Since the adoption of the “Real Time Strategic Planning” process, the Greater Peoria Family YMCA has made timely decisions leading to continued growth and development.

In a rapidly changing world, remaining relevant within your respective industry without altering the vision of your organization can be a challenge. The economic downturn has changed the habits of current and potential clients, and trends in technology have influenced the way businesses connect with the community. Maintaining a strong image in the community proves to be a day-to-day challenge; attempting to plan for the future seems to be a daunting task.

For over 160 years, the Greater Peoria Family YMCA has provided programs in youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Responding to the needs of the Peoria community in a timely fashion is an ongoing challenge. The YMCA has had to adjust its programming curriculum regularly to continue to serve the community.

Continuing to evolve with the current demand, strategy and planning is essential, which is why the YMCA utilizes “Real Time Strategic Planning.” The concept is based on the model described in David La Piana’s book, The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid Response World. This process guides the YMCA to utilize a plan to respond to opportunities, combat distractions and make appropriate decisions while staying focused on the outcomes of the plan.

By committing to and developing this process, the long-term goal becomes something of a reality, rather than a document revisited once every two to three years. The concept of “Real Time Planning” challenges management and the governing board to develop a basic plan of how the organization should be viewed in the community, rather than what measurable objective the group should accomplish in five or ten years. When developing and implementing the plan, it is important to remember the success of the strategy is measured by community impact, not by the success of a tactical objective.

“The model encourages thinking with clarity and acting immediately so that it’s a continuous planning and responding cycle,” says Daniel P. Chonowski, president and CEO of the Greater Peoria Family YMCA. “In the old methodology, there was a greater emphasis on producing the plan itself, and implementation was not emphasized equally. In this new process, there is a greater emphasis on the implementation of the plan, helping the YMCA to execute the plan.”

The Real Time Strategic Planning process includes four key areas of exploration which the board of directors, key management staff and community liaisons must consider. They include:

1. Big Questions—defining the unique opportunities or issues the organization and local community are facing.

2. Mission Advantage—compiling how the organization is uniquely able to impact the community in relation to the Big Questions.

3. Strategy Screen—a list of priorities that the organization uses to filter out non-strategic activities and make educated decisions.

4. Impact Statement—the impact the organization wants to have in the community.

When developing the “Big Questions,” it is crucial to utilize various needs assessments to adequately gather information. Involving key leaders is important because the organization may want to address one issue, but then finds out through research that another issue is a greater need for it to fulfill. By including other organizations, future collaborative opportunities are more readily available. “It is about identifying the potential and living up to it, and narrowing the gap between our aspiration and our reality,” says William Fischer, YMCA board chairman.

After the Big Questions are identified, relating the “Mission Advantage” to the objectives is the next step. When creating the Mission Advantage, it’s not about the quantity of programs offered within the service sector, it is about identifying the services at which the organization uniquely excels and delivering those services to the community. For example, over the past four years, the YMCA has been recognized as an innovative organization with regard to youth physical education programs. By concentrating the organization’s efforts in a specific area, programs can improve and have greater outcome measurements and better success rates.

Instead of reviewing strategies once every two to three years, the benefit of a Real Time Strategic Plan is that the management team is responsible for revisiting it every time a unique opportunity or threat faces the organization. At the YMCA, a filter or strategy screen was developed during the planning stage to ensure that all decisions are aligned with the overall plan and mission advantage.

Meanwhile, an “Impact Statement”— a short paragraph with a clear message about how the community will be stronger because of the presence and work of the organization—helps it to remain on target over time. Within the next five years, the Greater Peoria Family YMCA aspires to be viewed in the community as a leader in providing healthy lifestyle services for all individuals in the Peoria community.

Putting the plan into action is as imperative as developing the plan. It is the responsibility of the management team to regularly demonstrate to the board of directors how the organization is moving toward these goals and objectives. The plan identifies key management employees responsible for quarterly reports using reporting structures.

In all, the entire process will help build a stronger and more effective board of directors that focuses on the big picture—not just day-to-day operations. The concept maintains motivation by providing regular proof of progress, and in return, it helps board members better understand their roles. The process helps define the organizational strengths and how to produce results everyone can point to with pride. Throughout our experience, the Board of Directors has developed into a unified team that provides support and encouragement to the management staff, ensuring the YMCA will continue to serve the Peoria community for the next 160 years.iBi