I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about strategic planning and how no one has been doing any because of the economic realities we are facing. The problem with this is that it is precisely during times of economic uncertainty and hardship that we need our long-term plans. We cannot expect our patrons and donors to hand over their now even harder-earned money by crying that we won’t be able to turn the lights on next week if they don’t. That may get them to give us $50 or even $100, but to get real investments, we need real plans for the future, beyond next month.
All the reports I’ve seen lately say that we may have hit the bottom of the decline, but that the best we can hope for in the next year is a plateau, not a return to upward motion. We, as arts organizations, can’t make it through another year trying to satisfy our boards and our budgets by scrimping, saving, and taking it out of our human capital. We need to take the time now to map out what we are going to do when the economy rebounds otherwise we won’t live to see that day.
Don’t tell me you don’t have time for it. It is amazing how time expands when we decide that something is vital. And, don’t try to do it by yourself. You will get bogged down, distracted, and discouraged. We all need someone to help keep us on track with this sort of in-depth work and there are lots of skilled strategic planning consultants who are waiting to do just that. A great consultant will leverage the time you do have to commit to the project and help you see it to completion. The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund has toolbox grants for just this sort of thing. I’m sure they are not the only foundation who does. Look around, do it now.
A good long-term plan not only galvanizes your support in the community, it re-invigorates your staff and volunteers. Show them that you aren’t just limping along hoping to stay breathing until a better economic time arrives. It is amazing the increase in productivity among folks who know where the company is going. They already believe in the art, now show them that you are prepared to thrive.
We can’t wait for it to get easier before we plan. It won’t get easier unless we plan.