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Paper Napkin Planning

Paper Napkin Planning

You’re running out of time. You must do some planning for the year, but the committees – and the stars – are just not cooperating. What’s a hard-working executive to do?

It’s time for a paper napkin strategy session.

When “real” planning is not in the cards you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, invite a board member over for a cup of coffee and do some short-term goal setting on a paper napkin as a “first step” towards tackling that bigger issue that you are having trouble getting your head around.

Here are the rules:

  1. The plan must fit on one page (you do not have to use an actual napkin.)
  2. Each goal must be matched with tasks for which a staff member or volunteer can take responsibility.
  3. Each goal must be bite-sized. One person can manage the whole process – start to finish.

Examples of paper napkin planning might include:

  • Dividing your email list into three targeted personality types or interests for more personal communications;
  • Building a list of potential new sources of revenue for your organization;
  • Itemizing upcoming Board work that could be done by three sub-committees.

Theory in Action

I recently met with Carol – the Executive Director of a Board I sit on – to talk about the sustainability of the organization. It’s a big topic with lots of moving parts. Carol had identified three areas: board, financial, and staff that needed to be addressed. She had come prepared with a comprehensive plan.

As we talked about the importance of financial sustainability for the organization, and how we might further engage the local business community, I glanced over at the pile of local newspapers. We had talked about creating a list of silver level sponsors for our one big community event, but we had never created the list of prospects.

I opened the newspaper and wrote down the name of every business that was currently advertising in the Mainstreeter. Then we culled the list a bit, removed all the businesses that Carol was already soliciting or renewing sponsorships with. That left a list of almost 10 businesses! We rearranged the list to order in which we wanted to solicit, and I agreed to work from this list on my own for the next three weeks.

Did we solve the larger issue of financial sustainability for CAG? No. Did we make a concrete step towards that goal? Definitely.

The benefit of paper napkin planning is it results in small, specific changes that are easy to do.They can also remind you of what you want to do differently. I posted my list of potential sponsors on the wall in front of my computer to keep them top of mind during the day.

Try it!

Take a minute to identify a big issue that has been on your mind for a long time. Are there any pieces of that puzzle that you could break down into a paper napkin task? Who would you take on your coffee date to obtain “buy in” to accomplish this goal?

Sometimes the hardest part of making a change is getting started. I hope these paper napkin strategies will help you get moving on the big changes that you want to make – one napkin at a time.

P.S. I am happy to report that our paper napkin planning has resulted in three confirmed new Silver Sponsors for CAG. We are also in conversation with three more. Success!

Photo Credit: Flikr User Janellie23