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The Most Important Part of Your Strategic Plan

Trust is at a premium.

Public skepticism regarding institutions and organizations of all kinds is at an all-time high. Trust, which many once took for granted—especially with respect to some of our most venerated for-profit, nonprofit, and government institutions—is now at a premium.

I travel around the country conducting workshops on organizational branding and leadership, mostly for nonprofits. During my presentations I show a slide and preface it by saying, "As simple as this slide appears, it's probably the most important slide I will show you today."

A good brand equals:

  • Trust, which leads to ...
  • Relationship building, which leads to ...
  • Cooperative, collaborative opportunities to advance your goals and objectives

The dialogue that follows usually goes something like this:

"How many of you have developed strategic plans for your organizations?" I ask. Most of the hands in the room go up.

"And what's the first question most people ask when it comes to strategic planning?"

Many reply with "What goals and objectives do we want to achieve?" Some phrase it differently, "Where do we want to be three to five years from now?" which is essentially the same answer.

"And how do you plan to get there?" I ask.

Some reply, "By raising more funds." Others say, "By creating strategic alliances or relationships with other organizations." Still others may respond, "Increasing our marketing and advertising budgets."

Many, frankly, don't know how they're going to achieve their goals and objectives. "That's why we're doing a strategic plan; to determine how," I had one person inform me, which I thought was a good, honest answer.

I press on: "For those of you who responded by saying raising more funds or increasing your marketing activities or creating relationships with others, how do you propose to do that?"

Usually, after a slight pause, I receive answers like "improving and increasing our direct mail campaigns and other kinds of fundraising activities" or "we'll meet with them and make the case why it's important we work together to achieve our common goals."

I believe that in all the times I've been through this exercise, only one person saw where I was taking the conversation and said, "By getting them to trust us."


And therein lies the rub. Most organizations are so focused on achieving their goals and objectives that they fail to see that trust should be the foundation of all their efforts. Some go so far as to ignore tacitly the trust factor or even erode it as they strive to get to where they want to be.

If, for example, increased funding is one of your organization's key strategic goals and that's all the organization is focused on, then false advertising, deceptive business practices, or turning a blind eye when others around you engage in unethical behavior may be some of the more tacit allowances for getting there. In the short run your organization may achieve its goal of increased funding. But as many organizations have learned—and we've witnessed a lot of them over the past several years—these practices do not bode well for an organization's long-term survivability.

In short, what every organization should ask when it comes to strategic planning is: What are we doing to earn the trust—both inside and outside our organization—that will enable us to form the kinds of relationships we need to achieve our goals and objectives?

Once you have the answer to that question, the goals and objectives will follow.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2009, Checco Communications

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and author of Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization. Larry is a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding.
Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice Communications