produced during the ESP program to the strategic plan template and email the document to your Board members; (2) Talk with your planning team and assign each team member one or two Board members to call in follow up to discuss the document; (3) Incorporate their feedback into your plan and present a final version to your full Board for approval. Personal outreach like this may be too much for a larger pool of stakeholders, but for your Board members and other "must reach" stakeholders, this will be well worth your time.
Can you discuss briefly when or how we should share our final strategic plan with which stakeholders?
We will discuss this further in Webinar 5. One way to think about how you share this and at what point is to consider your stakeholders as being in concentric circles: the inner circle is your planning team--the core group of up to 8 people who are helping to craft the strategic plan; the next ring includes other Board members and stakeholders who are important to the success of your mission; the third ring includes stakeholders who are not intimately involved with your organization and may or may not have a big role in your success. As you finalize the draft strategic plan with your team, you will then begin the critical process of conversing with other Board members and stakeholders to revise and finalize the plan and present it to the Board for final approval. The next step is to announce the final strategic plan, if you choose, to all other stakeholders, either in public meetings or in a shortened version on your website.
How do we obtain stakeholder input without potentially repeating the whole process?
This is a valid concern, as some of the work may be repetitive; however, it does feel different in a larger group setting. You have to decide how closely you want to hold to the direction you've chosen during the ESP process. If you feel solid about it, then it's all in how you frame it. You could say, "this is our direction and our thought process" and what you look for in the feedback are the strengths, the places where you can extend and/or improve upon the existing plan. By framing it in this context, you enable the stakeholders to amplify your work rather than take it in another direction. Even when they are proposing areas to strengthen, they are still building upon your baseline of work. It is a subtle influence that occurs when you proclaim the plan as direction. And, you take the feedback as relative to that plan, naming strengths, making the entire plan stronger. The other way is to consider the message you send in terms of time allotted to the feedback process. Giving yourself a whole lot of time results in a whole lot of feedback. In order to keep your process crisp and moving forward, it is important to make your window of feedback more constrained. It is important as well so that stakeholders have a chance to focus on key points but not get lost "in the weeds".
Do you have a business model template available?
The best way to think about the business model is as a process, rather than a template. From the process which we will take you through in Session 4, you will ultimately extract a business model statement. The purpose of the business model is to articulate how you link your program and financial strategies. The Worksheet--Business Model--Prework for Session 4, is available as part of the Session 4 Prework packet. We will walk you through this worksheet in Session 4.
What is the Board Roles to Board Goals workbook and how do we get it?
Jay Vogt wrote Board Roles to Board Goals as a self-guided workbook for nonprofit boards to assess and establish a working plan for setting and achieving board goals. Using this workbook, chairs (or designated facilitators) of nonprofit organizations can lead their boards of directors through a step-by-step process that mobilizes board talent, fosters collaboration toward shared goals, and refocuses the board on governing rather than managing. To purchase the workbooks, go to:

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