The strategic planning method I like to use is called MOST: Mission, Objectives, Strategy, and Tactics. There are many other similar systems, often with slightly different definitions, so I'll explain what I mean as I go along.
But keep in mind that what strategic planning is all about, regardless of the number or type of steps, is going from a big idea to a minutely-planned dance that ensures that X number of feet are on the ground doing what they're supposed to be doing at the right time in the right place.
Some strategic planners like to come up with a vision before they decide on a mission. Vision is the broad dream of the future, and GetEqual's "About" page lists the organization's vision in paragraph 2:
We envision a society in which LGBTQ people are truly equal, without caveat or compromise, and in which we build bridges with all who struggle for justice and dignity in their lives.
Sounds good, and I like it.
The same page, paragraph 1, lists the organization's mission. Mission is the grounded "this is what we will accomplish." Some mission statements are fairly specific, and some less so, but all have the quality of listing what the organization's function is. Here are some examples of non-profit mission statements from Missionstatement.com
The Nonprofit Finance Fund is a community development financial institution that offers financing, loans, as well as technical and planning assistance to nonprofit subsectors. Working together with other financial institutions, the Nonprofit Finance Fund services nonprofits in Washington, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, New Jersey, New England, etc.
Headquartered in Kirkland, WA, American Antigravity is a non-profit organization that offers support and services to scientists and inventors who work to achieve new knowledge in certain disciplines. They do so in order to encourage newfound information, and to aid people learn more about the emerging science & technology.
To strengthen communities in rural Minnesota, especially the Grand Rapids.
Here is GetEqual's mission:
Our mission is to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way.
This mission statement specifies that GetEqual is not about taking actions themselves (though they may take actions from time to time), but to empower others to take action to demand full equality. Also, they will hold accountable those who stand in the way.
There are no specifics here about what "full legal and social equality," "taking actions," or "holding accountable" mean, nor should there be. That comes in the objectives.
I'm jazzed reading this, because I believe that this empowerment of others is a key to making a difference in this big country of ours. No small organization can do it alone.
But what milestones do we need to pass to get from point A to point B?
The milestones are generally called the objectives. The mission is about empowering others to take actions, and holding accountable standers-in-the-way.
GetEqual's "About" page mentions a number of areas of LGBTQ inequality in its statement. These could be translated into objectives, as follows:
GetEqual's objectives include equality for LGBTQ people in these areas:
as working people
as members of the military
These areas begin to specify what "full legal and social equality" means. These also begin to show how to quantify specific, measurable results. The way to do this is to look at the measures of these areas now, and to see if they are moving in the right direction. There could be many measures, but the important thing is to identify the ones that GetEqual will use, and to continue to measure results on the same scale.
What's missing from these objectives are the specific, measurable results. It's not enough to say that our objective is full equality as citizens. It's unclear what that means. There's no way to measure progress. There's no way to know if we're going backwards or forwards or when we have arrived.
For example, looking at equality as working people, one measure could be the number of people covered by nondiscrimination law. If the number is currently one-third of the US population, GetEqual will know that the objectives are being accomplished if that number moves to 50%. The objective will not, by its stated terms, be accomplished until the number moves to 100%. However, it is important to know whether the objective is moving in the right direction or not.
That should not be the only measure of the objective, because "equality as working people" is a fairly robust concept. Being equal as a working person means not only having equal opportunity under the law, but also actual access to that opportunity, as well as wages, terms and conditions of employment that are equal to other people on the same level. If ENDA were passed, for example, that would only prohibit the most obvious and overt forms of discrimination and harassment. There are more subtle forms of discrimination. This is very obvious in two areas of discrimination that have had laws on the books for 40 years.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discrimination on the basis of race and sex. The Equal Pay Act prohibits paying women less than men for the same job. Nonetheless, most African-Americans are in the bottom two quintiles in terms of income distribution, and women receive 80 cents on the dollar for the same jobs as men. "Law" mean "rule," and rules are tricky things. Like the well-known joke about the person granted three wishes by a very literal genie, resulting in unintended consequences by a poor wish-maker, the desired effects of these laws often have been hung up on overly literal interpretations and proof requirements.
"Equality as working people" would not only cover formal equality as found in law on the books, but substantive equality as measured by similarities between average distributions and LGBTQ distributions in the areas of income, benefits, unemployment, underemployment and harassment.
GetEqual does not have to be the sole cause of the objective's movement or accomplishment, and that would be impossible to determine. Any social change has a myriad of factors that contribute. However, GetEqual must contribute to one of the factors that underlie the change. It can't sit back in its easy chair and celebrate change if it is to be a credible organization. It must be able to point to something that it did that contributed to the change.
That something is where strategy comes in.
Strategy is the plan to move the objectives. Let's look again at the first objective mentioned above: equality as working people. For example, in order to pass a law, we need to schedule a vote, and get enough Congressmembers to vote in favor, and have the President sign it.
Let me take ENDA as an example. One objective could be passing ENDA into law. There are lots of Congressmembers in favor of ENDA, who we can count on to vote yes, and we know who they are. There are also lots of them not in favor of ENDA, who we can count on to vote no, and we know who they are. Then there are the ones on the fence. We know who they are as well. The key to strategy is to work with the ones on the fence.
What makes a Congressmember vote a particular way? For those with no strong ideological stance, the keys are showing that it's the right thing to do, that a majority of people in the district want it, and that the political insider constituency of the district wants them to do it. It's not enough to have only one of these in place.
That's why "call your Congressmember" is not a sufficient strategy, even though it's a necessary part of this.
First, that it's the right thing to do: we must be ready with talking points and examples that show it's right and demolish the other side's objections.
Second, that it has broad community support: we must have accurate polling within the target districts and a large active constituency in the district that is ready to make their opinions known.
Third, that it's supported by the insiders: we must connect with the political insiders who have a say in that Congressmember's vote, and work with them so that they are willing to make the pitch to the Congressmember.
While the example I use is ENDA, I believe the same is true of any strategy in pretty much any organization: It's right, it has broad community support, and it's supported by other key insiders. It works whether you're trying to get an LGBT-friendly church to be welcoming and inclusive, or to get your organization to give you money to start a program, or to have a successful birthday party.
Objectives could include:
- empowering one million people to write their legislators to advocate for federal and/or state laws
- empowering people in forty key districts to elect LGBT allies
- empowering people to get favorable statements and actions from one thousand local political organizations, places of worship, or other LGBT friendly organizations.
- holding one hundred politicians accountable by holding a march against actions
- holding 10 LGBT leaders accountable by issuing a statement denouncing a failure to act
- holding one hundred religious leaders accountable by church members holding a protest
Notice that each objective contains a number. Without a statement of quantity, an objective is unmeasurable and unaccountable.
The organization must be willing to fail in these objectives, and to redouble their efforts or reduce the target. If there can be no failure, there can be no success. A vague objective is worse than none at all.
The objectives I listed here are examples. I do not suggest them as real objectives. I have done no research on these issues, and they spring entirely from my own head on a frowzy Sunday morning at my kitchen table. "Planning" means not only setting a target, but doing research to know that the target is important, attainable and feasible.
It's more than putting brown butcher paper on the walls and writing big with magic markers. That can help, and I've done it myself, but it needs to be refined by people who know the subject area intimately and who have experience in planning.
The last part is the tactics: the who does what when.
This part is the hardest to set up well. Mission, objectives and strategy are all a piece of cake compared to this. This is where most strategic planning fouls up, in my opinion.
There isn't enough thinking about how to make a stated strategy really happen. Instead, there's a lot of loose talk about what might work if the planets aligned exactly right. That's no good.
You need to assume that 90% of your tactics won't work and that 10% of them is enough to seal the deal. That's if you really want that "Mission Accomplished" sign to mean something when you string it across the battleship.
Tactics: Showing It's Right
First, in regard to showing it's right: it's not enough to have a list of talking points. Your organization and your supporters must know them cold. They must understand how to use them when someone questions them. It's got to be clear and automatic. That means they have to be short and focused and clear and devastating. That means you have to repeat them over and over again to supporters, and continually find more examples of real life situations that make them real to the supporters.
This is part of the function of rallies. Rallies are not designed to put pressure on the grass, as Barney Frank so infamously put it. They are designed to educate your supporters in what they are supposed to know and to do in order to accomplish the thing they're out there marching for.
Speakers need to be carefully chosen, as they must be on board with the mission, objectives and strategy, and they must also know the talking points cold. Their job is not to whip the crowd into a frenzy, though that helps, but to communicate certain key ideas and actions.
These ideas and actions must be simple and communicable to a large population, some of whom are highly educated and some of whom are not. This is why slogans are important. These slogans must be carefully designed to communicate both ideas and actions.
In addition, after the rally, there must be some place that the more highly motivated supporters can go to get reinforcement and to report their actions. It could be a center, it could be a meeting, it could be a conference call, it could be an online site. Most of the meetings, calls and sites that I see are a waste of time, because they do not fulfill this function. They are agendaless, or led by someone who cannot drive an agenda and create consensus while doing it, meandering, cluttered and unclear.
Tactics: Showing Broad Community Support
Second, that it has broad community support: we must have accurate polling within the target districts and a large active constituency in the district that is ready to make their opinions known. Polling does not have to be expensive, though it helps to have money. What's more important is that they are carefully designed to be clear and to capture the precise opinion that counts. Forty question polls are a waste of time. You don't need more than five questions to get the information you need, if you know how to ask questions. If you try to capture all the irrrelevant information under the sun, 100 questions aren't enough. I teach social research methods, and while I don't claim to be the best pollster there ever was, I know what's good and what's junk. A lot of what I see is junk.
Also, on this point, we must have a large group that's willing to make their opinions known. They might be participating in letter-writing, phone-banking, going door to door, or town hall meetings with legislators. They might be attending meetings with various constituencies like church groups, civil rights groups, unions, corporate executives, or trade-group associations. They might be going to rallies, marches, sit-ins, or other forms of civil disobedience.
How does one get a large group? An email list or phone list of potential participators helps. Then, one must activate the list by asking for what actions people are willing to take, and give them examples of five actions that they can sign on to. This requires careful, clear, simple writing. Next, the responses need to be culled to determine the high-level participators. Those people need to be contacted first to get them into headquarters for training. These are the people who are going to need to each enroll 50 people to come to one of the participatory events. They need to know what's available for people to attend, who to target, how to size people up to determine their level of participation, how to excite people enough to enroll them in the idea, how to make the "ask," and how to keep them producing until the event.
Tactics: Insider Support
For this part, you need people who know the insiders, even slightly. For large constituencies, insiders are skilled at avoiding personal contact with the masses, and that means you. "Knowing" the insiders could be a personal friendship, or being "friend of a friend (and I don't mean on Facebook). It could also be having a connection to the insider's prep school or college, an organization they belong to, like a church, or to a group that provided important political support.
For example, I don't have any friends who are national political insiders. But I am a member of a union, and that leader has a connection with my temple, and a friend of my ex has a friend who knows that leader. I emailed the union leader's office, mentioning my connections, and had a callback the next day from an aide. I was able to have a conversation with that aide and move the organization's support on ENDA up several notches.
I've also used this type of thing effectively in the past to get jobs.
People often don't realize that they can reach insiders. They need training on how to think about their connections in order to leverage them. They also need to be trained and empowered to act on these connections. It's not always obvious how to do it.
In writing up my thoughts on strategic planning, I don't mean to imply that GetEqual should do it my way. Nor do I imply that they need to be able to do all these things at the same time. In some instances, they may want to partner with other organizations, publicly or sub rosa, in order to ensure that their actions are effective in the larger context.
However, I do believe that a strategic plan should look something like this. And my plan is too short.
It mentions examples of the types of objectives, strategies and tactics, but doesn't specify which ones will be used.
A real plan would specify that there will be a rally in Little Rock at 123 Main Street on September 3 at 4 pm, with the purpose of communicating A, B, and C, that local organizations D, E, and F will participate by doing G, H and I, that contacts with media organizations J, K and L will be kept up continuously to keep them apprised of progress, that the offices of politicians and insiders M, N and O will also be kept apprised of progress, and that the progress of these tactics will be monitored by expecting targets P, Q and R to be met by July 3, and August 3 without fail.
A full-blown strategic plan could easily run to hundreds of pages. That could take a lot of time that might be better spent on getting into action. Most long-term strategic plans evolve over time, and do not spring into existence overnight.
I believe that it is important, however, that the plan contain clear objectives, strategies and tactics with specific, measurable results. A vague idea consisting only of tactics, like holding rallies and sit-ins, would not be sufficient, in my opinion.
GetEqual could decide to concentrate initially on one or two objectives, strategies or tactics. In that way, it would have a clear plan to start with, and additional planning could occur over time. That would have the advantage of allowing inclusion of progress measurements to determine whether the objectives, strategies and tactics are satisfactory. This would allow the planning to take progress data about specific, measurable results into account.
I don't expect GetEqual to release all these details to the public, of course. But I'd like to see them release a public plan that communicates their basic mission, objectives, strategy and tactics. That would help members of the LGBT community and allies to decide whether or not to get on board with the organization's actions. Some would, of course, criticize the plan, but the key thing is to produce thousands of people willing to help.
Without broad-based community involvement, no organization can prosper.
I am very hopeful about GetEqual, and I believe they can make a huge difference in moving our rights forward.