What’s the Plan? Think Strategically for the Future If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We’ve all heard this age-old saying, and many Lions clubs operate based on this belief. It’s good logic much of the time. But even a club that isn’t “broken” can still benefit from a tuneup now and then. Any club has much to gain from stepping back and taking a comprehensive, critical look at its past, present and future. Engaging in a long-range strategic planning process can result in improved focus on mission, enhanced communication, renewed excitement and motivation among members, innovative ideas and creating a baseline from which to measure progress. Through planning, many clubs are expanding their potential and ensuring their viability. After being inspired at the Colorado state convention last year, Denver Lions Club First Vice President Flossie O’Leary introduced the idea of long-range planning to her club’s leadership team. They soon held a half-day planning retreat to create the framework for a five-year plan. They asked questions such as: “As a club, how could we better integrate things so each year’s leadership could leverage their skill sets but the club would still move forward on a shared agenda?” explains O’Leary, now president. Two key answers were: 1) making their goals broad enough to allow for different ways of meeting them based on members’ talents and 2) integrating the goal areas into the club’s existing committees. Also important was giving plenty of time for the plan to take shape and gain momentum, says O’Leary. “When you’re trying to effect and sustain change, it’s a lot of baby steps in the beginning. … Our first year is about infrastructure, thinking, engaging members. If you build something members are a part of, then you’ve really facilitated something worthwhile.” As a thriving and large club, Denver Lions are able to take a slower, integrated approach to planning. But Dr. Billie Blair, president/CEO of international consulting firm Change Strategists, Inc. (www.change strategists.com), stresses that if clubs are facing dwindling membership, decreased fundraising and questions about their future survival, more drastic measures may be in order. “Lions clubs should engage in strategic planning if there is a sincere desire to change in dramatic ways. The biggest benefits will ultimately be in figuring out how to be relevant in the 21st century. The planning process will result in a possibly very different future and club structure.” Clubs can get started by seeking out a planning expert who can facilitate. Assistance may be found at local nonprofits, foundations or state agencies. The process may take time, energy and willingness to change, but the rewards could mean taking your club to new heights. “The real benefit is we’re all working toward the same goals and everyone is talking to each other. As opposed to a band-aid, surface approach, our plan will help us think in a more integrated fashion,” says O’Leary. No matter what comes out the planning process, Blair believes you’ll be glad you did it: “It will be well worth your while to take the time to step back, take a deep breath, and look carefully at what you want to be like in five to 10 years— this will force you out of the present and into the future—and to the point where the real work begins.” –Jennifer Gilbert Gebhardt
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