What to Stop: The Forgotten Objective in Strategic Planning

April 2, 2019Amy Asin

Most congregational leaders – when seeking to adapt their congregations to current realities and in order to bring in new members and/or create a sustainable financial situation – ask what new programs they should add or what new outreach they should do. As part of these generative conversations, it is also critical to ask the question: “What should we stop doing?”

In order to free up resources to do new things, you must either raise more funds, train more volunteers, or find something to stop doing. Simply layering more work upon overburdened clergy, staff, or volunteers won’t work – and by narrowing your focus, you raise the level of importance of the new initiatives, making them more likely to succeed.

Here is some guidance on how to make the decision about what to stop.

1. Establish a task force to experiment with using criteria to decide what to stop.

The data required to evaluate your offerings doesn’t exist in the mind or laptop of any one person at your congregation. In order to properly assess what you do, you’ll need to establish a process and gather a task force of people committed to trying it out.

This task force will have to be willing to take a leap of faith and understand that you’re experimenting with a new tool and a new way of thinking. In fact, you may want to make a pact with the group that, in the first year, you’re only going to use it to learn; in year two - once you’ve gotten more experience with the tool – you can use it to decide what to stop doing.

When creating said task force, make sure to include someone from your budget and finance team, and someone from your clergy/professional staff (if you have them). Overall, the group should be populated with people who best know the work being evaluated.

2. Set clear criteria for evaluation.

In order to decide what to stop doing, the task force should choose consistent criteria for examining your current programs and services. Choose from among the following criteria, rating each on a three-point scale (view a full rubric of these criteria, including rating instructions, in The Tent); the programs with the lowest scores based on these criteria will be candidates for stopping. 

  • Mission alignment: To what extent does this activity directly help you achieve your mission?
  • Relationship building: How much does this program deepen the sense of community among congregants or between congregants and leadership?
  • Meaning: How much of an opportunity does this program provide to bring Jewish tradition to the big questions in congregations’ lives?
  • Impact: How much does this program help congregants become the best versions of themselves or make the world a better place? 
  • Total number of people engaged: How many individuals did this program engage?
  • Potential for growth: If this activity is ongoing, is there potential for growing its audience?
  • Priority audience reached: Are you trying to reach a particular audience and, if so, does this activity reach that audience?
  • Budget requirements: What are the net costs of running this program (net positive, negative, or breakeven), including paid staff and out-of-pocket costs, and factoring in revenue? Note that in most cases, the net cost will be negative.
  • Volunteer requirements: How much volunteer time (which could be redeployed elsewhere) is used to run this program?
  • Grant funding: Is there a donor to consider, especially if ending a program?
  • Complexity of execution: How much of a drain on facilities, communications, or other support staff does this initiative entail?
  • Scheduling: Does this program create a scheduling conflict with other initiatives?
  • Perceived or understood congregant satisfaction: Considering word-of-mouth, intuition, and concrete evaluation data, how much do congregants “like” this program? 

3. Use your judgement.

Using a set of evaluative measures will help you effectively collect a lot of information from many people in an organized and clinical way. That said, no evaluative tool can tell 100 percent of the story; eventually, you will need to use your judgement, informed by the data you’ve gathered. This could mean assessing and analyzing the data you receive, as well as adjusting your evaluative tool and adding criteria you hadn’t thought of before.

4. Stay focused and calm.

Deciding to stop doing something isn’t always easy. Most likely, all of your offerings are adding some value to someone – which means someone is going to be upset that you’re cutting their program.

A few things that you can do to help your case:

  1. Make sure that your board, volunteers, and staff are bought into the process as much as possible.
  2. Rely on the task force involved in collecting the data to help make your case.
  3. To the extent possible, be clear about what you are moving to – or at least a process for how that will be decided.

Remember: It may sometimes be difficult, but ultimately, you’re doing this for the good of the congregation and its ability to redirect resources to priority areas. 

In the past, I’ve written about including new measures for success in your thinking. This process for deciding what to stop integrates the typical measures of congregational success (budget and attendance) with the new more mission driven measures (relationship, impact, and meaning), attempting to find a balance between the two. Resources available to congregations are limited, and clergy, professional, and volunteer time is precious. If you’re going to lead your congregation to try new things, you must stop doing something else. A strong process for deciding what to stop will help make tough decisions both easier to make and easier to implement.

Have something to say about this post? Join the conversation in The Tent, the communications and collaboration network for congregational leaders of the Reform Movement. You can also tweet us or tell us how you feel on Facebook.

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