Program Planning for Organizations
Table of Contents
Good programs don't just happen. They are the result of careful consideration as to why the organization exists and what its members want to accomplish. The programs offered by your organization project an image which will either attract new people or turn them away.
Program planning is deciding what needs to be done, and who does what, when and where. The two key elements in successful program planning are the program or project itself and the interest and involvement of group members. Following are seven steps which will help your organization choose and plan a successful program which will interest and involve the membership.
Take a look at your organization. Who is the target audience? Who are the members and what has been their involvement with the organization? Has membership been increasing or decreasing? What is the ratio of male to female members and what is the age range? What projects have been done or are currently underway? Have there been conflicts with events of other organizations? What finances and other resources are available? What happened last year? Having a good set of records and periodic surveys of the members will help to answer these questions.
Your organization should consider the needs or problems the members and the community are facing. Consider where your organization is today and where you want it to be. It is important to establish or confirm your basic purpose so everyone inside and outside your organization can understand it. Agreement on the basic goals your organization wishes to pursue should be reached amongst the members. Specific objectives that will help to accomplish each of these basic goals should be outlined annually and planners should keep these objectives clearly before them as they work.
The statement of purpose is a general statement that describes the organization's primary function and the large scale "aim" or "mission" of the organization. For example, your organization may have been formed "for the betterment of the agricultural industry". This is a broad statement which must be broken down into smaller segments in order to be attainable.
Goals are a series of statements which describe the unique functions or primary interest areas of the organization. If an organization's purpose was the "betterment of the agricultural industry", one goal may be to improve media coverage of agricultural issues and events. If there are no organizational goals, members will tend to lean towards their own personal needs more often than the needs of the organization. Challenging goals can result in a vibrant organization.
The constitution of an organization outlines its purpose and goals and can be used to justify whether or not to undertake certain tasks. Established organizations will have their purpose and goals already outlined by the founding group but these statements should be reviewed regularly. If the purpose and goals have become outdated or incompatible, then they should be rewritten.
New organizations, on the other hand, will have to develop these statements from "scratch" to clearly identify what the organization is all about. One method of establishing these statements is to have key members of the organization (or the executive or board) act as a task force to draft the purpose and goal statements. During work sessions, each participant should draft his or her own statement and share it with the group. These statements should then be formed into one solid, comprehensive statement that everyone in the working group agrees with.
Once the concerns of your organization are identified and the broad goals have been stated, it is important to set specific, realistic objectives. These smaller, more manageable targets will lead to the accomplishment of each goal. Clear objectives should be mutually agreed to by the planning group. To reach the goal of "improved media coverage" for instance, a realistic objective may be to have at least one agriculture-related article in each issue of the local paper.
Without realistic objectives, people often commit themselves to more than they can do and are unable to follow through or become overwhelmed by the size of the task and feel discouraged when things don't work. The objectives should be recorded and referred to frequently during the planning process.
The next step in program planning is to develop possible solutions to achieve your objectives. At this stage it is important to be creative, "let the juices flow" and involve the membership. The best program plans are developed when many members share in the planning by expressing their needs and interests, and therefore take some responsibility for the program.
If a leader were to ignore members' ideas and allow decisions to be made by only a few, the group would lose members, power, energy and the human resources needed to do the job. The leader and a few members would end up doing everything. Members will work harder in support of programs which they helped to plan. All members should be aware of the goals and objectives, no matter who was involved in setting them, in order to build commitment to the programs.
Members' input can be obtained from opinion polls, suggestion boxes, informal conversation, or by evaluation sheets. Questionnaires can ask "What do you want from the organization?", "What do you think the organization should do?" and "What did you think of past programs?" Discussion groups or "buzz groups" of 6 or 8 members can be formed at a general meeting with each group reporting their program suggestions after a short discussion. Each group should have a representative who will also ensure that everyone has a chance to participate.
Brainstorming is another discussion technique used with either a large or small group of people. Participants should aim at producing a quantity of ideas rather than taking time to evaluate the quality of various suggestions. Every suggestion should be carefully recorded. Sending every media person to work on a farm for the summer might not be a practical solution but it might lead to the idea of holding an information day to "show and tell" reporters what issues face farmers. The least practical idea may lead to the best suggestion of the session by promoting further ideas.
The resulting list of program ideas should be examined carefully, and the pros and cons of each considered. Required time, money, and resources (physical and human) should be discussed. Does the program involve all members? Is it interesting to everyone? Does it include both fun and work activities? Does it meet the objectives of the organization? Have alternative plans been outlined in case a problem arises? Keep in mind county, regional and provincial organizational events which might conflict with or enhance your plans. For example, don't plan an event for the same day as the official opening of the new hospital if you want to have media coverage.
In making program decisions, the planners must proceed slowly, dealing with everyone's concerns in order to maintain group support for the program. Remember, successful program planning takes time to make sure people have had a chance to speak, to explore alternatives and to understand the varied points of view. If decisions are made too quickly, then someone has probably been left behind.
With your program objectives firmly in place, the details and action steps leading to the event now need to be outlined. Individual responsibilities must be assigned to accomplish these tasks. This is an opportunity to recruit others to help with specific tasks to both reduce the burden on some individuals and also to enlarge the number of people involved and committed to the program. Regular progress reports to those who have been involved and others who know about the project will help to keep momentum and interest in the project. Be sure to build time into your plan for these reports. Realistic deadlines must be set for carrying out each phase of the program plan.
Now that the program has been planned and jobs have been assigned, it can be implemented. Remember, plans made don't always match plans used. The plan so carefully put together and recorded at every stage should serve only to guide activity, not reduce flexibility. If a change in plan becomes necessary because a speaker cancels, then proceed to plan B, the slide show on a related topic. As the plan proceeds, it is important to keep everyone informed of progress, by phone, mail or meetings.
The final step in the plan is to find out what the participants thought about the program. Consider how the success of your program will be measured. How will you know if you've done a good job? Periodically through a long-term program, progress towards goals, tasks left to be done, relevance of goals to the group's interest and other concerns should be evaluated.
By reviewing the program regularly, instead of just at the end of the year, changes can be made to assist in achieving the desired objectives.
Set a time at the end of the program to evaluate the accomplishment of goals, and attendance and involvement of members. Consider participants' reactions. What do they think might be improved? Getting and using feedback from the members will keep them involved in the direction of the organization and maintain their commitment to the group. Reconsider your tactics. Were they appropriate? Were alternatives required?
Judge your work plan. Were tasks done right? Were deadlines met? Assess communication within your organization. Did everybody understand the program plan?
Periodic evaluations of any program can re-vitalize the program, group members and leaders. A systematic method of planning is essential.
Now...with the seven steps outlined and results of this plan carefully recorded, you are ready to plan the next program.
Planning Better Programs. Boyle, Patrick G. McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981, Toronto.
Program Planning. Abbey-Livingston, Diane & Associates Inc., Toronto.
Program Planning: Notes for Community Leaders. Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, 1982.
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