Five Essential Steps to Planning Your Program

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When confronting pressing community problems, the program planning of nonprofits is understandably motivated by their passion to set things right. The enthusiasm to make things better is a primary, driving force you’ve got to appreciate and nurture, but you’ve also got to temper that passion with a solid understanding of how to plan programs so they will really make a difference.

Step back and focus on assessment and strategy. When planning includes each of these five tasks, the program is much more likely to produce meaningful results.


  1. Assess the Problem: Thoroughly explore what’s going on. Collect data that defines the problem, its impact, who’s affected, and why the problem is happening. Don’t move into problem-solving mode until you have a deep understanding of what’s happening and why.


  1. Study Current Community Efforts: Identify all resources in the community that relate directly or indirectly to the problem. Learn about the capacity and services of these resources, about their goals and progress. Are they having an impact? Don’t move into problem-solving mode until you understand what’s happening now and whether it’s effective.


  1. Study Best Practices in the Field. If accepted best practices and research-based approaches have proven successful in tackling the problem you’re concerned about, you need to understand those approaches. If you decide the approaches won’t work in your community, you need a basis for that decision. Studying the results of proven approaches will also give you an understanding of how much change you may be able to produce over what time period. Don’t design a program approach until you know what’s already been tried and how that’s worked out.


  1. Establish Partnerships: Collaboration with other organizations enriches program planning and ensures that any new effort is well-coordinated with current work. It increases program quality and results. Go for group impact, not go-it-alone glory.


  1. Complete a Program Logic Model: Once you’ve defined the outcomes your program will produce, and the methods you’ll use to achieve them, complete a logic model to make sure your argument holds together—that the activities address the causes of the problem and are likely to produce the outcomes you hope to see.


When you consistently complete these tasks as part of program planning, your program is much more likely to have lasting impact,.


— Barbara Floersch, Chief of Training & Curriculum


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